TRAINING HUMANS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 7 mins.)

‘Today’, she said, ‘we will discuss the training of dogs’.

The class looked at her face to see whether she was joking. She looked back at them patiently.

‘But Teacher,’ ventured one braver student. ‘We are here to learn how to control humans.’

‘That is correct,’ replied the Teacher. ‘This is a sociology class. But there is much to learn from the training of dogs. In many ways, it is the same thing.’

(Image sourced: Internet)

So, to begin: Where do dogs come from to us? Where did they originate?’

‘Are they not descended from wolves, Teacher? I think I read that somewhere.’

‘Yes, I did too. And dogs and wolves can interbreed, so they would have to be closely related.’

‘That is correct, they are closely related,’ replied the Teacher approvingly. ‘There is only 0.1% of a DNA difference between them and they can interbreed quite easily. The wolf is classified as Canis lupus and the dog as Canis familiaris. It is not strange to find dogs that are part wolf. The assumption is therefore that the common dog is descended from the wolf. And in some parts of the world, for example in South Africa and in Australia, there are wild dogs, dogs that live like wolves. We presume these were domesticated wolves that became dogs, that later again returned to the ways of wolves. So our question for discussion today is: How did wolves become dogs in the first place?’

‘But Teacher, if this occurred it must have done so in prehistory, surely?’

‘I think I read that it was in the Paleolithic Era.’

‘Well, then surely nobody knows, Teacher? No-one would have written to describe it as humans did not develop writing until much later.’

‘You are all correct, yes. But we can speculate. We can extrapolate from what we know. Now, when we have a dog as a pet – or as a working animal – it is in a social relationship with us, right?’

‘Well, yes. Some people see their dog as part of the family – you even hear them say that. But working dogs?’

‘Working dogs too, I suppose. A shepherd would have a close relationship with his dog … and so would a hunter. Even if the bond was primarily between the one person and the dog, it would have to recognise those close to the owner as ok, as safe, not to be attacked or growled at.’

(Image sourced: Internet)

‘Good, yes, we are getting there. The guard dog needs to know its owner or owners and who is acceptable. Sled dogs the same, even though they are a group, like a hunting pack. The hunter, the shepherd, the truffle-searcher, the seeing-eye guide dog – they are all in a social relationship with humans. We could, in fact, describe a dog as “a wolf-descendant in social relationship with humans.” But what is the normal social group of the wolf?’

‘It is the pack, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, that’s what I have read too. A hunting pack.’

‘Yes but not just a hunting pack. They have to raise pups, don’t they?’

‘Oh, and don’t they have an accepted leader?’

‘Yes, very good. The social organisation of the wolf is the pack. And they have leadership – a male and a female. They are called Alphas, Alpha Male and Alpha Female. They lead the pack – the other wolves obey them. So, how is it decided, do you think?’

‘They must have elections, Teacher.’

‘Very amusing. It is a serious question however, part of our discussion today.’

‘Maybe …. they fight over it? The strongest wins?’

‘Yes, correct, that is part of it. The male fights other males and the female fights other females.’

‘How civilised of them!’

‘You all laugh but you don’t realise how true that comment is. Now, let’s tease the process of leadership selection out a bit. Let’s concentrate on the males, for simplicity. Male A wants to be leader, so does male B and they fight. Male A is successful and wins. But he will be wounded, right? Right?’

‘Well, yes he would be. Bite marks, bleeding ….’

‘So up comes Male C now and he is not wounded. He fights Male A and beats him, so now he is top dog, or wolf, the leader of the pack, right? Right?’

‘Yes, it must be like that.’

‘Then we have at last an accepted leader of the pack. But in what state are the males? And if the females went through the same process, what state are they in and what are the consequences?’

‘They’d be walking wounded.’

‘A wounded pack can’t hunt well.’

‘Some might die of their wounds. Some would die of hunger.’

‘It’s not like that, is it Teacher? There has to be another way.’

‘Another process, yes. They must have a system, right Teacher?’

‘Yes. Very good. Exactly. They do have another system. Firstly, they very rarely fight a full fight to the end. And if there is a challenger, it is usually only one. Not all wolves want to lead. Maybe not all wolves think they can. So if there is to be a leadership conflict, Male A and Male B, for example, they will fight but usually to the point where one recognises the other is tougher or wants to be leader more, or has more to lose — say Male A. Then Male B gives up. And if Male A has to remind him or any of the other males at any point, he only has to threaten and they give up. They lie on their back or show their submission in some other way. The pack stays healthy and the Alpha Male and the Alpha Female are in charge. The rest of the pack accept them. And if they are good at what they do, the pack does well. If not, well, maybe another leadership contest. Or the pack breaks up.’

Wolf pack.(Image sourced: Internet)

‘Teacher? When pups are born, I presume they accept the hierarchy of the pack. But when the Alphas get old, or killed or injured in the hunt – or by hunters, humans – the process must start all over again?’

‘Yes and no, not completely. I didn’t tell you earlier but only the alpha females in the pack mate. The Alpha Female chases away other females if they come into heat and the Alpha Male may accept some males mating with her or may threaten other males so only he will mate with the Alpha Female, when she is in season. So the pups are all from the alpha female and from the alpha male or a few others. The next leaders will likely come from those pups – but not certainly. There are possible variations. They might all be killed or injured. An alpha descendant might take a different mate and that one will be alpha too. And so on. Now, let’s think about dogs. How did dogs come to be human-bonded?’

‘Hmmm. Maybe hunters killed the parents, took the cubs and raised them?’

‘Or found the cubs ….’

‘Yes, that is the common scenario. But after generations of the pack, how does a pup come to bond with humans? More to the point, how does it come to obey a human or a family?

‘Hmmm. Does it see the family as the pack, Teacher?’

‘Yes, and its master or mistress as the Alpha or Alphas?’

‘Very good. Yes, now you have it. I must be that way. But …. pups in a pack grow up and may want to become leaders themselves. We don’t hear of dogs deciding they want to run the human family, do we? What would we do if our dog decided it wanted to be boss and was prepared to fight?’

‘We’d have to shoot it.’

‘Yes, we couldn’t allow that.’

‘Wait a minute. Teacher, has that happened?’

‘Probably, in the early days. A domesticated wolf that would not accept the human as the Alpha was killed. Or ran away, maybe. Perhaps joined a wild pack, if it survived …. was accepted …. But in any case, the pups being raised by humans would not be descended from that disobedient wolf.’

‘So …. over generations, wolves …. were bred into dogs. Obedient individuals chosen …. disobedient ones killed …. or run off …. so only obedient dogs mate ….’

‘Yes … and every now and again you hear of a dog being “put down” because it attacked a human being …. especially a child …’

‘Wait! Are you saying humans have been bred to accept a hierarchy? And that the hierarchy is hereditary?’

‘Well, now – I hope I am not being accused of advocating monarchy … or feudalism?”

‘No, Miss …. of course not …. but …..’

‘Slow down, now. Don’t jump too far ahead to conclusions. Stay with the discussion a little longer, ok?’

‘Yes, Teacher. Sorry.’

‘That’s alright. Now, let’s unpick this a bit more. Is the non-Alpha wolf in the pack governed by fear alone? Does he or she have nothing to gain from its position in the pack?’

‘The pack hunts together, doesn’t it? So I suppose …. a pack can kill a bigger animal …. by working together?’

‘Yes, of course. A deer …. or antelope …. or bovine …. and then the whole pack will have enough to eat. Any other benefits?’

‘Defence? Lots of teeth, many individuals.’

‘Vigilance …. warning? Lots of eyes to keep lookout.’

‘Maybe warmth, huddling together against the cold?’

‘Yes, all those are true. And emotional warmth too, the solidarity of the group. The pack looks after the cubs also, as soon as they start to run around. This benefits the future of the whole pack as well as relieving the Alphas of their childcare from time to time. And the pack seems to get an emotional reward from looking after the cubs.’

‘Being a dog is quite a change then, Teacher. From being a wolf.’

‘Yes. But what are the advantages and disadvantages for the dog who is no longer a wolf? And there must be disadvantages, for some dogs have returned to the wild and the pack. As those I mentioned in South Africa and Australia. Advantages, first.’

‘The dog gets regular guaranteed food, doesn’t depend on the hunt for it.’

‘And the dog gets protection …. humans have weapons.’

‘And the dog gets …. gets …. medical care?’

‘Yes, all those things. But one very important thing dogs get that very few in the wolf pack get.’

‘They get to mate.’

‘Yes, exactly. No alpha telling them they can’t. Well, humans lock a bitch in heat up sometimes or we sterilise a male or female but otherwise, they mate. And a bitch gets to have her own cubs.’

‘Teacher …. are you implying that dogs chose not to be wolves?’

‘Well, it’s certainly an interesting question. If some dogs go feral, if some dogs form packs, and other dogs don’t, there would seem to be a choice involved, hmmm? And perhaps the ancestors of the dog did choose to leave the pack, rather than just being socialised and conditioned as captured pups. Some wolves may have hung around human encampments, getting scraps, warning humans of the approach of dangerous beasts …. other humans …. They may have been renegades from the pack …. dissidents …. The first domesticated wolf may have been an illicitly pregnant bitch, knowing that in the pack, her pups would get killed by the alpha female …. Her pups, socialised to humans as soon as they were born. Then, selection by the humans for non-aggression … obedience …. culling the ones that didn’t fit …”

‘Wow!’

‘So now we come to extrapolating what we can from managing wolves and dogs to managing humans. Postulate, please.’

‘The pack is a metaphor for our society.’

‘We generally accept our leaders, so long as they are effective.’

‘Sir, we train humans from childhood. Like pups in the pack’

‘And we give them some benefits so they choose to be in our pack’.

‘Yes, very good. And what about those who choose not to be in our pack?’

‘We eliminate them.’

‘Cull them.’

‘Isolate them.’

‘Marginalise them’.

‘Very good. For your written assignment, summarise in around a thousand words to be handed in next Monday.’

end.

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