Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Playing Dogs and Wolves in your Game

Playing Dogs and Wolves in your Game

By: Jesse C Cohoon & Johnn Four

Many times roleplaying games give information without giving the DMs anything to work with as far as how they might act as real-world creatures. In this ongoing series, we will attempt to examine how different creatures should *typically* act.


With only a few notable exceptions canines, in general have relatively long legs and lithe bodies, adapted for chasing prey, as well as non-retractable claws and a bushy tails. Their walk is digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes. Almost all canines are social animals and live together in groups, consisting of either family groups, or in some cases, packs.

Young canines are born blind, and deaf with their sense of hearing coming first, and their eyes opening a few weeks thereafter. It is during this blind stage, if taken from their mothers and hand-fed that they can adapt to being around specific humanoids.  This is not to say that they will allow just anyone near them after this initial bonding stage. Wolves are blind for longer than dogs, and due to this, dogs and wolves respond differently to situations. Wolves due to their prolonged helplessness as pups, are more skittish, more wary of new experiences because they are not exposed to as many things. Generally speaking, on the basis of their experience, ‘tamed’ wolves are strictly "one-man dogs". They may be confiding and playful with the man (or woman) who raised them, or even with his (her) whole family, if fed and cared for by them, but they are suspicious and timid in the presence of strangers.

Dog puppies, on the other hand, are able to explore their world more with their eyes open and familiarize themselves with more things, so when they are older, less frightens them.


·         Eyesight: Canines have wide peripheral vision and perceive browns, yellows, and blues, but just because they can’t see the color red or green doesn’t mean they can't distinguish green, yellow or red objects based on their color, but have to rely on the perceived brightness of the objects to tell them apart. Purple and blue are both seen as shades of blue. Greenish-blue is viewed as a shade of gray. Red is seen as a black or dark gray. Orange, yellow and green all are seen to a dog as various shades of yellow. Dogs can see best at dusk and dawn. Their low-light vision is much better than a human’s, but their overall vision is not better.

·         Hearing: dogs can hear the range of 67-45,000 hertz, depending on the breed of dog. They have 18 or more muscles in their ears allowing them to move in the direction of the sound. Breeds with perked ears can usually hear better than dogs with drooping ears.

·         Smell: dogs can have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about 6 million for humans. The part of a dog's brain devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than a human’s. When dogs inhale a fold of tissue just inside their nostril helps to separate the functions of breathing and smelling. 12% breathed in detours into a recessed labyrinth of scroll-like bony area in the back of the nose that is dedicated to smelling. Tissue receptors in this area "recognize" these odor molecules by their shape and send signals to the brain for analysis. As dogs exhale through their nose’s side slits, the swirling exhaled air brings new odors into the dog's nose, allowing dogs to smell more or less continuously.

Dogs have a second scent-related capability to smell pheromones made possible by an organ known as Jacobson's organ which is located in the bottom of a dog's nasal passage.

·         Taste: Dogs have 1700 taste buds. In addition to with the same taste buds for sweet, salt, sour and bitter that humans have, they also have specific receptors that are tuned for meats, fats and meat related chemicals. Dogs will tend to seek out, and clearly prefer the taste of things that contain meat or flavors extracted from meat. They also have taste buds that are tuned for water which have evolved as a way for the body to keep internal fluids in balance after the animal has eaten things that will either result in more urine being passed, or will require more water to adequately process.

·         Emotions: Animals can emotions; it is a universal animal language. Canines interpret human emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, anger, pity and nervousness, as weaknesses and they do not listen to these emotions. They listen best to someone who is calm but firm in their approach. It is this sense that they use to determine who should be the leader of their pack. The being with the strongest and most stable energy is the one they look to, be it themselves or another being around them. While you can hide your emotions from another human, you cannot hide them from a dog.


·         Pack Drive- canines are social animals and do best living within a pack environment rather than solitary and will naturally find their place in the pack.    

In the case of tame dogs (as compared to wild ones), the owners are at the top because they will provide the basic elements they require to live. Being a calm and effective leader is the best way to strengthen the pack dynamics. The best pack leaders are master manipulators of the environment and resources not by being “dominant” as many people assume.

Abandoned dogs will often become feral and come together in cohesive bands and attack the young, unwary, old, weak, and/ or injured.

·         Prey Drive is the instinct that makes many dogs love to locate, pursue, and catch game. Prey drive also translates into a dog’s motivation to perform. Most dogs don’t hunt for food so prey drive is used most during play but that doesn’t mean they won’t hunt, chase, capture or kill prey animals. Chase games, fetch, tug, herd the children or other dogs are all examples of ways they might use their prey drive.

·         Food Drive: the drive to eat. Withholding a meal and using food as a reward for doing tricks helps to train them.  

·         Defense Drive keeps dogs on their toes and has an impact on how confidently they deal with stress and new things in life. This occurs when something new comes into the territory (or they enter a different territory) and they will chose from one of the following:
-        Flight: To flee from a perceived threat (death, injury, etc.) is generally the first instinctive response.

-        Fight: To ward off/ eliminate the perceived threat. 

-        Freeze: fixed look to the dog’s eye and he is rigid throughout his body, even appearing to hold its breath.

-        Faint: see a more pronounced version of the freeze where the dog drops belly down to the ground and refuses to move or interact.

-        Fidget/ Fool Around: It is a form of displacement behavior - taking the focus off of one situation onto another. Dogs that rush about, jump up and down, become rough or over the top, who can’t sit still, who lick you constantly or who drop into a roll to show their bellies every time someone approaches or touches them can fall into this category.

·         Sex Drive: all dogs practice it at some point. Humans manipulate this drive by breeding or spaying/neutering their pets.

Canines in Culture

Canines are used in culture in a variety of ways, including:
·         Power generation: dogs used in this manner turn roasting spits, churn butter, etc. by walking on a treadmill.

·         Draught animals to pull small carts for farms, peddlers, or travelers, to deliver mail, and to pull carts carrying people for transportation or entertainment. Sled dogs also fall into this category.

·         Service or assistance dogs help people with various disabilities in everyday tasks. Some examples include mobility assistance dogs for the physically handicapped, guide dogs for the visually impaired, and hearing dogs for the hearing impaired.

·         Therapy dogs to visit the elderly or shut-in, those who are autistic, or for those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also good listeners for reading programs.  

·         Rescue dogs find people who are lost, buried under a building or snow, etc. 

·         Herding dogs are invaluable to sheep and cattle handlers for rounding up the herd. A well trained dog can adapt to control any sort of domestic and many wild animals.

·         Performing dogs such as Circus dogs and dog actors are trained to perform acts that are not intrinsically useful, but instead provide entertainment to their audience or enable human artistic performances.

·         Hunting dogs assist hunters in finding, tracking, and retrieving game, or in routing vermin. Less frequently a dog, or rather or a pack of them, actually fights a predator, such as a bear or feral pig.

·         Guard/ watch dogs help to protect private or public property, either in living or used for patrols, as in the military and with security firms.

·         Tracking dogs help find lost people and animals or track down possible criminals.

·         Cadaver dogs use their scenting ability to discover bodies or human remains at the scenes of disasters, crimes, accidents, or suicides.

·         Detection dogs of a wide variety help to detect various insects in homes, illegal substances in luggage, bombs, chemicals, and many other substances. In a fantasy setting such dogs could even be trained to detect magic.

·         War Dogs or K9 Corps are used by armed forces or police in many of the same roles as civilian working dogs, but in a military context. In addition, specialized military tasks such as mine detection or wire laying have been assigned to dogs. Police dogs are usually trained to track or immobilize possible criminals while assisting officers in making arrests or investigating the scene of a crime.

Dog Reactions

A dog’s reaction to a situation is influenced most by its temperament. Note that *any* dog is capable of attacking if provoked, scared, or cornered. 

·         Non-Responsive or Relaxed Temperament dogs are calm and relaxed. Dogs with this temperament are lackadaisical, happy to be left alone.     

·         Responsive Dog Temperament This group of dogs tends to learn much faster and is also highly motivated to impress. Give them the command and they’re happy to comply. Unfortunately, they may obey just about anyone who gives them a command.   

·         Active Temperament Dogs with an active temperament tend to get excited much faster, and are easily distracted by the surrounding environment.

·         Independent Temperament are strong willed, intelligent dogs. They may obey if given a firm master and rules.   

·         Shy Dog Temperament are easily frightened by almost anything and everything. They are much more likely to flee than to fight in any given situation. 

·         Aggressive Temperament may attack others, often without provocation.  

Playing Canines in your Game

Playing canines in your game is relatively easy, provided that you take the following into account when playing them: 
·         Keep in mind their senses. Their main senses are smell and hearing; if either one is overwhelmed, the dog is at a huge disadvantage to being able to fight effectively.

·         Keep in mind their training. Just because a canine is provoked and tries to bite, doesn’t mean it can do so effectively if it has not been trained. Even a wild wolves’ bite may not be as effective against certain types of armor.

·         Keep in mind temperament. If the canine is skittish, it should need to see if it can escape. If it’s independent, the trainer needs to see if it’ll obey. If it’s non-reactive, it should be tested to see whether it reacts negatively to what’s going on in the first place. 

·         Keep in mind group tactics. Canines are social animals and will often attack in a group, using tactics like isolation, flanking, attacking the weak, unwary, old, young, and/or injured. In doing so they increase their chances of success.  

·         Keep in mind morale. If the enemy is too strong for the canine or group of them, or members of their pack get badly injured or killed, they may reevaluate their enemy or flee.


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