Guard Dog Blog

on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life…

Do you love me?


The pups have started to separate into two distinct groups, one that loves to see us coming and the other that doesn’t really give a damn.  Interestingly, the pups who bound up to us (and any visitors) have among them some of the most shy pups from last week. They have all received the same amount of interaction and handling. This got me thinking on one of my most favorite, yet sorely under-discussed topics: innate canine human orientation.


Birch, captain of the human-loving team.


Many canine obsessed people such as myself will refer to dogs as “people oriented”, and point out the level of that orientation that is clearly visible.  Labrador Retrievers and Border Collies come to mind when we talk about dogs who consistently respond positively to most people and seem easy to direct.  Great Pyrenees and Siberian Huskies do not.

Some trainers perpetuate the idea that a dog’s willingness to engage with people rests solely on the skill of the handler, regardless of breed or type.   They believe that all dogs should respond equally well to training and attempts at engagement, placing all of the onus for this on the handler.  Interestingly, according to a study by Gacsi, McGreevy, Kara and Miklosi published in 2009, nothing could be further from the truth.   In contrast to Hare’s study of wolves and dogs which concluded that dogs covergently evolved social skills with humans than wolves did because they possess a far superior ability to follow pointing gestures, Miklosi et al’s study looked at whether the pointing gesture is followed equally well across different breeds.  Not surprisingly, they found that certain type of dog breeds were less able to follow the gestures, leading them to conclude that the ability of a dog to respond to human communication is more a result of selection pressure and less the result of being of a certain species.

Spruce and Alder

Spruce and Alder. Alder is firmly in the “humans are optional” camp.

Miklosi et al set out to prove that dogs who have undergone selection pressure to work more cooperatively with people will naturally show a higher natural ability to engage with us.  The results of their work do support this hypothesis and lead us to bigger questions about the intelligence of the dogs we live and work with as well as whether we can ever rightly conclude that handler engagement is a one way street.  As many dogs who readily respond to human interaction are prized and selected above others as possessing a superior intellect, how will that affect the dogs of the future?  How can we change our view of less people oriented dog types or breeds so that their full abilities can be appreciated?

The fascinating thing for me in observing and interacting with this particular set of pups is how the innate preference for human interaction is showing itself so early, and so definitively in what we believe to be the 8th week of life.  It’s amazing how experiences like this, which were never intended to happen, can enlighten us on subjects that we never might have had a stake in otherwise.

Family portrait

Family portrait


Author: offleash

Small farmer, student of canine life, advocate, dog rehab and behavior specialist.

6 thoughts on “Do you love me?

  1. I always kind of saw it as wolves just don’t accept the direction as much. A wolf can be tamed, can even get used to “dog work” (especially if it is hunting, patrolling or heavy exercise work) but GRRM had it right when he said, “A man might befriend a wolf, even break a wolf, but no man could truly tame a wolf.” A lot of the spitz, primitive and pariah breeds you kind of see levels of intermediate “Oh, a human. I guess… I’ll sit for you if you give me treats?” level a wolf basically has, but a little less extreme as with wolves in typicality. Also, to shed the philosophical, that is freaking adorable.

  2. I have boxers and they are extremely people oriented since they are little puppies (though not so obedient as shepherds). From the time they are 3 weeks old (and sometimes sooner) they are fascinated by humans. As soon as they see you, they are here. If you sit down on the floor, they are all over you, etc.

  3. Great article. Of our two dogs, one is a “humans are optional”* kind of dog, very smart and stubborn who always has her own plans mapped out. The other dog is a sucker for love and attention, very cute but also very naive, in need of a lot of everyday attention and encouragement and being told what to do.

    Our “Humans are optional” dog was originally “rescued” from a remote desert village where dogs roam free and ownership is a fairly loose concept, so selection is for survival in a harsh environment, in addition to for human companionship.

    *I love that expression, it is spot on.

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