new dog teaches old man a trick or two

The Twin Ontological Motives

Most wildlife biologists think dogs and wolves are members of the same species, Canis lupus. But it’s not a slam dunk.

Genetically, there are no differences; the two can hybridize; their offspring are fertile. That’s the case for considering them phylogenetically identical.

But morphologically, particularly in their skulls, there are significant or at least puzzling differences to some observers. And wolves and dogs tend not to voluntarily seek each other out to reproduce. That’s the case for considering our pets to be a separate subspecies, Canis lupus familiaris.

Either way, the Gray Wolf is the progenitor of the domestic dog, and there are some fascinating similarities.

wolf pelt

The pack drive, for instance. Which is more than just a tendency to coalesce into social units with a clearly defined hierarchy.

Imagine walking a narrow tightrope with a balancing pole swaying from side to side. On one end of the continuum (pole) is the insistent urge to join a social group, and yet the other end simultaneously lures you in the opposite direction, toward your own independence. It’s two extremes of the same drive; like wolves, dogs will likely have more of one, less of the other.

Tzuri, so far, is a bit of an enigma. On the social scale she is not what you would call “cuddly”; she is stingy with tail-wags and face-licks, and likely as not when I call her she just stares back at me with a “what do you want” look until I reach into my pocket for a treat.


Yes, we are a pair; Tzuri has accepted me as her alpha. At least once a day I engage in that centuries-old routine Canis lupus anticipates and understands: immobilize her, stare into her eyes, growl until she submissively looks away. And we have closely bonded in the sense that she constantly monitors my whereabouts and insists on shadowing my every move. Even if she is busy gnawing on a bone and I dart off to the bathroom, she will come trotting in and plop down at my feet.

But on the other end of the scale she has the kind of self-confidence – what the Vet called “a mind of her own” – that makes me wonder about her “family” values. She delights in entertaining herself: loves playing in the rain, digging in the dirt, tilting at windmills. Thunder and sudden loud noises – vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, motorcycles, etc. – do not send her scurrying back to me for ‘comfort’. Her remarkable composure, at times almost an aloofness, hints at a desire to negotiate the world all by herself.


[Evidence has confirmed that in the wild wolf pups can and sometimes do survive on their own when abandoned as early as 4 months. Tzuri might have some of that same rugged independence.]

There’s so much intricacies in relationships with animals, anyone. Tzuri wants to be sure you both survive anything, and she has less information on the subject than an old hand at living like her dad.

It’s in her blood, too, I’d guess, to keep a professional demeanor and alert to attending to your commands. She’s a very special piece of work and except for that wonderful abandon (“mc2”) where she knocks herself out, not a silly pup.

Those incredibly astute observations are from my writer/painter friend, Barbara Sparhawk.  And surely she’s right.  Even since starting this blog a day or two ago Tzuri has exhibited subtle changes.  Like many of us she’s a work in progress, still swaying back and forth with that balancing pole.

🙂 🙂 🙂

We’re no different, it should be noted, Homo sapiens, in that we walk the same tightrope balancing that same pole.

[Modern humans are actually the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens.]

We, too, struggle with opposing urges: submission vs. individuation. Should we give ourselves over to socially approved heroics (Career, Religion) and derive our self-worth from a second-hand, ready-made context? Or, like the Maverick, strike out into the lonely unknown toward our own uniqueness?

I mention all this about instincts and drives and motives because it leads directly to a vexing moral question that many barely acknowledge.

What should I teach my dog, and how?


Lawdy, Lawdy!

I can see my followers now, droppin’ like flies already.

And I’m gonna lose even more next time, methinks, ‘cuz I need to bring Aristotle and maybe even Immanuel Kant into the discussion.

😦 😦 😦

[To Be Continued…]

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