It’s your choice: hate mail or intelligent questions

E-mail discussion on controversial dog issues
By Laure-Anne Visele, written Nov 2012

Theo from Canada

I got this wonderful mail from a reader: Theo from Canada.

Theo had doubts about some of the stuff I write, so he e-mailed me. This is where it gets interesting… Theo was not mailing me insults –as many do– but… counterarguments. He wanted solid answers to his solid doubts.

It got me to do what I like best: think. I enjoyed the resulting conversation so much that I asked him if I could share it with you all.

The mail

(Theo’s questions in brown)

Hi Theo

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the blog. Great have you around, and I hope you stick around.

What sort of a dog career are you embarking on?

I love the deeper questions: it shows you don’t accept ideas just like that. The sign of a critical thinker, Here is my modest attempt at answering your fascinating questions, starting with the practical one:

‘How you do I receive your blogs?’ If you want to receive an alert when a new article comes out, you could follow Canis Bonus on Facebook. I always announce it there. Or you could catch up through to the RSS feed.

1) If a wolf pup grew up with humans and not in the forest, will it scavenge and also eat bin foods just like dogs? Does that make them omnivores then? I have seen wolf and wolf hybrids …

(referring to Vegan or raw meat?)

Given a choice the dog will scavenge more and the wolf will hunt more (behavioural genetics and ecological niche). If the wolf is not given the choice to hunt, then he will scavenge. In fact, they scavenge a little bit as it is. But mainly, they hunt. Given a choice (free-ranging) dogs do not hunt. They hunt a little bit, and are very bad at it (I think Boitani et al did some work on this, check Google Scholar).

But the digestive system of neither wolf nor dog is that of a true carnivore (anatomy). Cats are true carnivores, dogs and wolves are not (anatomically). If you want to find out more, check out Linda Cases’ Canine Nutrition. Very thick book and very scientific/technical, but enlightening read.

2) Will your training methods work if the dog was being trained for protection work? Something I am looking into

I have heard of some police dog training schools in the Netherlands using clicker training (so reward-based only). But I do not know much about protection work, so I do not have concrete examples. I know that Jim Barry (famous dog trainer) is clicker-training hunting dogs — maybe you could approach him with that question, as he’ll know of similar work with protection dogs?

If you’d like to find out more about how dogs learn, you could read Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash. Short, easy to read, and seriously researched from peer-reviewed science.

Oh, and on Kikopup (Emily Larlham) on Youtube explains how to teach every possible behaviour with positive methods in really short videos. Results are astounding. I am sure she’ll be able to answer if you write her a comment through her Youtube channel?

3) Are they more differences in wolves and dogs or more similarities? From your blogs, it appears that only the differences are stressed?

(referring to The D-WordScience and dominance, and Dog parenting skills)

There are a lot more similarities between wolves and dogs than there are differences. But genetically speaking, there are also a lot more similarities between bananas and humans than there are differences.

So we have to ask: what aspect of dogs/wolves are similar, and what aspects are not? We cannot assume any point will be similar without checking, as we know of so many differences already. I emphasize the differences to encourage people to think critically about the common wisdom (that they are practically clones).

It all boils down to the genetic effect of domestication on behaviour, ecology and appearance. Try to find a summary of Clutton-Brock’s work on domestication on animals. Or if you want something more visual: check out Belayev’s fox experiment on Youtube (on the dramatic effect of selecting for docility).

Also, some experiments were made on the docility/pliability/sociability to humans of hand-reared wolf cubs in comparison to pups, and the differences were striking. Check it on Google Scholar. Can’t remember who did that study. Scott and Fuller I think.

4) Breeders dispute the so called “hybrid vigor” – what do you think of this?

Another very deep question. You’re on a roll! I am no geneticist, so this is a broad-based zoology answer. A hybrid is not guaranteed to be healthy. BUT, the parents of a a pure-bred are more closely related than those of a mongrel, so the chance of a deleterious homozygous trait is increased.


Having said that, if all breeders refused to breed a dog with the slightest problem (health or behaviour), they could have a great influence on the dog’s gene pool, so I do not believe in making them out to be villains or anything.

5) What is your view on spaying/neutering? And your take on this?

I haven’t researched this recently enough to give you a meaningful answer.

Off the top of my head (but I last looked into this seriously about 10 years ago) I know that some research shows that spaying females may increase one type of aggression, and that spaying males has a 70% chance of reducing problem behaviour like roaming or overly competitive behaviour towards other males. I also seem to remember that neutering females may reduce the chance of ovarian cancer. I also think that, given the disastrous dog overpopulation, I would much rather dogs weren’t creating more litters.


Philosophically, I don’t have qualms about how it affects the ‘manhood’ of a male dog, or its dignity, or how we’re taking away his reproductive rights.


Your comments

Do you have your own blog and get reader’s mail with different views? How often does it really get you to think? Do you get a lot of abusive mails because your views don’t gel with some of your readers’?

As a reader, if you disagree with a blog you regularly read, do you drop it, or do you pick up your pen?

Have you been a “Theo from Canada” to a blog, and was it a good experience? Was it pointless? Do you regret it?

Further reading

Dogs and society

Dog training and behaviour

Follow Canis_bonus on Twitter

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  1. Donna Hill B.Sc. BEd
    Posted 29 November 2012 at 22:35 | Permalink

    Great questions!
    Here is a link you might find interesting about effects of spaying and neutering on dogs. It’s a summary of studies.

    Also, because all dogs are different breeds, not different species, they are not technically “hybrids” which applies taxonomically only to successful production of young by different species. The term is commonly applied to dogs, but it is incorrect. Hybridizing between different variations of plants is correct usage. If you check on Wiki who does mention ‘breeds’ you’ll notice there is no reference.
    You will also find all the examples of hybrids refer to interspecies breeding. To answer your question to health issues, yes and no. Yes, breeding different dog breeds together can result in healthy dogs IF the foundation stock is healthy. However, breeding two breeds together who both carry a gene for a disease (for example in two breeds with hip dysplaysia like a Shepherd and lab), can still result in dogs that both carry the disease genetically and exhibit the disease.

    • Posted 30 November 2012 at 12:42 | Permalink

      Donna, I love your explanation about hybrid vigour. It is confusing (and potentially misleading) because it draws on several concepts like one of the to-date-unresolved one of ‘what is a species’. But am stopping myself before I get all ‘philosophy of science’ on this thread. I could wax lyrical about this stuff for hours. ; P

  2. Posted 29 November 2012 at 23:31 | Permalink


    if I disagree with a blogg repeatedly, I stop reading it ;D

    Concerning Theo’s second question – check out Steve White:


    • Posted 30 November 2012 at 12:40 | Permalink

      Wow, thanks, Martina. How great questions beget great answers!

  3. Donna Hill B.Sc. BEd
    Posted 30 November 2012 at 00:11 | Permalink

    Here’s an article that might be of interest to Theo as well.

    Hybrid vigour is actually a funny phrase. An oxymoron actually. Considering most hybrids are sterile, how can they be vigorous if part of the definition is ‘reproductive’? LOL

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