Dominance Behavior in Canids


Muzzle-biting behavior. (Source.)

I didn’t really even WANT to make a post about this.

The alpha-beta-omega model of wolf packs is dead in scientific literature, hammered into the ground, so to speak, and it’s been dead for over ten years. So why am I still hearing about it on TV and reading about it in articles? Why are popular dog trainers that encourage you to “be the alpha” still taken seriously?

I think the unfortunate truth is that the idea that there are strong and ferocious leaders in wolf packs and that you, too, can take on that role with your dog is just somehow appealing to people. Almost romantic, in the older sense of the word. And because of this, it makes money. It sells werewolf media. It sells dog training classes. Educational science channels that have no business promoting this false ideology keep it on board because it gets people watching.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fed up with the whole thing.

Okay, let’s talk about dominance, particularly what the word even means, because popular media does a terrible job of explaining it.

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The Raccoon Dog

The tanuki is a raccoon dog, but not all raccoon dogs are tanuki.

Sorry, I wanted to clarify that right up front, because I see this mistake made all the time. The word tanuki refers to the Japanese subspecies, not the entire species, which has a range quite a bit larger than just Japan.

You may be reading this thinking, “Koryos, I don’t know what a tanuki OR a raccoon dog is, can you please show me a picture.”


Photo by Tim Ellis.

Be careful. It’s cute. (Photo by Tim Ellis.)

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Introduction to Canidae


Pack of African wild dogs. (Photo by Bart Swanson.)

Canidae, otherwise known as the dog family, is one of the most highly adaptable carnivore families out there, with an array of body forms and behavioral adaptations. From the three-pound fennec fox to the gray wolf, which can weigh upwards of 130 pounds, there are 34 living species of canids.

I plan to do a series of individual articles on the behavior and life habits of different canids, but for now let’s have an overview of how the group evolved and what sets them apart from other carnivorous mammals.

I’ll also discuss- briefly- the misconceptions of canid social behavior present in popular media.

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Why Do Small Dogs Live Longer Than Large Dogs?

It is common knowledge that large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans (generally around 10-13 years; for the wolfhound and the great dane, as low as 7-8 years) than smaller dog breeds (some of which can go on for as long as 15-20 years). In fact, one study found that within 74 different breeds, dogs lose about one month of life expectancy per 4.4 pounds (2 kg).

So why does this happen?

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