Heather Houlihan at the Raised by Wolves blog has a brilliant little photo essay up entitled Not Your Stick. Read the whole thing.
This a post about how old dogs teach young dogs, about reading dog behavior, and about inter-canine communication. Good stuff!
I was bird-dogged to Heather's post just moments after responding to an email asking me whether I thought there was some genetic slippage in dogs as far as dog-to-dog communication was concerned. So many show dogs seemed somewhat infantalized in their behavior, while the working dogs were generally more serious and self-purposed. Could this be a genetic issue? Were modern dogs losing their ability to communicate as natural dogs?
Hmmmm. A new question requiring new thought! My answer, for what it's worth (and see your receipt for the price charged!):
A good question, but I am afraid I do not know enough to have an answer.
Observationally, I would agree that some breeds of dogs never really mature emotionally, often remaining quite dependent, playful and goofy into pretty advanced age. Others are much more independent, less playful and serious from a very early age. Konrad Lorenz talked about this, noting that the more serious dogs tended to be "one man" or "one woman" dogs with strong loyalties to particular individuals, while the other type were more "emotional sluts" (not Lorenz's term!) that would quickly give themselves over to just about anyone for a belly rub and a piece of kibble.
I would also agree that a lot of dogs seem to have bad communication skills, either sending the wrong signals or not understanding those they receive from other dogs. But is this genetics or socialization? I am not sure, but let me make an observation and offer up a thought experiment....
The observation is that so many dogs these days live "prison planet" lives.
Now the thought experiment: flip the scenario around.
Suppose a small boy or girl, age three months, is brought to live alone in a cave tied to a large fenced yard. He shares the cave and yard with five or six dogs, but other than that, he only communicates with other people on those brief occasions when he is allowed to leave the yard and can actually interact with them. Will this boy learn the language of humans with so little contact in such truncated circumstances? What will this child act like? This adult? This old man?
When we talk about poor socialization, we tend to mean dogs that are overly fearful or aggressive towards other dogs and other people. But I think poor socialization just as often expresses itself in another way -- dogs that are SO in need of canine contact, and so inarticulate in "dog speak" that, when put before other dogs, they are like long-term foreign prison camp survivors swarming over their liberators, crying and laughing, pawing at their pockets and kissing their feet as they try to get their cracked vocal chords to work again and remember the word for "thank you" in their almost forgotten mother tongue. And these are men who were captured as adults and after only a few years as captives! Imagine how bad it might be if you were taken to a prison planet -- a suburban home -- as a child.
It is indeed a lucky young dog that gets to meet -- and get instructed -- by an older dog like Cole who, ironically enough, was a Prison Planet dog once himself -- a survivor of the great Montana English Shepherd rescue. Nice job paying it forward, Cole. Good doggy!