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The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior by Roger Abrantes 2nd Edition

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Detailed study of evolution of canine social behavior. Leads the reader step-by-step through the various aspects involved in development of single social behavior patterns. Also a comparative study, this book dismisses many common beliefs and assumptions, and leaves the reader with simple, sound explanations. For all students of animal behavior. Revised, updated, and expanded!

In this extremely detailed study, bestselling author, Roger Abrantes, (a Ph.D in ethology and evolutionary biology), looks at the various aspects involved in the development of single social behaviour patterns. Based on scientific evidence, Abrantes takes the reader step-by-step through dog behaviour and expression, offering sound explanations which often dismiss common beliefs and assumptions.

Chapter one begins by looking at the strategy of life. Abrantes explains that to live a long life, postponing death for as long as possible, is the ultimate goal for every living being on the planet.

He goes on to explain how achieving this takes the form of many different strategies, providing examples using the wild canines of the Serengeti and North America. In the canine family we can identify three distinct strategies for survival. These being:

• Solitary Predators

• Family Pack Hunters

• Large Pack Hunters

Abrantes explains how communication patterns increase from 1 to 3. In solitary predators, such as the fox, communication is ruled by aggression or fear, in attack or defence situations. However when observing large packs, like wolves and our dogs, it is evident that their communication goes far beyond this.

Abrantes goes on to tell us that what makes a social animal different is his ability to apply other mechanisms to a social situation than just aggression and fear. These animals have learnt to compromise, evolving other mechanisms that allow them to communicate with other species that can help them in their quest for survival. This, Abrantes calls social awareness – a concept meaning that at a certain point, the young individual becomes aware of others and importantly that these others can limit or increase access to desired resources.

Chapter two studies the beginning, explaining how initially a new-born pup shows no signs of social awareness. There is not yet a place for fear and aggression, the puppy’s only concern is warmth and moisture. However, things cannot stay like this for ever.

Chapter three looks at motivation. Abrantes begins by looking at the opposing theories of explaining behaviour – learnt behaviour versus instinct. Abrantes explains how he favours an approach which combines the two theories. He looks at the work of ethologists on sign stimuli, motor programmes, motivation and drives and learning, including imprinting, alongside the work of Pavlov and Skinner on classical conditioning to explain this.

He places particular emphasis on motivation, a concept compatible with both behaviourism and ethology, explaining that ultimately it is motivation that prompts an animal to perform any kind of behaviour.

In Chapter 4, Abrantes discusses fear, analysing the four different definitions. He explains that fear is in fact a stress reaction to anything considered dangerous and evokes a series of psychological and anatomical processes aimed at the best possible solution for survival. He continues by explaining that fear is innate and vital for the survival of any individual. He uses studies to demonstrate that animals have an innate image of danger without previous learning, prompting us to ask the question is fear behaviour a question of programmed learning or innate responses to sign stimuli?

Abrantes looks at the primary parental imprinting phase and suggests that fear behaviour may evolve in a similar way. He continues to explain that puppies associate fear with an unpleasant physical stimuli, as the dog develops he learns to elicit fear with other stimuli. This is a vital exercise and Abrantes discusses a variety of explanations for this, both psychological and ethological.

Chapter 5 looks at aggression and aggressiveness. Abrantes explains that puppies begin to show aggression at the age of 4-5 weeks, usually triggered by competition for resources which in turn triggers an inherent and innate readiness to display aggression. Abrantes explains the difference between being aggressive and showing aggressive behaviour. He suggests that early disputes between puppies are similar to those we might see in solitary, non-social predators, and that at this stage in life puppies aren’t social; they must become so. He suggests they do this by losing some of their early egocentrism.

Abrantes continues to look at altruism, explaining that it can help us to understand why aggression is necessary to be social. He argues that altruism is in fact selfish behaviour in a more sophisticated form in pursuit of long term advantage. Abrantes believes that this behaviour must be learned, but only where there is a genetic disposition for it. He looks at both bees and chimpanzees to explain altruism for the benefit of relatives and as a mutual aid system.

Abrantes attempts to define aggressiveness and what motivates it, which is primarily another of the same species, the reason being they are the fiercest competitors for the same basic resources. He explains how practically all animals of the same species fight, with the length and ferocity of the fight depending on how the risks weigh up with the benefits. In the case of wolves and dogs, males fight fiercely yet rarely cause much harm. Abrantes explains how identification also plays an important part in aggression.

He then looks at aggression directed at members of another species, questioning whether there are really only two types of aggression. He explains how modern companion animal behaviourists divide intraspecific aggression into competitive and defensive aggression, seeing interspecific aggression as predatory.

Aggressive behaviour develops in parallel with the physical and motor development of the pup. Abrantes explains the 3 stages – competition with siblings, weaning and the alpha male. He sums up the chapter explaining that aggressiveness – the drive directed towards the elimination of competition – is necessary for survival.

Chapter 6 examines limiting aggression – how evolution has developed mechanisms to control the intensity of aggression. Abrantes looks at what these are, the first being territories, which serve as a mechanism to distribute resources, favouring survival of the fittest. The second is the ritualization of aggressive behaviour, for example snarling, which serves to save energy. Abrantes gives us examples of three typical situations in which puppies begin to learn ritualised behaviour, showing us the complexities involved in understanding social behaviour. He continues with an attempt to explain why ritualised behaviour works.

Abrantes suggests that in learning to be social , social animals learn the meaning of social aggression and social fear. Abrantes explains, using some classic examples, how ritualised behaviours lead to a change in motivation. Signals lose their original function and gain a new meaning.

Chapter 7 examines the concept of social aggression and fear further, Abrantes describes them as being built on the recognition of sign stimuli, involving a disposition to recognise certain signals and display certain behaviour patterns, dependant on the environment and learning process. The aim of this ultimately is to influence or control, or, as Abrantes refers to it, dominate.

Chapter 8 explores the concept of dominance. Abrantes describes it as not destroying the competitor but rather controlling it. He goes on to look at dominance – submission relationships, looking at how and why they form and what purpose they serve. He also looks at the strategy of submission, explaining how, through showing submission, members of the group are able to gain advantages.

Chapter 9 looks at the evolution of social behaviour. Abrantes cites aggressiveness, submission, fear and dominance as the four mechanisms that determine the behaviour of social canids. In order to identify the evolution of social behaviour in canines, Abrantes studies the evolution of social behaviour in social insects. From this he suggests that social behaviour works to regulate population density. He goes on to explain the three possible answers to justifying the existence of altruistic individuals, concluding it arose through an evolutionarily stable strategy.

Chapter 10 looks at sexual behaviour. Abrantes looks to sexual behaviour to give us some insight into social behaviour. He examines the selection of traits which increase an individual’s chance to mate and choice of partner, looking at the work of Darwin and natural selection. He explains how through courtship behaviour we are able to observe both dominance and submission.

Chapter 11 looks at a question of conformity. Abrantes argues that some animal behaviourists try to symptomatically classify dog behaviour, which to him is meaningless. He seeks to clear up the confusion over the terms dominance and submission, explaining how people often talk of fear aggression when they really mean submissive aggression. Finally, he explains why there is no such thing as dominance aggression.

In the conclusion, Abrantes provides a useful glossary of terms, and in chapter 13, a final note, he justifies the procedures used throughout the book.

This book is clear, precise and a must read for animal behaviour students, or those wishing to understand more about the complex subject of canine behaviour.