The fact of having replaced the hunt through the two daily meals supplied by us in the bowl has in no way changed the nature of those we have at our side: the dog will always carry in his genes the predisposition to “prey”.
On the other hand, it could not be otherwise, if we think that the original ancestral type from which all the dogs come, the wolf, represents one of the maximum living expressions of predatory species.
And even though thousands of years have passed, many of which dedicated to its selection by us, the dog has remained nothing more than a juvenile form of the wolf hidden under varying forms, having maintained the same chromosomal outfit.
Keeping in mind the above, therefore, it will be easier to understand why certain behaviors (which basically belong also to us, two-legged predators), as well as making sure that the “predatory” need can be adequately met , for the well-being of our friend.
Hunting is the most natural thing for a dog. And all our friends, some more or less, have this need. Let’s find out why it is so important for them (in reality, it was also for us …)
1. A matter of instinct
Belonging to the sphere of predatory species means having an innate predisposition to kill for innate predisposition to kill in order to survive.
This predisposition can be translated into the concept of “instinct” as a voluntary and unlearned expression that allows you to activate different types of behavior.
The study of “instincts was born together with the science that more than others has dedicated itself to” phylogeny “, ethology. This is aimed at observing the actions expressed by an individual without the latter having undergone a preventive process of learning.
Instinct is, therefore, what drives someone to do what they do, in the absence of a previous acquisition and memorization program of a specific skill. So the mother takes care of the offspring spontaneously, and equally the offspring require maternal intervention in an equally immediate way.
Or, if he considers himself in danger, our friend will flee, attack, remain immobile or try to “pacify” with the other side, all without anyone having previously given him the information on what to do.
From a historical point of view, the first studies on instinctive behaviors had believed that there was only one great “instinct”, something “superior” which, for who knows what metaphysical force, induced living beings to act in response to certain stimuli.
Only after extensive research has it been concluded that every living being with a central nervous system carries within it a so-called “parliament of instincts”, naming each voluntary and innate action with a specific connotation.
In technical terms, the “parliament of instincts” is called “ethogram“, That is the set of instinctive actions ascribable to a particular species. As for the dog, at the top of this “parliament” we will certainly find the instinct of predation, considered in all respects the father of any other innate behavior.
But what does it mean to prey? It means dedicating time and effort to identifying a possible vital energy to draw from to stay alive. Only in this way, by feeding, the predator can then devote himself to identify a “partner” with which to reproduce, transmitting their genes to subsequent generations.
Therefore, prey on to survive and express, throughout your life, other actions of an instinctive value.
2. It is not aggression
As cruel as predatory behaviors may appear, we must specify that predation should never be confused with aggression.
The latter in fact implies the use of any offensive means aimed at eliminating competition from a stranger, belonging to the same or a different species.
In aggression, therefore, functional actions emerge to protect themselves, or the entire “pack”, with the desire to remove or eliminate as soon as possible the person who considers himself a threat.
Studies on aggressive behavior have shown that the use of the “weapons” available becomes fundamental, especially if the counterpart proves potentially dangerous.
Aggressive action therefore involves evaluation characteristics that imply the threat, the type of stimulus, the age of the victim, the intensity and typicality of the bites.
These elements, evaluated on the basis of specific coefficients, allow to indicate the level of danger of the aggressor, knowing that the aggression behavior is based on the relationship between the inhibition of the attacker, the strength available and the latent predisposition to be aggressive. .
On the contrary, in predatory actions there is no trace of these elements: the predator must act as such at the expense of the victim for the latter to become a source of new vital energy, and this excludes that there may be aggression towards a potential guarantee of survival.
3. Different areas come into play
In confirmation of what has just been expressed, it is important to know that studies on aggression and predation behaviors have shown that the parts of the brain involved in these actions are completely different.
In particular, the execution of aggressive actions activates theventromedial hypothalamus while the performance of a hunting activity “turns on” thelateral hypothalamus.
Furthermore, in emotional terms, aggressive action brings about a state of anger and, in some cases, of subsequent prostration. Otherwise, the fulfillment of hunting actions involves the emotions of joy and curiosity, without producing anger or fear.
For a canid, hunting also means testing one’s athletic skills, establishing the best strategy to achieve the goal and therefore involving the brain activities of reasoning and memory.
The prey also becomes a “victim” without being identifiable by the attack. In other words, we will talk about two different instinctive expressions: one in charge of self-defense and the other devoted to guaranteeing survival.
Much of the dog breeds that surround us have been selected precisely on the basis of predatory behavior. In fact, the formation of morphological and homogeneous character strains occurred in relation to the tasks to which the same components had been subjected.
There were, already in the mists of time, dogs vowed to lead and / or protect the herds, others in charge of signaling the presence of prey with just stopping, others specialized in the recovery and carry-over of what was hunted, still others excellent in pursuing the sense of smell.
These specializations, denominated as “engine pattern”, Were then maintained and passed on to subsequent generations according to a rigid selection protocol.
The individual breeds that we know today would then become the final link in this selective procedure, each of them specializing in actions coinciding with a particular phase of predation behavior.
Thus, today, we have groups of breeds devoted to carrying out specialized tasks and, as such, not carrying the entire predatory range. Think of the bring-back dogs, the hunting dogs or the hunting dogs: they are different hunting breeds devoted to carrying out specific actions and selected for this purpose for equally precise objectives.
Moreover, even in the more or less “lupoid” type of dogs there are subjects in charge of conducting the flocks who, according to the breed they belong to, perform this task in a different way.
4. Hunting dogs. They are still the majority
As evidence of the fact that our species has dedicated itself with great commitment and since ancient times to the selection of the hunting dog by differentiating its skills in an extremely varied way, just look at the list of breeds recognized by the International Cynological Federation and therefore also by the Enci.
Five out of ten groups (group 4, group 6, group 7, group 8 and group 10) consist exclusively of hunting dogs, while other breeds used for these tasks are found in group 5 and group 3.
The specializations of these numerous breeds cover practically every type of hunting need, on any territory and for any type of prey. In other words, each of these dogs carries out a more or less limited predatory activity of a specialized type.
If we then think about the fact that in every corner of the world there are many other hunting breeds not recognized by the FCI but by other associations or never subject to recognition, we understand how much the predatory instinct of the dog is appreciated by our species.
Most hunting dogs were selected not to push the predatory sequence to the kill, leaving this to the human team member. But there are also breeds that, on the other hand, possess the entire predatory compendium and this regardless of a possible need for consumption.
Continuing on the evolutionary scale, the breeds of the Dachshunds, those of the Terriers and sometimes also those of the Hounds predict the achievement of the prey and its possible killing.
And let’s not forget the greyhounds, hunters “on sight” par excellence: in front of the movement of something interesting they will gallop at incredible speed until they reach the prey and give it a potentially lethal bite.
Also in relation to the predatory characteristics, the theory of “neoteny”, Based on the correlation between the different strains of domestic dog and the periods of development of the wolf.
Finally, a link between predatory skills and type of breed can also be found in the “cinognostica”, The science dedicated to the study of the morpho-functional characteristics of the domestic dog.
5. A need met by sports
In our friend’s imaginary “pyramid of needs”, predatory behavior is on the third level, after survival and safety needs.
Having accepted the elements related to staying alive, such as food, water, health and sleep, and guaranteed the possibility of finding a place to feel sufficiently protected, the dog highlights the need to activate the numerous instinctive behaviors, first among all to prey on.
Being a need, and as such must be satisfied, the “predatory pattern“Can be manifested through targeted and functional actions. Also in this perspective, numerous dog sports have arisen, each of which can guarantee the execution of the different “engine diagrams”Of predation.
In usefulness and defense, the continuation of the track and the bite on the sleeve of the helper recall the pursuit of the prey and the attack, while in theAgility moving quickly along a path made of jumps, palisades, basculas and walkways recalls unraveling in imaginary woods in the direction of a “hypothetical” goal.
In retrieving, the finding and bringing back specific dumbbells on canvas means delighting in hunting fake birds, and also the search for the missing, for civil or recreational purposes, consists in wanting to find a possible hidden prey who knows where.
Then there are more natural tests, such as the Sheepdog, the sporting management of the flocks, and the actual hunting competitions.
Not everyone knows it, but the original purpose of many dog sports is to identify the subjects most inclined to express the so-called “race memory”, thus allowing the definition of couplings aimed at transmitting genes to subsequent generations.
Being “innate characters”, they will be transmitted to the descendants, selecting additional subjects predisposed to certain tasks.
To ensure a minimum satisfaction of the predatory without dedicating to specific dog activities, the use of balls, bites to bite or frisbees to throw (not in the area of Disc Dog but for recreational purposes) may be sufficient, in some cases, in others, however, not : depends on the individual.
However that may be, it will be essential to plan the daily “predatory pleasure” in respect of the psychophysical abilities of each individual, calculating the age, experience, health and morphology of those we have at our side.
Respect these parameters, the simulation of a possible predation will become an excellent long-term fulfillment tool … happy dog!