Your dog may be several things in your life: your best friend, family pet, snuggle & cuddle buddy, player of fetch and giver of face licks with tail constantly wagging, and have possibly attained a professional level begging skills. Your dog: bestie of you and your family.
By humanizing dogs, to anthropomorphize, we may have lost sight of what a dog really is: an opportunistic scavenger and predatory killer. It’s true, believe it or not. Let me share two experiences regarding the transformation of a cuddly fur baby to predatory killer. On a walk with a group of dogs, we were heading back to the car and all of a sudden I see one group member running away from me as fast as she could. She was in pursuit before I even realized what had happened. What happened was this: a snuggly cuddly bed sleeping moon-eyed adorable husky mix saw a prey animal, a chipmunk – instinct kicked in and poof! She went after it. Not to meet it and greet it, but to kill it and eat it. It was when she was about 20 to 30 feet away from me and increasing her speed I realized that feeling in my hand was from her leash, literally, slipping through my fingers, there was no time to react. Why did this docile couch potato bold? A chipmunk activated her instinct to hunt, chase, kill then eat. She was successful in her quest. She stood over her kill proudly. She would not let any other dog near it and promptly gulped it. Some might say such behaviour is expected from a Lab-Husky mix especially if they have a high prey drive – agreed. What about a heavy, and I mean heavy, Puggle? (Pug/Beagle mix). A Puggle that has over the years managed to get up on tables and counter-tops to eat food meant for humans, whole sticks of butter is one of this dog’s favorites. This little guy is starting to grey. He does not get challenging cardio work outs and is noticeably heavy. Noticeably. He is a total “people” dog and loves human contact, and human food, watches TV on the sofa with his humans, a very nice little guy to be sure. He is a fur-baby in every sense of the word. In a conversation, this little guy’s owner recounted the following:
We were walking in a park close to our house when all of a sudden he lunged, pulled the leash out of my hand and disappeared into a thicket of bushes for a minute and emerged with a rabbit. He was very proud of his work.
The fact he was able to even detect there was a rabbit in the bushes is amazing on its own. Scent detection and motion detection, evolutionary survival tools, posts for another time.
We need to remember although dogs have been domesticated, i.e. used as working dogs, dogs whose mere existence is to work for humans, for about 30,000 years it has only been since the mid 1800’s humans started to keep dogs as family pets. According to the Pet Food Institute: “With the Industrial Revolution and rise of the middle class in the 19th century, families with disposable income began to keep domesticated dogs and cats as companion animals – rather than just as working animals.” It has been only the last 150 years we have come to know dogs as family pets. 150 years is a small spec of time from an evolutionary perspective. Dogs were domesticated about 30,000 years ago. Dogs ran wild with no human contact for tens-of-thousands of years before what I will call, the “Domestication Period”. DNA “hard-wiring” and the components of ancient dog as a predatory killer and an opportunistic scavenger remains intact today. It is a matter of survival to consume calories that are found, like the remnants of a carcass and of course calories from the kill. Have you ever tried to train a dog not to eat apiece of discarded food, or what they consider to be food? For example, a dead squirrel or bird in the park, or a piece of gum someone spat to the ground, all sources of calories and survival for the primal dog. This is a training goal to be sure. Some dogs are impossible to lure away from barking at a squirrel in a tree, some dogs bark frantically at 3 AM because of a raccoon in the back yard, some dogs will chase birds and bark incessantly. Why? Because of the hard-wiring of DNA your pup: prey drive. Granted, prey drive in every dog varies. However, every dog from a 5lb Chihuahua to a 200lb Mastiff, and every dog in between, is a hard-wired opportunistic scavenger and a predatory killer.