November 14, 2016

Social Behaviors in Siberian Huskies

 

In this study, researchers wanted to investigate the similarities between social behaviors of Siberian Huskies and wolves. It has been proposed in previous studies that breeds that are morphologically similar to wolves, also show more behavioral similarities than other breeds. They wanted to test this by studying the social interactions between a pack of 14 huskies of different ages and sexes. Their aim was to show that even though many huskies are now kept as pets, their ancestral similarity to wolves and their domestication as working sled dogs cause them to maintain many of the social behaviors common in wild wolves. This pack was made up of four unrelated adults, two males (SI and KO) and two females (SO and CH), CH’s eight pups (TA, WE, WA, BO, BJ, BU, BA, and BY), and BY’s two pups (SO and HA). All of the dogs lived together in a grass covered yard containing bushes and trees, a large kennel, and another shelter.

               Researchers observed the pack several times a day, at different times during the day, for one year. They also installed video cameras in the facility to watch the dogs. By tracking certain behaviors and interactions between pack members, the researchers were able to establish a pack hierarchy. Special attention was paid to dominant, submissive, and explorative behaviors. Dominant behaviors consisted of challenging other dogs, doing T-position (putting head over another dog’s shoulders, forming a T with their bodies), or showing “dominance displays,” consisting of walking on stiff legs with his/her tail carried high and straight. Submissive behaviors observed were defensive behaviors to challenges from other dogs. Explorative behaviors observed were sniffing the air or ground, or the urine/feces, anal/genital area, nose or mouths of other dogs, and listening or observing with a raised head. Researchers also were able to recognize that there were two distinct hierarchies, one for the males and one for the females, and the two rarely overlapped.

               The male hierarchy in the pack was much more well defined. The alpha male was BU, who showed the greatest number of dominant behaviors, and never appeared submissive. He also was seen interfering with or controlling potential conflicts between lower ranking individuals. The beta male was TA, who showed dominant behaviors towards all of the males except for BU, and frequently challenged BU but never started a real fight. Next was BJ, then BO, then HA. It was harder to distinguish the positions of next two males, BO and SO, whose behaviors were very similar, but this phenomenon is also commonly seen in wolf packs. Following BO and SO was KO, who was only one-year-old, and who showed predominantly submissive behaviors. The dog in the omega position was KO – the other dogs rarely showed dominant behaviors towards him, but he was still very submissive. In addition, the other pack members frequently attacked him for no apparent reason. All of these factors caused the researchers to suggest that KO had been the alpha male, but lost his high-ranking position right before the study began.

               The female social structure within the pack was more convoluted. Neither CH or BA showed any submissive behavior. CH displayed the most dominant postures and engaged in T-position most often, but BA “showed the highest level of overall dominance.” Researchers classified CH as the alpha, and BA as the beta. Most of BA’s dominant behavior was towards WE and WA, the young females who did not have certain ranks within the pack yet, and therefore could be perceived as a threat to her dominance. These two females were classified as lowest ranking, and the other two females (SO and BY) ranked somewhere in between.

               Interestingly, and different from wolves, there were no dominant or submissive behaviors observed between members of the opposite sex. However, there were many other behavioral characteristics noticed within the pack that are incredibly similar to those observed in wild wolves. For example, the existence of a clear pack social hierarchy is seen in all wolf packs. In addition, the highest-ranking females marked their territories by urinating with their leg raised, a behavior seen in wolves but not other breeds. The dogs also showed an enormous variety in vocalizations, displaying all 11 patterns observed in other wolves. These all show how huskies are very similar to wolves in their behaviors and social interactions.

Reviewed by Sarah Slayton 

KATARZYNA FISZDON, KATARZYNA CZARKOWSKA

Department of Genetic and Animal Breeding, Warsaw University of Life Sciences – SGGW

Annals of Warsaw University of Life Sciences – SGGW Animal Science No 45, 2008: 19–28 (Ann. Warsaw Univ. of Life Sci. – SGGW, Anim. Sci. 45, 2008)

Photo credit: http://www.charlottereeves.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Siberian-Husky-Brisbane-07.jpg