Canine Science Course
Continued Professional Development
This course counts for 40 hours CPD
Please click here for more information about course accreditation
This 4-module canine science course contains the most up to date research regarding canine evolution and biology.
Understanding the evolution and domestication of Canis familiaris is crucial in terms of understanding their natural behaviour.
Are our domestic dogs truly descended from wolves? Did the early hunter-gatherers domestic wolves? This canine science course also explores how domestic dogs communicate and some of the breed traits.
The canine science course also includes an introduction to canine anatomy and physiology.
The first module of the canine science course takes a journey through time looking at the phylogenic canid tree and the diversity of the Canidae family. A number of canids are discussed in respect of behaviour and location in order to appreciate just how diverse this group are.
The Grey wolf is discussed in detail, looking at Schenkel’s early work and the more up to date work of L David Mech, along with other researchers. Questions such as why wolves disperse, do wolves live in packs or do they live in family groups and their hunting behaviour is also discussed along with their communication methods.
Module 2 of this Canine science course concentrates on evolution and domestication of Canis familiaris and their function and form using the latest research. We take a look at some of the most popular questions such as are our domestic dogs truly descended from wolves? Did the early hunter-gatherers domestic wolves? What evidence is there? Where did domestication take place? Understanding the evolution and domestication of Canis familiaris is crucial in terms of understanding their natural behaviour. We also look at how domestic dogs communicate and some of the breed traits.
Modules 3 and 4 are an introduction to canine anatomy and physiology.
Module 3 covers the skeletal, muscular and locomotor systems, the circulatory system, nervous system and digestive system.
Module 4 covers the urinary, lymphatic, respiratory, skin and reproductive systems
Wolves belong to the family Canidae and are most closely related to domestic dogs, foxes, coyotes, dingoes, lycaons, and jackals. There are 14 total living subgroups of Canidae, and they are often referred to as canids. A derived trait for canids is that they have 42 teeth, although bears also share this characteristic. This course will mostly focus upon the grey wolf and the domestic dog.
The domestic dog is related to the grey wolf and many scientists even regard the domestic dog as a sub-species of grey wolf (however, this is still contested by many). The red wolf is thought by many to be a hybrid of grey wolf and Coyote. This creature appears in regions of North America where grey wolves are rare and coyotes are spreading. Coyotes are opportunistic and adaptable. As the grey wolves have drifted north, the coyotes have moved further north also. There is a now small overlap between the species. This is mainly due to male grey wolves mating with female coyotes. Molecular genetic tools have been used to dissect the evolutionary relationships of the dog-like carnivores, revealing their place in the order Carnivora, the relationships of species within the family Canidae, and the genetic exchange that occurs among conspecific populations.
High rates of gene flow among populations within some species, such as the coyote and gray wolf, have suppressed genetic divergence, and where these species hybridise, large hybrid zones have been formed. In fact, the phenotype of the endangered American red wolf may be strongly influenced by hybridisation with coyotes and gray wolves. Hybridisation and habitat fragmentation greatly complicate plans to conserve the genetic diversity of wild canids.
Small canids tend to hunt small prey and tend to be less sociable than larger canids (with a few exceptions). An increase in size is associated with a more sociable lifestyle. This is because larger prey needs to be hunted to obtain enough energy if the canid is big, and group hunting is usually favoured for this. Most canids fall into one of the two groups: large sociable animals and small not so sociable animals.
Scientists have tracked changes in skull size and shape, limb length, the evolution of sharp teeth for tearing meat, and evidence of changes in wolf population and habitat distribution over very long periods of time. In fact, researchers’ use of the fossil record has led them to believe that North American wolves crossed the land bridge to Eurasia and established themselves there 130 to 300 million years ago to evolve into Canis lupus before returning to North America. The wolf species that never left North America became different from those who had left and then returned (Boitani & Mech 2003).
The sheer diversity of canids is amazing. Some of them are more closely related than others, but all share an amazing evolutionary history.
According Rudolf Schenkel who first noticed the dominance hierarchy social order in 1947: a female and a male order in a paper called “Expressions Studies on Wolves” wolves have two hierarchies. Schenkel studied captive wolves in Switzerland's Zoo Basel, attempting to identify a "sociology of the wolf." In his research, Schenkel identified two primary wolves in a pack: a male "lead wolf" and a female "bitch." He described them as "first in the pack group." He also noted "violent rivalries" between individual members of the packs:
Between the alpha pair, there is no question of status and argument concerning rank, even though small fictions of another type (jealousy) are not uncommon. By incessant control and repression of all types of competition (within the same sex), both defend their social position.
Thus, the alpha wolf was born. Throughout his paper, Schenkel also draws frequent parallels between wolves and domestic dogs, often following his conclusions with anecdotes about our household canines. The implication is clear: wolves live in packs in which individual members vie for dominance and dogs, their domestic brethren, must be very similar indeed.
A key problem with Schenkel's wolf studies is that, while they represented the first close study of wolves, they did not involve any study of wolves in the wild. Schenkel studied two packs of wolves living in captivity, but his studies remained the primary resource on wolf behaviour for decades.
Later researchers, would perform their own studies on captive wolves, and published similar findings on dominance-subordinate and leader-follower relationships within captive wolf packs. And the notion of the "alpha wolf" was reinforced, in large part, by wildlife biologist L. David Mech who wrote “The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species” in 1970.