In a good post about puppy mills, Amanda Marcotte made a good point about domesticated versus undomesticated pets (boldface mine):
This would probably mean that people couldn’t get exotic pets, and that isn’t really the sort of thing that would keep me up at night, either. I understand the urge to have something like a pet ferret, but like with smoking, it’s an understandable urge that probably is best not indulged. Cats and dogs evolved to be our pets and want nothing more than to be our pets, thus they are the best choices for pets. They may not love every second of being a pet—going to the vet comes to mind as a moment they don’t love—but on the whole, what they want is to be a pet. If you’ve ever adopted a cat that was feral but is well-socialized, you’re probably familiar with how true this is. Even though my cat Molly only spent perhaps the first two months of her life as a feral kitten, she is clearly still haunted by the memory. When we had a backyard, I would let them hang out there under supervision, and while Dusty (who was never feral) was simply happy to go out, Molly wouldn’t go out unless I left the door open for her so that she could be assured that she could run back into the condo at any second. She was that afraid of ever going back to non-pet status again. If you want a pet, cats and dogs want to be your pet. It’s the simplest relationship in the world, and I see no reason to complicate it by insisting that the humble cats and dogs are too boring to be your pet.
I don’t think it’s just a matter of want: I can imagine that a wolf raised with humans for its entire life might not want to live ferally. Home is comfy after all. Hell, there are hippos which literally make themselves at home.
But an additional point is that dogs have evolved to live with humans. To a certain extent, a feral dog is like a philodendron in a desert. A life without some kind of human interaction, even if it’s just the occasional begging for scraps, is unnatural. Dogs, unlike wolves, have more ‘action inhibition’ than wolves–dogs have better impulse control (relatively speaking) enables cooperation with humans. Dogs and wolves that are similarly socialized are typically more attached to humans than wolves. In addition, wolves need far more training than dogs to comprehend what a person is trying to communicate with pointing.
Dogs are not ‘wild animals’ anymore: people are an integral part of their environment. Activists who think dog ownership, by itself, is cruel and who want to ‘liberate’ dogs don’t understand the biology.
UDELL, M., DOREY, N., & WYNNE, C. (2008). Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues Animal Behaviour, 76 (6), 1767-1773 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.07.028
Cited articles: Gácsi M, Györi B, Virányi Z, Kubinyi E, Range F, Belényi B, & Miklósi A (2009). Explaining dog wolf differences in utilizing human pointing gestures: selection for synergistic shifts in the development of some social skills. PloS one, 4 (8) PMID: 19714197