Who Domesticated Whom? Dog or Human?

Posted by jlubans on June 10, 2014

20140610-dog tolerant.jpeg
Caption: One Very Tolerant Dog.
Here’s a test* for you:
When a feral dog pack decides where to go, whom do they follow?
A. The most dominant dog in the pack.
B. The dog with the most friends in the pack.
C. The dog who is best at finding food?
D. Feral dogs do not live in packs.

If your answer is “A”, you have a lot of company (68%).
But, research shows that the pack will follow the dog with the most friends in the pack, “the dog with the strongest social network.”
In other words, the pack follows the one with the best social skills and ability to interact (to play, if you will) with others in tolerant and cooperative ways.

What does this have to do with work? Well, most of our work structures are designed around “A” type leaders. We are taught to believe that a dominant leader is the best kind of leader. Even when research and experience show that the unboss gets more done, society still has a strong inclination to believe that a strong boss is superior to someone who leads through participation.
Interestingly, Hare and Woods* write that the few modern populations that still live as hunter-gatherers “do not have a leader or dominant individual who makes decisions for the group. Instead, bands of hunter-gatherers work together against any individual who tries to dominate the group.”

I suppose one could argue that it is the dominant personality - the one that has to have things done “his way or the highway” - who is more responsible for societal problems over the past 50,000 years than it is the vast majority of humans who tolerate, cooperate and do not seek to impose on others.

I use these ideas in teaching about freedom at work, the democratic workplace, and leading from the middle to trigger discussion about who we are and why we behave the way we do. Science offers us insights into how animals behave and by inference how and why we humans behave. Where does our ability to work together come from? Evolutionary science has it that our survival depends on tolerance and cooperation – something that is also shared with other animal groups, especially dogs. Colin Groves, a researcher at the Australian National University suggests: “Humans domesticated dogs, and dogs domesticated humans.” Hare and Woods add their own claim: “Dogs may have civilized us.”

I hope you find these ideas as fascinating as I do, ones well worth some thought as we seek to figure out how we work best and what elements are most important for productive and satisfying work.

P.S. A constant question for me is How is it, in the evolutionary process, that negative traits, like aggression, persist even though there has been an active “selection against” those traits and behaviors? Is there then something like an aggressive gene? Perhaps it is something more cosmic like evil and its insinuation into humankind. I have no answer. Maybe it’s a simple as “there be jerks here” as the early cartographers explained the unknown. I know, not jerks, dragons.
One philosopher’s take on “jerkitude” is well worth a read:

“A theory of jerks: Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude,” by Eric Schwitzgebel. Aeon Magazine, June 4, 2014.


*Source: “The genius of dogs: how dogs are smarter than you think”
by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. New York, New York: Dutton, 2013.


@Copyright John Lubans 2014

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