Learning to Compete and Cope

With the close of the socialization period, dogs enter into a long period of juvenile development and progressive independence. The remainder of the chapter addresses the emergence of a number of prominent onto-genetic changes presaging adult social behavior and environmental adjustment. The developments between weeks 1 2 and 21 are associated with the integration of all major behavioral functional systems, maturing sensory abilities, and learning (Fig. 2.7).

Social Dominance (10 to 16 Weeks)

A dog's tendency to form lasting social bonds is derived from the evolutionary development of the pack as the basic social organization of wolf behavior. In the context of the pack, highly aggressive, possessive, and potentially dangerous individuals are brought together in harmonic coexistence. This close interaction is not without tension and periodic disputes over food, sleeping areas, possessions, breeding privileges, and leadership. These complex dynamics require a sophisticated internal or ganization and various "rules" governing social exchange. To ensure efficient functioning, pack members are ranked or socially stratified along a continuum of relative dominance. This so-called peck order or dominance hierarchy not only defines status but also assigns the various roles permitted and functions required of an animal's rank in the pack order. Behaving in ways inconsistent with one's status or rank results in social tension and possibly the display of hostilities toward the offending member.

Such organization serves many biologically significant functions. For instance, to be an effective large-prey predator, wolves long ago organized themselves in a way that maximizes their effectiveness as a hunting group. Also, stratified relations of dominance and subordination provide a powerful social glue binding an otherwise aggressive species together into a working unit while simultaneously reducing

12 15 18 21 weeks

Fig. 2.7. Prominent developmental changes occurring between 12 and 21 weeks of age.

12 15 18 21 weeks

Fig. 2.7. Prominent developmental changes occurring between 12 and 21 weeks of age.

interactive tension and hostilities between members. Within the pack, there is a constant vigilance and tension pressing for the expansion of social power among members. This situation is kept in check through the exchange of ritualized threats and deferential appeasement displays. Serious dominance contests that result in damaging or lethal dominance fights infrequently occur in nature, although such fights occur more frequently among wolves (especially females) kept in captivity. Dominance is structured along sexually dimorphic lines with an alpha male and alpha female at the top of their respective hierarchies. Although the pack is usually led by the male, this is not always the case. Individual members within the pack form "political alliances" among themselves, adding further stability to the pack and complexity to the line of power. One such alliance is between the breeding pair. In essence, the union of the alpha male and alpha female brings the whole pack together in the united purpose of procreation. Social dominance yields two primary benefits to the alpha animal: status and reproductive prerogative. Within the context of the wolf pack, such positioning has tremendous value and is worth struggling to obtain and maintain, perhaps even risking serious injury when necessary.

Social competitiveness among puppies begins early, coinciding with the beginning of the socialization period. James (1955) found that, among 6-week-old puppies, dominant individuals routinely secured food first or threatened or pushed away subordinates. Actual physical attack with biting was rarely observed, indicating that at an early age more ritualized means of resolving competitive disputes are already functional. In a previous study (James, 1949), he found that a more or less stable social hierarchy develops among most litters of puppies by 12 weeks of age. He divides the hierarchy into three main parts: (1) a very aggressive-dominant group; (2) a midgroup (a group that may be better termed subdominant); and (3) an inhibited-submissive group. The midgroup is subordinate to the aggressive-dominant group but exhibits dominance over the inhibited-sub-

missive group. He noted that there was little antagonism among members belonging to the midgroup.

The harmonious interaction of midgroup members may be attributable to the midgroup's ample experience and exercise of both dominant and submissive behavior— that is, they more successfully ritualize their agonistic interaction. In the case of dominant-aggressive puppies, they are unable to defer, generating social tension wherever they happen to be. On the other hand, submissive puppies lack the ability to assert themselves, thus becoming the constant target of more aggressive and dominant littermates. Finally, James (1949) also observed that heated competitive interaction between dominant puppies infrequently resulted in the disputants attacking one another. Instead, a frustrated competitor was more likely to vent his hostility by redirecting it toward a submissive underling remaining at some distance away from the food bowl.

It has been frequently observed that puppies tend to eat more when fed in a social situation than when fed singly (Ross and Ross, 1949). James (1961) found that the effect of social facilitation on eating depends on the relative dominance of the puppies observed. Dominant puppies ate considerably more food in the presence of other puppies than was eaten by more subordinate counterparts. A similar dominance factor may help to explain Scott and McCray's (1967) findings concerning the effects of social facilitation on running speed in noncompetitive versus competitive situations. They determined that paired puppies ran a 200-foot course faster, but only if they were each given a food reward at the end of the run. When a competitive element was added—that is, only the winner was rewarded, the times were slightly depressed. Perhaps, under conditions of competition, the more subordinate puppy may decline to try as hard to obtain the reward. Consequently, the dominant one would not need to run quite as fast to get the food, which would explain the negative effect of competition on running speeds. Incidentally, the depressing effect of competition on running speeds was especially pronounced in cases where strong elements of competition were evident between the paired puppies.

A large portion of a puppy's interaction with littermates is of a competitive or agonistic nature. Competition may take place over the most productive teats, food, toys, sleeping areas, and, apparently, just for the fun of it. Playful dominance testing and nonspecific social quarreling is commonplace within the litter. The litter in many particulars is very similar to the pack. The latter may only be a more highly organized, purposeful, and regimented development of the former—a progression moving from a nurturing matriarchy to a stable patriarchal stratification of pack members into an organized working group.

Among wolf pups, serious aggressive efforts to establish dominance may appear as early as 30 days of age and result in a stable rank order between contestants (Mech, 1970). In the case of dogs, dominance relations between puppies are rather loosely organized and may change significantly during the early weeks of social development (Wright, 1980). A 7-week-old puppy might go to sleep content with her most recent dominance victory, only to lose it during breakfast the following day. The fluidity and instability of the dominance structure is probably responsible for the constant play fighting and agitation occupying the puppies when not sleeping or otherwise distracted. This social situation becomes progressively more organized through week 11, and by week 15 or 16 it is replaced by a stable social organization of dominant/subordinate relationships (Scott and Fuller, 1965). James (1949) also noted a stabilization of the dominance hierarchy occurring around 16 weeks of age in association with a sharp shift in dominance relations. After this time, the ranking order between the puppies remained stable into adulthood.

Although a puppy's size and sex are important determinants of social status, rank is also affected by various experiential factors, such as the quality and quantity of early social contact. Fisher (1955) found that permis-sively reared and indulged puppies were usually dominant over other experimental groups, including those puppies that were al ternately punished or indulged during social contact, puppies whose social contact was limited to interactive punishment, and puppies that were isolated over the entire period. In comparison with these others, the indulged group was more competitive and aggressive during dominance tests; they consistently controlled the bone in spite of their often being female and smaller. Fisher noted only one exceptional case contrary to this general pattern. Of all the groups of puppies observed, the isolates were the least aggressive and competitive, having apparently lost or suffered a dramatic attenuation of the normal patterns of intraspecific agonistic behavior.

The implications of these findings are important for understanding puppy dominance testing and agonistic challenges directed toward family members. Prior to week 11, dominance positioning is more or less sham and labile, but as puppies move into month 4 and beyond, they become progressively more confident and defensive about their dominance status. Such puppies can be extremely "testy" and are often prepared for a battle of wills. As the result of previous playful fighting, dominant puppies may engage in persistent and provocative mouthing on the hands and clothing of their innocent and confused human companions, who may be of the false opinion that their puppy's oral excesses are mainly due to teething, exuberance, or affection. Precocious dominance aggression is occasionally observed among puppies of this age group. The problem with early displays of excessive mouthing or dominant behavior is that it frequently prefigures adult dominance-related problems. Further, since a dog's behavior is most flexible and malleable before 16 weeks of age, it is important that such issues be resolved by then. Many gentle training and massage techniques are now available to help facilitate subordination and cooperative behavior in puppies.

While young puppies may also engage in such testy behavior, their willingness to abandon the urge to dominance test and mouth makes it easier to modify or redirect. A general rule of thumb when choosing a puppy is to pick one that fits somewhere in the middle of the litter dominance hierarchy. Determin ing where a puppy lies within the peck order is not always easy, since dominance relations are loosely defined, especially during the early weeks. Tests devised by breeders and trainers to scan for and rate relative dominance have come under recent suspicion (Beaudet et al., 1994) although, as matters stand, testing can be useful even if the results are not entirely reliable as fine predictors of future behavior. There can be no doubt, however, in cases of extremes (as in overly aggressive or fearful temperament types) that such tendencies can be isolated by temperament testing performed by an experienced evaluator. Puppy testing has been used for predicting trainabil-ity in military working dogs (U.S. Army's Biosensor Research Team) and selecting guide-dog candidates (Pfaffenberger, 1963). Recently, however, Wilsson (1997) has questioned the validity of early puppy tests for predicting suitability for service-dog work. His tests carried out with 8-week-old puppies failed to detect predictive indicators for train-ability when the dogs were tested again at between 15 and 20 months of age. Despite these problems, a good biweekly or weekly testing regimen may be beneficial for puppies simply because of the added attention and learning experiences it provides—contact that might not otherwise be available. These instruments are not intended to assess or predict potential temperament flaws or future performance in any particular area but are employed to evaluate a puppy's temperament at the time of testing and to define areas that may need special attention. Subsequent testing can be used to monitor a puppy's progress objectively.

Social Attachment and Separation

Puppies form very strong social attachments and become emotionally reactive and distressed when separated from littermates or the mother. For immature dogs, maintaining social contact enhances their chances of survival and is probably a strongly prepared canid trait. Sustained distress vocalization may serve to attract the attention and aid of the mother. Under conditions where help is not forthcoming, puppies (and the separation-anxious adult dogs) appear to become fixated in an unresolved state of emotional tension and progressive reactivity. The consequence of unanswered distress vocalization is escalation and perseveration. Several factors influence the magnitude of distress vocalization. Fredericson (1952) found that puppies separated from their littermates vocalized much more when confined alone, averaging 211 vocalizations per 5 minutes of observation versus 30 vocalizations when confined with a companion puppy. Another important factor is the location of confinement. Elliot and Scott (1961) found that puppies confined in a familiar area are much less reactive to separation than matched counterparts confined to a strange pen (Fig. 2.8). Furthermore, puppies tested in a familiar area appear to adjust progressively to separation from week 3 onward, whereas counterparts exposed to confinement in a strange area exhibit rising levels of distress that culminate during week 7. Comparing the two groups at 7 weeks of age shows that puppies confined to a strange pen are more than three times as reactive than those puppies confined in a familiar pen.

Pettijohn and colleagues (1977) carried out a series of experiments to compare various means of alleviating separation distress in young puppies. They compared the occurrence of distress vocalization in the presence of various stimulus conditions: food (bones, familiar food, and unfamiliar food), toys (hard toy, soft toy, and towel), dog contact (mother, unfamiliar dog, and mirror), and human contact (observer behind wire, passive handler, and active handler). The least effective stimulus condition for the attenuation of separation distress was food, with unfamiliar food being slightly more effective than familiar food or bones. Among toys, the strongest alleviation was obtained with soft objects, including a stuffed animal and a towel. The provision of hard rubber toys yielded no benefit. interestingly, the withdrawal of the soft toys resulted in a distress surge moving above pretest baseline levels. The mirror produced a strong modulatory effect on distress vocaliza-

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