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.

On Storm Keeping Ants Out of His Belly

Storm the Border Collie

Storm the Border Collie

I knew there was trouble as soon as I rounded the corner and caught sight of Storm’s kennel.  He was laying in it, as usual, peering up at me with those round, little Border Collie eyes.  However the shreds of plastic laying near the kennel entrance were new.  What the?  Oh no, it hit me like a wrecking ball (thank you Miley)…he had made an early morning snack of one of the ant traps I had set out!  Where’s the box, I thought, hoping that somewhere in the fine print it would state “really toxic to ants, but perfectly fine for canines to ingest and share with other doggie friends.”  Unfortunately, there was no such gentle wording on the box I yanked from the shelf (where I put all of the chemicals so the dogs don’t get into them…hrrrmmph).  It plainly stated that whatever was in those attractive little black discs was toxic for domestic animals. Now in my defense, the little voice in the back of my head had told me to be cautious.  For I know….I have an eater!  Storm has ingested items that would make any other dog shake his head in disbelief.  He has an affinity for toilet paper rolls and steals them from bathroom wastebaskets any chance he gets.  Cotton swabs are a delicacy in his eyes.  I still can’t find the tiny remote that belonged with my digital alarm clock….huh.  Anyway, I thought I was exercising caution when I put the ant trap up high and behind some appliances that would be tough to maneuver around.  Darn that canine sense of smell for betraying my stealth and cunning.  Storm must have smelled whatever attractant is housed in those black domes, and he wasted no time working to get to it.  I am still not sure how he maneuvered onto the kitchen island and around the appliances to get to it, but a snack was available, and he was going to have it!

So as it sank in that Storm could get seriously sick, my heart sank at my apparent lack of caution.  I hurriedly called my vet and luckily, since Storm has just recently enjoyed his unconventional meal, there was a chance that vomiting would help keep him out of trouble. One teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide was prescribed…two if he wasn’t “hurling chunks” in a matter of a few minutes.  Disclaimer:  this doesn’t always work, and certain things ingested are not good to bring back up so in short, kids, don’t try this at home without your vet’s approval.  Being a dog who tries his best to respond quickly to any demand placed upon him, Storm was launching remnants of ant bait, plastic and the morning’s kibble towards the floor shortly after I administered the first spoon of peroxide.  Good boy!  Just to show off, he threw up two more times afterwards. Ok, that’s enough…you can stop now!  Poor dog, he looked absolutely pitiful after all of this.  I am sure I did as well, but I was immeasurably relieved that my sweet boy was likely going to live to eat another toilet paper roll.

Dogs are certainly very intelligent and perceptive creatures. However they need us to be constant ambassadors to the human world and to help them stay away from things that they are just not able to interpret appropriately.  Especially if they are like my sweet Storm, and everything is interpreted as the next great meal!

Dogs, Wolves and String Cheese

I recently encountered a wolf hybrid at my local dog park and was simply fascinated with observing and taking note of the differences this animal exhibited from my Border Collie, who was playing in a different area of the park.  There was an obvious wildness to this creature.  It was keenly observant and exhibited vocalizations that were crosses between growls and whines.  It reminded me that dogs, although descended from wolves, are far removed from their wild cousin, even when he is present in a partial state.  It was also interesting that the hybrid was seemingly much more detached from its owners than my dog was from me.  While my Border Collie stuck close and tried to entice me to throw his ball, the owners of the hybrid were duly ignored as they tried to coax their curious creature to play.  Instead, it chose to vocalize at the fence line when dogs came near, perhaps to warn them of trespassing or share some other pertinent information.

The relationship our dogs have with us and the nature of their reliance on humans has been studied quite a bit.  Dogs have often been shown to look to humans for direction, when in a dilemma, whereas wolves are much more self reliant and proactive.  Here is an interesting video about one instance of problem solving where (spoiler alert) wolves were shown to be much more “clever” at figuring out a complex puzzle. Perhaps the dogs would have done better had a human helped them along.