We’ve spent an eternity making a furry, four-legged creature that makes a woofing sound part of our human clan, so how would a dog fare if they were suddenly on their own?
After centuries of living with humans, a dog is attuned to being looked after and generally loved. That’s in a perfect-pooch-world, as there are still dogs who live on the streets and in the wild. Picture an apocalyptic world where humans no longer existed and every breed of dog from a Doberman to a Shih Tzu had to undo their domestication to survive in an untamed environment. Who would make it and how would dogs learn to navigate life without humans?
Signs Dogs Can Live on Their Own
Imagine a Miniature Poodle left to their own devices after living a luxurious life of dog groomers and doggy daycare. Apart from the initial shock, this pampered pooch might find life in the wild a challenge beyond their means.
Many-a-well-cared-for dog has been the victim of circumstance; dumped in the bush on the side of the road or far from home. The lucky ones might get picked up by caring rescuers and re-homed, while others are destined for a life without human support. The growing problem of unwanted dogs is a world-wide issue yet to be resolved.
A dog left alone will whine and howl for its owners and fear of the unknown. This broken pup will pant and bark with their tail hung low as they lose focus, wondering what has happened. Some woofers may lose the will to survive while others, with a growing hunger in their belly, will look for nourishment.
If they have been set loose in the bush or a forest, they will not be alone and could fall victim to a coyote or wolf, but if their breed has an inbuilt survival code, they could forage for insects or small rodents. Not all bugs are bad for a dog, but their instincts may not be sharp enough to detect insects that are toxic.
Loneliness will creep in, as dogs used to being part of a human unit will feel desolate and depressed. A sudden noise could have them on red alert as they shake, listening to the approaching sound. Their ears may be pinned back with their teeth exposed, growling as they prepare to defend. They might have a fighting chance if they are a Pit Bull, Doberman or Italian Cane Corso, as these muscular mutts have guarding in their veins and whatever is out there may be in for a scrap.
Some street dogs were once family pets while others are born as strays, drinking dirty water and living off garbage scraps with no shelter or human love. These are tough creatures that inhabit cities, trying to stay alive. There are around 70 million strays in the US alone and it's only 6- 8 million who are rescued by shelters.
History of Dogs Surviving Without Humans
Dogs have a lot in common with wolves - the original ancestors of your Greyhound, Labrador, or Griffin. When early man walked the earth, the wolf was a well-established species enjoying the planetary Garden of Eden with its plentiful prey and idyllic ambiance.
Mankind was destined to reshape the environment and formulate a world where animals were secondary to their supremacy. They hunted four-legged beasts and threatened the existence of wolves, who knew the good days were gone as this new two-legged creature was determined to rule.
Members of the wolf congress voted to end the cold war with man and an arbitrary union was formed. The warrior wolf was then genetically engineered to become man’s best friend.
With random breeding came an abundance of unwanted pooches that hit the streets, surviving the best they could. Dogs that were once cared for like children had no idea how to live in a human jungle where streets dogs were not revered. A basic instinct worked for some as they relied on people's left-overs to get through the day.
The process of domestication has kicked the wild-wolfy instinct to the curb as their need to hunt has been diminished. Cuteness tells us a study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found the DNA of the Shiba Inu, Akita, Alaskan malamute, Chow Chow, and Chinese Shar-Pei breeds of dog are the closest to a wolf.
Would the surplus of wolf genes make living without humans easier and would dogs have a strong enough prey drive? Some believe dogs would need to be retrained to live in the wild, but with deforestation and the pillaging by man of natural habitats, this could be a lost cause.
Most animals on earth are capable of living without humans except for the family dog, a phenomenon, and the result of a domestication process over thousands and thousands of years. Cats could do well when let loose in the wild, with their independent natures and strong prey drive still in place.
The Science of Dogs Living Alone
Stray dogs that have no place to call their home appear to be one-up on family dogs living in their comfy pet-beds. Their view of existence has evolved from life without humans and generations of breeding from the original source, which may well have been someone’s pet mutt. They are survival-savvy, with enough human conditioning to figure out where the next feed is coming from.
Dogs that live with humans have a pretty good idea of how they think and feel. Studies galore have proven woofers are affectionate toward us and can decipher the good guys from the bad. They also have a monumental sense of smell that can lead the smart, street dog to the scent of pizza coming from the Italian restaurant around the corner.
Living closely with dogs has created an evolutionary bond and according to National Geographic, we share similar dietary and behavioral genes, along with diseases such as cancer, obesity, compulsive disorders, and epilepsy. When a dog is abandoned to live a life without people, it could be its human similarities that help it survive
Training a Dog to Live Without Humans
Let take a trip through a virtual training camp where dogs are taught to discard domestication and re-enter a world of living without humans. No more cuddles watching TV, food delivered on tap, or periodic trips to the vet to ensure good doggy health. Instead, it’s back to grassroots and a distant call of the wild. Could it be done?
The theoretical undoing of tens of thousands of years in a doggy boot-camp setting would be akin to soldiers being conditioned for a perilous war. Human commands would be of no use when a leopard or coyote steps in their way, so they would need to know how to ward off would-be attackers.
Trainers talk about counter-conditioning as a way to turn a behavioral issue around, but teaching a dog how to stay warm in the winter will be difficult for a mutt that’s used to lying in front of the fire while having their head stroked. It could also be hard to train a dog to live rough when it’s a human doing the teaching. Dogs might assume that their instructor is coming along for the ride.
Stray dogs live on the outskirts of humanity, but a dog released into the wild has all kinds of things to deal with. The major threat of other hungry animals keeps them on their paws if they live a nomadic style of life, unlike stray and street dogs that can form packs for companionship.
A lone-dog will have to find food, so training them to eat certain plants and bugs will give them a headstart as wild woofers. Spending time in their new habitat will also get them accustomed to the sounds and movements, plus it might inspire an instinctive survival mode. It’s going to be a dog-eat-dog life that is perhaps too difficult for some of our domesticated mutts.
If a major disaster was to happen and only the animals inherited the earth, over time, Mother Nature would evolve the family dog back into a wild canine that could live without humans.
Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020