Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pack Behavior

Since the dog park at Harry Griffen was closed Thursday morning, Lee and Terry took Caitlin, along with Cindy Lou and Kaylee to a dog park in Eastlake.

Caitlin was playing with Kaylee at the new park when a large rottweiler approached, wanting to join in. He had previously been playing with Cindy Lou.

Caitlin growled, bared her teeth, and attacked. She chased him across the park so ferociously that Lee promptly leashed her and dragged her out of the park before she could be thrown out.

Lee is still amazed. "He was a BIG dog!" he said.
I think Caitlin and Kaylee, and maybe Cindy Lou too, were a "pack" at the time of the rottweiler incident. Caitlin has been playing with both of them since she was a tiny puppy. She has been with Kaylee several hours a day since Lee started taking care of her while I worked on the calendar project. Plus they were together at an unfamiliar park, and the rottweiler was a stranger to them, in Caitlin's mind an outsider to be rejected and banished from their presence.

There seems to be a lot of debate over the extent to which domestic dogs display "pack behavior."

A lot, I think.

As do we.

What do you call the behavior of  soccer hooligans, if not "pack behavior?" or the trashing of the lily pond at Balboa Park a couple of weeks ago?

Or the behavior of a group of high school kids who ostracize, or tease, and sometimes drive to suicide one of their geeky, socially inept, or "different" peers?

Put either dogs or people in a group, especially a large group, and they tend to behave differently than they would as individuals, often more aggressively, certainly less thoughtfully.

Pack behavior in dogs doesn't bother me nearly as much as pack behavior in people does.

My first response to stories of mob violence or of bystanders who do nothing when a woman is being raped is always, "I would never behave like that!"

But maybe I would.

When I was 21, against my better judgment,  I signed a petition--a petition with which I disagreed. It was a rant against the organizers of the junior-year-abroad program in which I was a participant. The guy who started it got everyone in our group together, told us all how badly we were being treated, slapped his petition onto the table and announced that we all had to support each other by signing it. Everyone else seemed to be doing it, so I did, too.

I hated myself the minute I signed it, and it has bothered me from time to time ever since.

It revealed a weakness that I didn't know I had--that just like everyone else, I can be swayed by the dynamics of the group--for good or ill. As social animals, we, like our dogs, are almost certainly hard-wired to form packs, with all the benefits and risks that being pack members provides.

One of the few people who didn't sign the petition was my roommate, Penny, a buxom magnet to all  males and a source of considerable envy to my pancake-chested and insecure self. She had the confidence, which I so lacked, to stand aside from the group.

I wonder what would have happened if, in addition to refusing to sign, Penny had spoken out against that petition. According to a 2008 study done at the University of Leeds, it takes only 10 people in a group of 200 to decide the direction of the entire group.

That study dealt only with the crowd's physical movement. Do its findings apply equally to what the crowd does? Whether it loots and riots and smashes windows--or instead goes out and renovates a blighted neighborhood?

Can the same dynamics that cause a group of kids to taunt another kid to suicide be used to make sure they don't?

I think so. We have evolved to be members of packs. Can we evolve far enough to be conscious, thoughtful, and fully human pack members? Or must we remain, as our dogs are, mere unconscious followers of the group? The benefits to all of humanity would be enormous.$politic.html