Who, Whom and a Fifteen Thousand Year Gap

A recent New York Times article has covered a new, collaborative study which may allow us humans to

“…come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.”

-Greger Larson, biologist, University of Oxford

This is exciting news, considering there is currently over a fifteen thousand year gap in the span of theories considering when dogs came about.  That’s a very large section of  time and points to the fact that there is a lot of information waiting to be inserted and that there is potential for much more research to help nail down significant dates.  Parallel to this is a huge potential to align canine history with our evolutionary timeline and to answer the current question en vogue:  did dogs evolve because of us, or did we evolve because of dogs?  Much evidence pointing to the latter has surfaced in recent years, and a worldwide joint effort (as explained in the article) might add even more ammunition to this smoking gun.

Another interesting set of thoughts, highlighted in the article, is these:

Researchers also point out that of the estimated one billion dogs in the world, only a quarter of them are pets. The vast majority of dogs run free in villages, scavenge food at dumps, cadge the odd handout and cause tens of thousands of human deaths each year from rabies. They are sometimes friendly, but not really friends.

Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.

Gormanian, James .  “The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From.” nytimes.com.  18 January 2016. Web.

dingo-285516_1920It is amazing that there are 750,000,000 wild dogs roaming the earth, and even more amazing that studies on these animals aren’t often publicized!  Wolves, who are much more far removed from our domesticated companion dogs, have provided a lot of the framework for theories on dog behavior.  This, not surprisingly, has led to some misunderstanding.  Most significantly, there is a confusion as to how pack structure affects canine behavior, as it is oft though that dogs employ a strict hierarchy when interacting with other dogs or even us humans.  As noted in the last quote, dogs do not live in pack structures.  I will respectfully disagree with that bold statement and add that there are some wild populations that do form packs.  African Wild Dogs do, for instance, as noted in the article here.  However, it has been seen that even if there is a pack structure among dogs, it is dynamic and a land where leadership/roles can change often.  Hence, the “leader of the pack” mentality often employed when interacting with canines serves us poorly.

“Hierarchy in dogs is neither static nor linear, because the motivation to obtain and retain a specific resource, together with previous learning, defines the relationship between two individuals for each encounter.”

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/behavior/normal_social_behavior_and_behavioral_problems_of_domestic_animals/social_behavior_of_dogs.html

It excites the mind and curiosity to know that there is still so much to be discovered about our amazing companion, the domestic dog!  Soon we will be better owners, more understanding trainers and more astute researchers.  And we will know…who came about because of whom.

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