I started reading Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals yesterday — it’s mainly about recognizing the core emotions in various domesticated animals and figuring out how to turn on the good ones and not the bad ones. One thing I found very interesting in the chapter on dogs is the idea that they actually need a parent, not a ‘pack leader’ — in truly wild packs of wolves, the younger wolves live with their parents for two or three years, and there’s no fighting for rank. It’s only in forced (man-made) wolf packs that somebody gets to be alpha, beta, etc. And since dogs are basically wolf pups that never fully mature, Grandin and others argue that what they really need are parents, although she admits that in practice, it doesn’t really matter whether you think of yourself as a parent or an alpha — just be in control and set the rules.
She also sites a study that looked at the ‘wolfiness’ of various dog breeds. By looking at the number of wolf behaviors the breeds demonstrated, they were able to rank Siberian Huskies as the wolfiest (all of the behaviors) and Cavalier King Charles spaniels as the least (only two of the fifteen behaviors). Because submissive behaviors are learned later by wolves, the ‘puppier’ the breed, the fewer submissive behaviors it has. Chihuahuas aren’t mentioned specifically, but toy breeds are thought to be the least wolf-like, and little dogs certainly do have a reputation for aggression and not knowing when to back down.
I had a Malamute x Golden retriever as a teenager, who should arguably have been pretty darn wolfy (Malamutes are very similar to Huskies, and Goldens ranked second on the list). And I’m pretty sure he did exhibit all the behaviors listed in the book. But I wouldn’t have said that Nova or Henny don’t — and supposedly they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s just a case of individuals being the exception, and obviously Henny was traumatized early in life in a way that made her extremely shy and submissive. But before I had Chihuahuas, I did think of little dogs as being ‘less than’ real dogs, and they’re definitely not.
I don’t know if play counts when it comes to these behaviors, but Nova (who is clearly dominant over Henny — everybody is) has learned to take turns at being submissive. If you’re able to pick anything out of the dog-flurry when they’re wrestling, you can see that there a give and take with who’s dominating whom. And if Nova can’t ‘bully’ Henny into playing, she’ll roll on her side or back and try to manipulate Henny that way. They’re also both good at ‘tolerating frustration’ — Nova knows if I say, ‘This is for Henny,’ she has to leave it alone, and I’ve desensitized her to being messed with (mainly having my hands in her face) when she’s eating, which used to really trigger a reaction.
Nova does react to new dogs who are too interested in her by snarling, but I think that’s fear ‘aggression’ (she doesn’t actually strike) than flat out aggression. The one time we went to an off-leash dog park, she did really well with all the big, galloping dogs — she was nervous but didn’t curl a lip. She knows to be submissive with me, and in situations where she’s overwhelmed, she’ll display the behaviors listed in the book — crouching, looking away, and licking her lips.
I’m not trying to make any point, other, I suppose, than that I think my Chihuahuas are as doggy as the certified-wolfy dogs I’ve known. I do like that they’re not wolf-sized, though! Oh, in the second photo above, Nova is doing ‘bite-y mouth face’ because I was threatening her with my vicious finger. She likes to sit up against my legs when I’m lying on the sofa, so I’ll pet her stomach, but it always devolves into mock-bite-y games. Puppies, eh?