Monday, 27 January 2014

Instinct, Intelligence and a whole bunch of rambling thoughts

Charles got me thinking after he posted the question on FB:
“What do you think, are intelligence and instinct the same thing?”
My answer to this was “no”, and I am referring to dogs here.

This is how I view things: 
Instinct is: an inborn, innate response or behavior, which is not learned. A reaction without conscious thought involved. Some examples of instinctual behavior in animals are: spawning in salmon, finding the udder in lambs, flocking behavior.
 In my opinion all instinctual behavior has to do with survival of the species.
Intelligence is an all encompassing word that includes the ability to learn behavior, communication, understanding, self awareness, problem solving and a whole lot more.
I do not think that intelligence or instinct  are the same thing,
they operate on different levels.
An amoeba, despite not having a brain,
 functions at an instinctual, cellular level.
I think we often mistake  instincts,
for intelligence.

Now, onto LGD (Livestock Guardian Dogs) 

The mandate we give our LGD is simple:
1. Do not eat the livestock
2. Do everything you can to protect them

We usually lump on a whole bunch of other requirements,
however that is not pertinent to this discussion.

Many people talk about the instinct that has been bred into LGD;
one that is both nurturing and protective of stock.
You know these types of statements made by breeders..
 "these dogs have an instinct to protect livestock and have been doing so for thousands of years"

I am not entirely sure that what we are talking about,
 is in fact,
all instinctual behavior.

I am not sure if,
by its very definition,
 instinct can be bred in or out?

Surely, it is not instinctive for a canine to lie down next to the  prey they are designed to eat? 
It is not an instinctive behavior to want to nurture and protect their food source over a span of many years. We do not see wild predators babysitting their prey for years and years. 

The innate response, for predators, is to kill and simply eat the lamb.
Dogs, and that includes LGD, are predators.
Hunting is essential for their survival.
The desire to hunt is instinctual,
however, successful hunting requires intelligence.
 Hunting requires both instinct "to instigate the action"
and intelligence "to learn the action". 

So, I do not think that the “do not eat my livestock” part of the job falls in the category of instinctual behavior.

What is perhaps instinctual,
 is the desire to form a pack and protect their territory/ their young/ each other – this is protectiveness,
and is an integral part of LGD behavior and,
 encompasses part 2 of the work mandate.

 Intelligence is required  for the dog to expand its instinctive protective nature to include  the stock, the yard, the kids.
 This process of learning that the pack includes other species, is refereed to as the “bonding” stage.
 Some breeds bond tightly with the stock and others are less bonded to the stock.
Some are more into guarding territory,
 others,  the stock within the territory.
Both qualities are "good" qualities
just some people find one, more desirable over the other.

The degree of bonding varies as much among individuals as it does among breeds.
This bonding to livestock is not instinctual,
 but a learned behavior,
 that has been heavily selected for.

Remember, genetics or heritablity is not the same as  instinct.
These are separate entities.
 I think when people refer to the "instinct" in LGD,
they actually mean the selection of certain traits.
Something that can be bred in or bred out.

I define the instinctual hunting behavior in canines as prey drive,
and prey drive is on a spectrum from high to low,
where zero does not exist.
Wild canines (wolves, coyotes etc) on one end and,
on the other end of the spectrum,
you would have canine breeds that have very low prey drive, such as LGD.
Herding dogs would be on the higher end of the prey drive spectrum.

The hardest part of raising a LGD is to prevent it from playing, chewing, roughing up, chasing and killing livestock.
Why? Because even your best bred, heavily selected LGD still has some hunting instinct.
 The easiest part and something we do not have to teach the dog is the protectiveness to its “pack” and territory.

Now, how does intelligence play into all of this?

Intelligence will give the dog the ability to learn (not chase the chicken), problem solve ( how to escape out of fences..) and make judgment calls ( bark for back up or get into a brawl with the wolf?).

Intelligence in a LGD would allow it to utilize is existing prey drive to catch mice,
yet allows it to differentiate that stock is not included in this behavioral pattern,
through learning.
LGD Lucy utilizing prey drive to catch mice
Intelligence has very little to do with instinct, but more to do with the range of behaviors possible.

 Instinctive behavior is fairly clearly defined;
you need intelligence to mold the instinctive behavior into a pattern you can utilize.
We do this with herding dogs, hunting dogs, retrieving dogs and LGD.
You need selection to hold onto the desired traits.
So, what I think is happening is that LGD have not lost their instinctual hunting drive,
( we see many cases of LGD chasing and killing stock),
instead what the old world shepherds have done over time
is selected for dogs with lower and lower prey drive.
This selection has resulted in dog breeds that are not “triggered” to react to bouncy little lambs as much as other breeds would, making living together a possibility, as opposed to eating them.

Instinct is not gone, merely suppressed.
I bet if you stop feeding your LGD,
 its instinct will kick in and it will start to eat the stock in a heart beat!
(Hint: feed LGD well!)

Aggression is the outward display of protectiveness.
And,  protectiveness is instinctual.
The degree of protectiveness is another man selected trait.
Some breeds have been selected for a lower level of aggression and others for a higher level of aggression, this selection would probably depend, for a large part, on the predator load and environmental factors.
Some LGD breeds have a lower aggression level as they need to be nice to the neighbors, the postman and the neighbor’s cat.
The breeding of animals who display these desirable behaviors are then combined.
Intelligence will allow for a good dog to make judgement calls as to how much aggression is needed in what situation.
Once again protectiveness is instinctual;
 the degree of aggression is heritable.
Intelligence allows for the behavior to be utilized in various forms (police dogs, gripping a wayward cow, dog fighting..)

I personally do not think that instinctive behavior can be bred out or in to an animal.
Through selection we can we can mold a certain desired trait.
 Intelligence does not influence an instinctive behavior.
I believe that not every LGD is cut out to be a LGD, despite the parents being awesome guardians; in some cases the instinctive response overrides selection and training.
If it was instinctual to protect baby lambs, no LGD would make the error to kill them.
As LGD are intelligent (and stubborn) animals, they can be taught to have a low re-activity towards the livestock.
Most “bad” LGD get selected out (they get shot by the furious rancher when he discovers the dog chewing his livestock).
The ones, who do not make the grade, are generally culled out of the gene pool. 

The qualities we admire in LGD  need to be selected for on an ongoing basis. 
Without this selection, these breeds will revert back to their instinctual behavior pattern and higher prey drive will become more prevalent, undoing years and years of good selection by shepherds.
It only takes one generation, one poor decision to lose what you have.
The work a dog does,
is important so that we can keep selecting for the “right” qualities.

This leads me onto the next discussion, if you do not raise livestock and have LGD guarding them, how can you be sure that you breeding for and selecting the “right” qualities in dogs?

Well, in a nutshell, I don't think you can.
I hear so often of litters of LGD being bred only for show or other reasons (such as dog fighting),
and then they are advertised that they  will make awesome LGD.

The argument that the breeder uses is that even though their dogs are not used for protecting livestock now,
does not mean they have lost their “instinct” to be a LGD.
Maybe, but maybe not.

I see many people advertising their pups as a LGD,
however for a number of generations none of the dog’s ancestors have done the traditional job of protecting livestock.
 Many originate from “urban”  lines.

 I question how people “know” that the desire to protect livestock and nurture baby livestock has not been selected out or lost?
How can we “test” this, without actually having the dogs do the job?
How do you test reliability with stock unless the dog is placed in that situation?
Reliability, that needs to span 10-14 years?
You cannot see "evidence" that a dog laying on the kitchen floor,
 will make an awesome LGD.
You may assume this, even hope that this is the case, bit you just do not know until the dog is placed in that situation.
Do we not make this similar mistake in assuming that our dog will never bite a child?

There is just not another “alternative” way to test LGD;
a working situation is really the only way. 

So, can we maintain all the good qualities our LGD have,
without having stock?

Well, I don't know,
I am of the opinion that if you don't use it,
you lose it.

 Is dog fighting a suitable “test” to measure “protectiveness”?
Many breeders primarily in Eastern European countries claim that is tests bravery, courage, strength..
If they have these traits they will surely be able to ward off a wolf?

 I see part 1 and 2 of the mandate as equally important to being able to function as a LGD.
Only testing aggression does not cover the “do not eat my stock part” of the equation.

 A singular selection just on aggression (through dog fighting) may in fact,
 result in a high prey drive selection, thus defeating objective 1.
Rolling a ball away from a 7 week old puppy to test prey drive,
  does not really cover all the bases. 

What we can do to reinforce the desirable traits here in the west so that they are not lost?
IMO the only way to reinforce these traits is through work and selection. There is just no other way (and, if there is I have not found it yet) to test a dog on prey drive, ability to ignore his instinctual response to living 24/7/365 with his prey, to see his innate protectiveness and intelligence.

You just do not know how a dog will respond unless placed in that situation year in and year out.
We want to preserve the selection that has taken place though  generations of shepherds,
however even that selection  never was, static.
We need to select what suits our ranching operation.
 I do not think my needs as a shepherd,
are any different to the needs of my colleague shepherds in the East. 

 In my opinion,
raising reliable LGD still lies in the hands of shepherds,
who have the ability to “test” the dogs over many years.

To what degree does a farm dog, companion dog, or protection dog differ from your stock protectors?
The difference lies  in the definition of the job.

Here are some of my definitions:
A farm dog is a dog that lives on the farm, he generally goes on the pick-up, barks at strangers, does not not directly interact with the livestock. His main task is to bark when someone enters the yard.
Companion dog, lives within the house, is kept solely for company of the owner, accompanies them, does not necessarily have to “do” anything except wag its tail, lay on the couch and not bite the hand that feeds it.
Protection dog is one that has a job to do and that job is to be reactive if it feels the owner needs and warrants protection. This can be learned response or an innate (instinctual) protectiveness.
Some protection dogs, like most police dogs are  taught this behavior,
in other breeds it is more instinctual.
 Livestock guardians have a clearly defined job, do not eat the stock, protect it with your life and do this 24/7/365 without someone telling you what to do and when.

All breeds can show instinctive behavior such as protectiveness, however not all breeds can do the job of a LGD , they may not be large enough, or built incorrectly, the prey drive may be too high, may not be protective enough etc..
The specific nature of the job does require a specific “tool”.
You can look at a LGD as a valuable asset,
as well as a companion - albeit in the pasture.

Finally, for all the reasons mentioned above, crossing a LGD with a herding dog is simply a very bad choice.
Of course,  people will bombard me with cases of an individual border collie that made an awesome LGD, or a husky cross guardian that did a fantastic job.
I attribute these dogs with intelligence,
and luck.
Some dogs may after a few generations still have a low prey drive and a high protectiveness,
however I am not sure I would want to gamble on that possibility.

The selection in herding dogs has been for a high prey drive and lower protectiveness,
exactly the opposite of a LGD.
This muddles things and can "Mendel" out in all different directions;
it is just too much of a risk to have a messy gene pool,
no pre selection and,
 an instinctive response to eat lamb.

Breeding’s between two LGD breeds is acceptable as the selection has been focused on similar traits and behaviors.

To preserve the working LGD,
you will still need to have shepherds utilizing these breeds,
 lose your shepherds, you lose the function of the breed.

The breed may live on, however it original functionality will be lost.
Remember, Lassie?

Despite this being an extremely long rambling of thoughts,
I welcome your thoughts and ideas.
Feel free to comment, who knows, I may even change and adjust my thought processes.
I am sure a good writer, could write down what I have said  in two sentences.
I am just way to wordy and repetitive.

I am tired and do not feel like re reading this essay, editing the errors etc.
So, it is a take it as it is blog post..


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