Cultural Differences in Dogs—Our Responsibility

Dogs snarling

Dog behavior shows cultural differences from one area to the other (photo by Warren Photography at http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk).

 

Do animals have cultural differences? Do dogs behave differently according to their doggy culture?

Yes, they do. Normal behavior is only normal under specific conditions. Normal behavior is the behavior displayed by the majority of the population in a precise area in a particular period. We may not like it, but if most do it, then it is normal. An extreme example: to behave rationally is not normal among humans since most people behave irrationally.

Yes, dogs show cultural differences. Their facial expressions and body languages show slightly different nuances from region to region. Even barking and howling can be distinctive. Davis Mech discovered that when he flew to the Abruzzi to assist Luigi Boitani and Erik Zimen with their wolf research. The Italian wolves howled with an accent (or the Americans did).

Natural selection decides the cultural differences our dogs show from one area to the other. We breed those we like best, and we like them differently from place to place. Remember, selection acts upon the phenotype (the way a dog looks and behaves), but the traits pass to the next generation thru the genes (genotypes) involved in the favored phenotypes. Don’t forget as well that our human choices as to preferred animals are also natural selection.

Cultural differences in dogs are easy to spot when one travels as much around the world, as I do. It still surprises me, for example, to see that European English Cocker Spaniels or Bichon Havaneses are very different from their American counterparts—and not only physically, also behaviorally—same breeds, different cultures.

A culture develops according to the influence of the particular individuals in a group and their distinct environment. The unique characteristics of the individuals and the environment determine the cultural development. In dogs, we are the most influential environmental factor. Therefore, the same original breeds develop variants depending on the human group with which they interact. Apparently, we create the various canine cultures. The question is whether we do it intentionally or unintentionally.

In a sense, we can say that we have the dogs we deserve. We have created them, either by planning to breed them to achieve specific results or by not caring at all—which amounts to the same in this context. The problem is that cultures evolve, our societies change and so do our needs and requirements—which is fair enough. What does not seem fair to me, is to impose our new (cultural) requirements upon the dog, a species we have created to fulfill different (cultural) needs of ours. Of course, we change and so can our dogs, but it requires a well-planned breeding program based on reasonable expectations and scientifically sound methods.

What do you think?

 

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Author: Roger Abrantes

Born in Portugal, a citizen of the World. Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology, B.A. in Philosophy. Speaks seven languages. Present work: lecturing on Ethology and sailing and diving in Thailand (marine biology environmental management).