A fascinating article!
I had a particularly uncomfortable 24 hours Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.
I went to upload an update to my iMac early on Monday afternoon but for some reason it all went wrong. As in the iMac became unresponsive and continuously showed the Apple icon for about 10 minutes and then went blank for another 10 minutes, and went on repeating itself.
On Tuesday morning I spent several hours on the phone to Apple support and finally the third adviser told me to turn everything off and do a cold reset. That fixed it and I didn’t have to go down to Medford and leave the machine with Connecting Point Computers. Plus I saved $99!
So I am very grateful to be able to share this post with you all! It’s an article on Treehugger, Why Are Dogs So Loyal?
Why Are Dogs So Loyal?
There’s a scientific explanation to what makes them “man’s best friend”
By Katherine Gallagher
Updated December 09, 2020
Any dog owner will tell you that there’s something indescribable and unique about their loyal companions. Dogs wait for their humans patiently by the door when they leave, act like they’ve been given the world when their dinner bowls are filled, and express a sense of devotion that is rare in many other pets. Where does this trait, the trait that makes dogs “man’s best friend,” come from? Why are dogs so innately loyal? The obvious explanation would be that their owners provide them with food and shelter, but the deeper answer actually comes down to science.
It’s no secret that domesticated dogs are descendants of wolves. Even today, modern dogs continue to share similar genes to wolves that live in the wild. The idea of “the loyal dog” is both a cultural and biological construct, as humans have created the dog over years of selective breeding and domestication to be this way. Essentially, humans picked and chose the wolf characteristics that would best serve their own benefit, transforming a wolf’s hierarchical structure and social bond to their packs into obedience and loyalty to humans.
Throughout history, long-term domestication has resulted in hundreds of different dog breeds designed to fulfil specialized functions in society, many with significant behavioral differences. Early humans likely participated in selective breeding without even knowing they were doing so, by killing off the dogs who attacked or bit a member of their family or community. Additionally, dogs who were naturally gifted as loyal hunters would have been better cared for, upping the chances of successful and repeated reproduction. Dogs that contributed to society were kept for longer, while aggressive or unskilled dogs weren’t. And, as humans promoted dogs with tame or friendly characteristics, physical attributes began to change as well.
The early domesticated dogs intelligent enough to associate their owners with things like food and shelter in exchange for obedience (think: “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”) were more likely to survive longer. In a reliance comparison between dogs and cats, for example, studies show that dogs attempt tasks before looking at their owners while cats do not.
While it may have started with a simple exchange of food and shelter for animal-assisted guarding or hunting, humans eventually began to favor dogs that were more docile and sociable. As humans evolved to hunt less and moved on to more secure lifestyles, the domestication process eventually began to encourage companionship.
Dogs, like their wolf ancestors, are pack animals at their core. In order to survive in the wild, members of a pack have to be trusting and cooperative. A wolf leader, or alpha, is in charge until it becomes too sick or old to perform at its highest abilities and is eventually challenged by a stronger wolf for the betterment of the entire pack. This suggests that wolves are motivated by the good of the group rather than pure loyalty to its leader. This is exactly what a 2014 study in Vienna found when researchers examined lab-raised dog and wolf packs, concluding that the relationship between dogs and humans is hierarchical (with their owner at the top) rather than cooperative. As wolves were slowly domesticated into modern dogs, the study suggests, they were bred for their loyalty, dependance on human masters, and ability to follow orders.
Oxytocin, the peptide hormone released when people hug, snuggle, or bond socially, also has a part to play. Gaze-mediated bonding, as well as petting and talking, increases oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs. This is a human-like mode of communication, since wolves rarely make eye contact with their handlers, meaning that the fact that you and your dog like to lock eyes is a trait likely picked up during the domestication process. Oxytocin is linked to feelings of attachment and confidence, which in turn facilitate the establishment of loyalty and love in emotional relationships. The fact that oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs — but not wolves — while engaging in eye contact and communicating social attachments may have supported the evolution of human-dog bonding.
Are Some Breeds More Loyal Than Others?
The domestic dog, or Canis lupus familiaris, is the first and only large carnivore ever to have been domesticated by humans. Mostly within the last 200 years or so, dogs have undergone a rapid change characterized by maintaining breeds through selective breeding imposed by humans. Compared to other wild and domestic species, modern dogs display incomparable genetic diversity between breeds, from a 1-pound poodle to a 200-pound mastiff.
We’ve all heard stories of individual dogs known for fierce loyalty, like Hachiko, the Japanese Akita who waited for his master every day by the Shibuya Station in Tokyo even after he passed away at work. A 2018 study on the genomic make-up of the Czechoslovakian wolfdog found that a common German shepherd crossed with a wild wolf has the same tameness and loyalty to its master as a fully domesticated dog.
There isn’t much scientific evidence of certain breeds being more loyal than others, though one could certainly argue that dogs bred for specific jobs like hunting and herding would have a higher chance of staying loyal to their owners. Breeds that are known for specific tasks may not check all the boxes depending on qualities preferred by the owner. The dependency on human guidance desired in companion dogs may get in the way of a rescue dog’s ability to function successfully in situations when its handler isn’t around, for example. There is a “nature vs. nurture” aspect to consider as well. It isn’t all about genes, though they do play a critical role, but a dog’s individual environment and history can also greatly affect its lifetime behavior.
There, the science behind a dog’s loyalty.
Despite having spent a number of years writing and learning about dogs there were still a few points mentioned in this essay that were news to me.
As they say, one is never too old to learn!
7 thoughts on “Science explains why dogs are so loyal.”
Dogs that herd may be more loyal to their people. That is fascinating. I didn’t know that fact but it makes sense, since they would feel responsible for their well being.
Yes, that’s one of the findings that I didn’t know, Susan. My only query is that the author assumes the pack leader, the Alpha dog, is a male. It is always an Alpha female even in wild wolf packs. I may republish my post on the topic.
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That’s quite fascinating! Thanks for sharing the science of dog loyalty!
I thought so as well, Monika!
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The farmer and trainer / handler I learned from was a typically Northern bloke, straight forward and direct as they come with little time chit-chat or pleasantries. One thing he taught me was how to see border collies from a different angle, understand how and why we harnessed specific behavioural traits and characteristics of their ancestors resulting in what is now the world’s best herding breed.
Whilst it’s not exclusively a working sheepdog (I have one that is and one that isn’t) and there are many that fit perfectly into the non-worker and family / companion lifestyle without issue, they almost all retain behaviours and traits in some way or another.
Wild dogs or wolves will chase, stalk, circle and use a strong eye to intimidate, control and separate individuals sometimes to the point of a stand-off. If one individual stands its ground and refuses to budge, the pack will typically taunt or try to spook and startle it into setting off again because they need that trigger to kick in the chase. Sometimes they will nip the legs to force movement or panic but more often than not if the bison, sheep or whatever prey will not move, back down or fall for their efforts to make it run, they turn their attention to another individual i.e. the smaller or weaker one already legging it.
That gives the rebel a chance to go running and catch up with the herd leaving the wolves free to choose which one they should focus and fix their efforts on or, whether to split into two groups and go for both of them.
The same behaviour, traits and characteristics are seen in working border collies and sheepdogs the main and biggest difference being we have watered down the instinct to go for them physically and with aggression. Still find many BC’s that are too forward going or have a strong lunge-nip reflex but it’s heavily penalised at trials, considered to be the sign of a poor and the ones selected for breeding and ISDS registration are those that don’t need to play Al Pacino to be given respect.
My youngest is the son of five time world champion “Sweep” but doesn’t have the instinct or inclination for work hence being re-homed to us. This clip shows Sweep go off course seemingly for no reason which cost Ricky the championship but I’m convinced he went back because of sheep behind them.
I’m absolutely positive that in his mind, Sweep felt the job wasn’t done and those sheep needed shifting as well. 🙂
What a fabulous reply and I can’t wait to watch that YouTube video. Thank you very much and, frankly, this should be turned into tomorrow’s post!