Friday, January 23, 2009

Canine cognizance and aggresiveness

Further on the subject of Ridgeback and canine intelligence in general, I did find a report entitled “The Cognitive Dog” that referenced the work of several scientists. But it didn’t get into the matter of canine IQ.

One thing seemed clear, all dogs have the 5 characteristics Kenth Svartberg referred to. So if you have Ridgebacks with softened temperaments, as I do, it doesn’t indicate a trend. I could theoretically go back to the same breeder and to the same parents of my dogs and (theoretically) pick out pups that aren’t soft. What Svartberg found was that the five characteristics, being common with canis lupus, are evolutionarily stable. But individual dogs used in shows do lose some of their breed-characteristic-edge. If you have ever seen a show, you will notice that they are all asked, as much as possible, to behave in the same manner. My Trooper was supposed to compete in shows, but he refused to have anything to do with that sort of behavior. We obligated ourselves to show Trooper if he took to it, but he never did. He behaved like a Van Rooyan Lion Dog, not a Westminster Show Dog. Bad Trooper.

In the power-point presentation above, there was a description of what to look for in a puppy. In regard to aggression, one of the tests (by Volhard) is called “Restraint”: “The tester crouches down and gently rolls the pup on its back and holds it down with light pressure with one hand for 30 seconds.”

Test Purpose: “Degree of dominance or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations. Fight or Flight Drive.”

The ratings are as follows:

1. 1 Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit (1)

2. Struggled fiercely, flailed (2)

3. ( Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact (3)

4. ( Struggled then settled (4)

5. ( No struggle, no eye contact (5)

6. ( No struggle, straining to avoid eye contact (6)

The Volhards have written several books, and perhaps some recommendations appear in their books, but here there are no recommendations, just 6 ratings pertaining to “restraint.” This test was never performed on my girls, but knowing their personalities, I suspect they would be 4 and 5. Ginger has always made eye contact; so I’d give her a 4, but Sage has difficulty making eye contact; so I’d give her a 5.

The Volhards have 11 categories and I am only mentioning one here, but if I were interested, next time, in a less “softened” Ridgeback, I might try to get a 3. To get a 1 or a 2 seems rather more of a challenge than I would want, but ones and twos apparently exist in all breeds. Perhaps they don’t exist in every litter, but they will be represented in some litters. And bear in mind that there are 10 other categories to consider, not just “restraint.”

As far as I know, no one has proposed a method for measuring breed intelligence. The breeds were developed, that is some secondary characteristics were developed, and given dogs do well or ill at these characteristics. This is well known. Not every Golden Retriever, for example, can be a seeing-eye dog, and not every German Shepherd can be a police dog. In regard to dogs used as Police Dogs, several breeds have been used. I understand that the Malinois is currently the breed of choice, but in Japan at one time, the Airedale was used. If the Airedale is no longer used, it may have more to do with its size and the nuisance of its fur than of capability.

To put this another way, applying Svartberg’s data, there is a range in each breed that goes from very aggressive to very sociable. I happen to have two Ridgebacks that are more toward the social end of the Ridgeback spectrum. There will be dogs of other breeds, even the Golden Retriever and Irish Setter which will tend more toward the aggressive end of their spectra – more aggressive than my girls despite their being “Rhodesian Ridgebacks.” If aggressiveness isn’t a characteristic that distinguishes the breeds, what does distinguish them? The secondary characteristics, characteristics that are not evolutionarily stable like herding sheep retrieving ducks, baying raccoons, or treeing lions.

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