Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Blind dog wins Palm Dog award
This year, a blind poodle has won the Palm Dog award for his performance as Liberace’s dog Baby Boy in the film “Behind the Candelabra.” He did not travel to France to accept his award, which consists of a leather collar that says “PALM DOG” in gold letters. Baby Boy is blind and has cataracts, and his ailing health played a part in the plot of the film. He beat out the Chihuahua who was nominated for playing Paris Hilton’s dog in the film “The Bling Ring.”
Since 2001 the unofficial Palm Dog award has been a part of the Cannes Film festival. It is presented to honor the best canine performance of the festival, and owes its name to a play on words relating to the Palm d’Or, which is the top award at Cannes. Previous winners include Uggie, the Jack Russell Terrier who played Uggie in “The Artist, and Lucy in the film “Wendy and Lucy.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Austrailian man searches for two months on foot for his lost pup
There are many stories about loyal dogs, but an elderly Australian man searching for his pup reminded me that what makes the human-canine bond so special is the love on both sides of the relationship. Back in March, Brian Railton's Kelpie-Border Collie mix, Benji, ran away from home after being spooked by a storm. Since then Brian, 70 years old and battling Parkinson's disease, walked over 180 miles looking for Benji. Brian hung posters, searched the neighborhood, and made a daily trek from his home to the local shelter to check for the lost pup. After more than two months had passed, Brian's family was just about to give up when they got the call that Benji had been found. The dog had been going to a nearby nursing home looking for food when he was spotted. When Brian and Benji were reunited, they celebrated with ice cream at McDonalds. Brian's journey may sound like a lot, particularly at age 70, but it turns out Benji has been keeping Brian in good health. The pair regularly walks up to eight miles a day to relieve Brian's shaking from Parkinson's Disease. Benji also waits at the bus stop for Brian when he runs errands. Brian and Benji have been together since the pup was eight weeks old and you can tell they've developed a deep bond. Here's to many more years together!
News: Guest Posts
June 28 to 30—streaming live
SPARCS is a unique venture organized by Prescott Breeden and Patti Howard of The Pawsitive Packleader, Seattle Dog Training. From June 28-30, 2013, anyone in the world can see some of the leading canine science researchers in action—either in a conference hall in Redmond, WA, or streaming live to your living room.
SPARCS is short for the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science, which aptly summarizes the goals of the conference: (1) to promote research and education in canine science, and (2) to provide a platform for leading minds in canine science to present, discuss and debate modern behavior science.
Canine Science? Explain
If the phrase “Canine Science” gives you pause, I assure you it does not imply that dogs are meeting in the park to discuss the current issues of the day, such as:
- Owner Responses to Half Eaten Sandwiches: A Review
- Why Does the Cat Run Around at Night?: A Roundtable Discussion
- Where Are They Taking Our Poo?
Canine Science, generally speaking, is research devoted to the biology, ecology, behavior and cognition of dogs, wolves and related canids. It is a catch-all phrase that highlights the surge of research into canine minds and experiences. My article in The Bark, Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind, describes this field in more detail. SPARCS brings together the following leading researchers to discuss their inquiry into the dog for a general audience:
Marc Bekoff is a long-time researcher and writer of more than 500 scientific and popular essays. In a book store? Check out one of his twenty-two books, including Minding Animals and the children’s book Animals at Play: Rules of the Game. He regularly updates a Psychology Today Blog, Animal Emotions: Do animals think and feel?
- Bekoff on dogs and their urine: Observations of scent-marking and discriminating self from others by a domestic dog (Canis familiaris): tales of displaced yellow snow.
- Bekoff on play: Social play and play-soliciting by infant canids.
Ray Coppinger has published over fifty papers on dog research. His favorite publication, however, is the book Fishing Dogs, a humorous and iconoclastic look at dogs, fishermen and professors. His book, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, is a classic text in the field.
- Coppinger on different behavioral sequences between dogs: Degree of behavioral neoteny differentiates canid polymorphs.
- Coppinger on improving assistance dog training programs: Observations on assistance dog training and use.
Michael W. Fox wears many hats. He is a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in medicine, and he also holds a degree in animal behavior (ethology). His career encompasses extensive research into dog behavior and development as well as holistic and integrative veterinary medicine. He encourages veterinary institutions to incorporate animal behavior and welfare science into their curricula.
- I covered Fox’s 1963 paper, Developmental Abnormalities of the Canine Skull in the Dog Spies post, Where Should Dogs Put Their Tongues?
- Fox on dog development during the first month of life: The postnatal development of neocortical neurons in the dog.
Alexandra Horowitz’s current research at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College investigates animal communication and attention, dog olfaction, inter-species play behavior, theory of mind and anthropomorphisms.* She writes regularly for The New York Times, and her best-selling book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, is essential.
- Horowitz on attention during dog-dog play: Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play.
- Horowitz on the “guilty look” in dogs: Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour.
Kathryn Lord received her PhD in organismic and evolutionary biology, which of course means she studies wolf pups. Her research focuses on the evolution and development of dog and wolf behavior.
- Lord on sensory development of wolves and dogs: A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).
- Lord on the meaning of dog barks: Barking and mobbing.
Adam Miklósi leads the Family Dog Project at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös
Loránd University in Budapest, where I had the pleasure of conducting my Masters research (covered on SciAm by Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal). In the last 15 years, the Family Dog Project research group has published over 100 scientific papers and organized the inaugural Canine Science Forum in 2008. His book, Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition is required reading in canine ethology.
- Miklósi on the building blocks of meaningful social interactions: On the utilization of social animals as a model for social robotics.
- Miklósi on other species’ use of human communicative gestures: A comparative analysis of animals’ understanding of the human pointing gesture.
Monique Udell has worked with a variety of species such as wild cats, megachiropteran bats, coyotes, foxes, mice, non-human primates and a range of companion animals including dogs, cats, and ferrets. She has a special interest in how the cognition and behavior of domestic dogs and wolves can be altered by lifetime experience.
- Udell on dog sensitivity to human behaviors: What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions.
Before Clive Wynne found a way to combine a childhood fascination with dogs with his day job as a psychology professor, he studied the behavior of animals ranging from pigeons to dunnarts (a mouse-sized marsupial) at universities in Britain, Germany, the USA, and Australia. Now head of the Canine Cognition and Behavior Laboratory, he is full of tales of everything from the tame foxes of Siberia to the dogs of the Moscow subway.
- Wynne on anthropomorphism: What are animals? Why anthropomorphism is still not a scientific approach to behavior.
- Wynne on the relationship between companion dogs and children: The other side of the bond: Domestic dogs’ human-like behaviors.
So, What’s This Conference About?
The SPARCS conference investigates dogs from three angles: “Origins in the Wild,” “Social Behavior and Emotions” and finally “Cognition and Development.”
Origins in the wild
“It is widely accepted that dogs are descended from wolves, but that is about the only uncontroversial fact about the origins of dogs…. I have come to a new proposal for the origin of dogs.” Clive Wynne
“In my presentation I shall talk about the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (animals) – beastly passions – and how they very much care about how we treat them.” Marc Bekoff
“The modern wolf and the modern dog diverged into their present forms, sometime, somewhere, and somehow. We should discuss those when, where, and how questions.” Ray Coppinger
Social Behavior and Emotions
“I shall also talk about why play has evolved – what it is “good for” and why it is very important that we come to terms with the details of what animals do when they play.” Marc Bekoff
“So the basic question is: What makes a dog skillful for living in the anthropogenic [human] environment, and whether we can claim that there is a parallel between some of the behavioral skills of dogs and those of humans?” Ádám Miklósi
“Dogs are socially and emotionally promiscuous and, given the right conditions, can form attachments to members of many other species.” Clive Wynne
Cognition and Development
“How the dog’s brain and behavior develop is integral to our understanding of critical and sensitive periods in helping facilitate a strong social bond and in enhance learning/trainability, emotional stability and stress & disease resistance.” Michael W. Fox
“[W]e must be careful not to forget the true diversity of the domestic dog population, or assume that the sum is more representative than its parts. Indeed, it is at the fringes of the species where we often discover examples of amazing cognitive feats, or hidden canine capacities unveiled by unique environmental or experiential contexts.” Monique Udell
“First, I aim to highlight and examine the attributions we unthinkingly make to dogs. Second, I use findings about the biology and cognition of dogs to create a better picture of the dog’s experience: the umwelt, or point of view.” Alexandra Horowitz
What About My Living Room?
Because SPARCS aims to make continuing education accessible, the conference will be broadcast live and free of charge: “As long as you have a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, everyone will be able to watch our broadcast from anywhere in the world.”**
SPARCS plans to be a yearly conference, so keep it on your radar!
Ticket, Live Stream and Schedule
on Social Media
SPARCS on Facebook
SPARCS on Twitter
All photos courtesy of SPARCS
** SPARCS adds, “Donations are absolutely optional however graciously appreciated. If you watched our event online and enjoyed it, consider donating to SPARCS.”
Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind at The Bark
Talking dogs: Welcome to the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies
Inside the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She wriites a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.
Wellness: Health Care
What can be done?
As our pets age, you may begin to notice subtle changes in their movement, such as having a little difficulty going up or down the stairs, or seemingly slow to rise from a comfortable laying position. These can be early signs of arthritis, and early intervention is critical to slowing progression of the disease. I am currently experiencing this “slow down” with my 11 year old Dobie, and I thought it would be good to share some suggestions that you, too, can consider if you have a pet that is living with some degree of arthritis.
Like any lifestyle change, one of the most important things to do first is to ensure that there are no other causes for the changes you are seeing in your pet. An intermittent and subtle slow down can be caused by many things, such as a low thyroid level or even a slowly bleeding tumor on the spleen. X-rays, a urine sample and blood work are important to ensure the overall health of your pet before starting any treatment plan.
Today, there are a number of effective pain medications that are available to our pets, and a multi-modal approach to pain management is the best way to go. By using pain medications that address various pain pathways, you get more complete and synergistic pain management while actually using lower doses of medications. A cornerstone of arthritis management is a non-steroidal anti inflammatory, or NSAID. This provides excellent pain management in the early stages of arthritis, and then as the disease progresses, additional “layers” of pain management can be “added on.” These medications include such options as gabapentin, tramadol, and amantadine, with each one working to enhance the other.
Adequan is another medication that has been used in pets with degenerative joint disease or traumatic events such as a torn cruciate ligament. It works to help slow down the rate of decay of cartilage as well as stimulate new collagen and hyaluronic acid, a lubricant in joints. This is an injectable product that can be taught to be given at home underneath the skin and is initially given twice weekly for three to four weeks and then, once monthly. By the fifth or sixth injection, most pet parents usually see a more comfortable and agile pet.
Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3 fish oils are good additions to managing arthritis changes. These supplements provide your pet's joints with building materials to help rebuild their cartilage and decrease the inflammation in the joints. Supplements are not an overnight fix, and they generally take at least six weeks before improvements can be seen. Products can be purchased over-the-counter and do not need to be labeled specifically for pets. However, not all nutrapharmaceutical products are FDA regulated, and there is quite a bit of discussion with regards to bioavailability between various brands; this is a case where cheaper is not always better and I would recommend purchasing only high quality and trusted brands. Your veterinarian can make recommendations for you. The standard dose for glucosamine/chondroitin is approximately 10 mg per pound of body weight once a day, for which you can round up or down to make tablet division or multiplying easiest. For example, a 20-pound dog could take half of a 500 mg tablet daily (250 mg), even though its “recommended” dose is 200 mg. Also, when you are considering fish oil, you want to be sure to base it on the omega-3 concentration of EPA. The dose is 20 mg EPA for every pound of body weight once daily, and for example, our 20-pound dog would need 400 mg EPA daily.
Another area of extreme importance is your pet’s body weight. I have to admit, I am a little guilty of letting this area slip and my boy and I recently went through a five-pound weight reduction program (I couldn’t let him “suffer” alone). How can you tell if your pet is a little too chubby? You should be able to easily feel your pet's ribs and backbone beneath the skin; if you cannot, then your pet may be overweight. Excessive weight is an added burden for already compromised joints, and you may be amazed how much better your dog will feel simply by shedding a few pounds. I can already see a difference in the way Bauer prances around.
Continued activity is also important—the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” holds true for our pets, too. Working to keep up your pet’s muscle mass through activity can help provide stability and flexibility to joints. Low-impact exercise is best, such as long walks and swimming, and both are highly encouraged.
There are also newer concepts of arthritis management. One such treatment is known as Stem Cell Therapy. This is a procedure in which adult stem cells are injected into the arthritic joints, or into damaged ligaments and tendons, to aid in healing and repair. While continued studies are still needed, there are many reports of pets responding well and this therapy holds promise. Joint replacement is a surgical therapy and has been proven to be very successful. As an example, 95% of canine patients with hip replacement can return to normal function. There has also been the development of dedicated rehabilitation centers for pets, which are becoming more widely available as the demand for options grows. Trained professionals can offer additional treatments such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, cold laser therapy, and pulsed signal therapy. Complementary treatments can offer your pet a complete approach to management of its arthritis, and many of these singular modalities, such as acupuncture, are often offered by veterinarians in general practice. These newer approaches to arthritis management are areas that I can discuss in greater detail in another blog, if there is any interest. Let me know!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Rescue group is currently fostering them
The three women who were held for a decade in Cleveland lived with three dogs—two terrier-poodle crosses and a chihuahua—in addition to the alleged kidnapper. Following the escape of the three victims, the dogs were taken from the man who was arrested.
So far, there is no indication that the dogs were mistreated. After their guardian was arrested, they were groomed and microchipped. They are now being fostered by Dogs Unlimited Rescue. They will stay in their foster homes until the women who spent such a long time in the same house with them decide if they want to adopt the dogs.
The chief animal control officer in Cleveland has said that the women may have bonded with the dogs. Because of that, if any of them want to adopt one or more of them, he wants them to have the opportunity to do so. If the dogs were a source of comfort to the women, it is good to know that the option of adoption is there.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The activity suits him
Carmen the bulldog is obsessed with his skateboard. According to his guardian, they can’t go out without the skateboard because the dog doesn’t want to leave the house unless he knows that his favorite toy is coming, too. He recently appeared on television showing his skills.
It’s fun to watch Carmen skateboard because it’s obvious that he is having fun, but that’s only part of what made me happy when I saw this video. Another factor is that it is a reminder that different body types lend themselves to different activities and that whatever a dog is good at, enjoys and can safely do is probably a great activity for that dog.
We’re all used to seeing quick dogs participating in agility and spry dogs making spectacular catches of discs thrown unbelievably far away. We know that certain types of dogs swim well or run fast, but seeing Carmen on the skateboard reminds me that dogs with a lower center of gravity excel at certain physical endeavors, too. I’m sure there are tall, leggy dogs who also skateboard with success, but it’s especially easy to see why a dog built like Carmen loves his skateboard.
What activities does your dog love to do and do they match what you’d expect based on build?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The seven to one ratio is a thing of the past
For the longest time, it was thought that seven human years was roughly equivalent to one dog year. The ratio becomes problematic when you think about pups that live to 18 years of age or older, since no human is known to have lived beyond 122.
Dog people know that, just as there is great variation between breeds, there is a wide spectrum of typical life expectancy. Body size is generally correlated with life span in mammals (so, for example, a larger mammal, like an elephant, will have a longer life expectancy than a smaller mammal, such as a mouse). But what's interesting is that the opposite holds true for dogs--even though small dogs reach maturity faster than big dogs.
Basically this means small dogs age more quickly than big dogs in the first couple of years, but slower once they hit adulthood. So at two human years, a small dog is older than a big dog, but younger at five years.
According to Kate Creevy, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Georgia, there aren't any other species that have the same degree of size diversity within a single species as dogs do. This could be the key to the ageing phenomenon. Kate believes that if we genetically engineered a cow weighing 20 pounds at adulthood and another weighing 2,000 pounds, the same thing could happen.
But why does size matter? One of Kate's colleagues, Daniel Promislow, a professor of genetics, believes that the aging phenomenon is linked to cancer. Large dogs have a 50% chance of dying of cancer while small dogs only have a 10% chance.
No one seems to know where the seven dog years to one human year equation came about. It first appeared in math text books in the 1960's asking children to calculate a dog's age using the 7:1 ratio.
If you did factor the varying rates of ageing and differing life expediencies, a more accurate estimate across all breeds would be six dog years to one human year. So the seven years wasn't far off.
However, scientists have come up with a more accurate way to calculate your dog's age, which takes size and breed into consideration:
Years Per Human Year - For the First Two Years:
Years Per Human Year - For Three + Years
Small: Dachshund (Miniature) 4.32, Border Terrier 4.47, Lhasa Apso 4.49, Shih Tzu 4.78, Whippet Medium 5.30, Chihuahua 4.87, West Highland White Terrier 4.96, Beagle 5.20, Miniature Schnauzer 5.46, Spaniel (Cocker) 5.55, Cavalier King Charles 5.77, Pug 5.95, French Bulldog 7.65
Medium: Spaniel 5.46, Retriever (Labrador) 5.74, Golden Retriever 5.74, Staffordshire Bull Terrier 5.33, Bulldog 13.42
Large: German Shepherd 7.84, Boxer 8.90
You can see how the ratio varies significantly after the first two years. According to this model, a Bulldog will age an average of 13 years per human year whereas a Miniature Dachshund only ages about four years.
Unfortunately they only calculated the 3+ year ratio for a handful of dog breeds, but this means that my 1-year old Border Collie, Scuttle, is about 10.5 in human years!
Coming on June 1 and 2
The Maddie's Fund is hosting an adoption extravaganza sponsored—so get ready for another memorable Maddie’s Pet Adoption Event. Their fourth annual event is sure to be one for the record books. On June 1 and 2, 2013, more than 200 shelters and rescue groups from eight communities across the nation (see complete list here) will participate in the adoption event, which will place thousands of pets into their forever homes. Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days is America’s biggest FREE pet adoption event. Yes you can adopt priceless dogs and cats free of charge.
Maddie's Fund® decided to expand this year's event to include adoption sites across the U.S. because of the continued success of Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days on a local level. Every year, the number of adoptions has increased with a total of 6,722 dogs and cats adopted during the event's three-year history.
This event is being held to increase awareness of shelter animals and their need for loving homes, and to shed light on the tireless efforts of the shelters and rescue organizations across the country that work so hard to save the lives of countless dogs and cats every.
What is also so great about this, besides it being free to adopters, is that it’s also a fundraiser for shelters and rescue groups because the Maddie’s Fund will pay organizations $500 per regular adoption. And it even will sweeten the pot for those who adopt out senior dogs, or pets with medical condition. So it will donate $1,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older or who has been treated for one or more medical conditions and $2,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older and who has been treated for one or more medical conditions (a list of medical conditions can be provided upon request). This is a remarkable generous act from the good people at Maddie’s Fund. So hopefully this year is the perfect time for you to expand your family by adopting from one of these organizations, but for you to show your support for their good work by adopting during this event. Everyone, including the dogs and cats, win big with this one.
We would love to see a photo of the dog or cat you adopt during this adoption weekend, email them to me, and we’ll publish them online and perhaps in the next issue of The Bark!
For the complete list of participating groups and their locations, click here .
About Maddie’s Fund
Maddie’s Fund® is a family foundation endowed by the founder of Workday® and PeopleSoft, Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl. Maddie’s Fund is helping to achieve and sustain a no-kill nation by providing solutions to the most challenging issues facing the animal welfare community through Maddie’s® Grant Giving and Maddie’s InstituteSM . Maddie’s Fund is named after the family's beloved Miniature Schnauzer who passed away in 1997.
News: Guest Posts
Yes, If a Proposed Amtrak Bill Passes!
Wouldn’t it be nice to travel with your canine companion on Amtrak, just as passengers with pets on airplanes are allowed to do?
A bi-partisan bill has been submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives that would start the process of allowing dogs and cats to travel on Amtrak.
Short and sweet, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013—co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)—would require Amtrak to submit a proposal for allowing pets on at least one car of each passenger train. Just as with airline travel, the bill requires Amtrak’s plan to allow pets to travel as carry-on luggage in a passenger car, in a pet kennel that meets Amtrak’s stowage size requirements, with passengers traveling less than 750 miles. The bill also requires Amtrak to provide a proposal for pets to be carried as cargo, which—while not as pleasant for the pet as riding in the passenger car—would allow larger animals to travel by train without many of the risks of traveling as cargo on an airliner.
Each sponsor of the bill confesses self-interest in seeing the bill become law. Denham’s dog Lily regularly travels with him to and from California. Cohen considers pets to be family members who should be allowed to travel with their owners on trains, rather than left at home.
Let your representative and congressperson know you support this bill.
News: Guest Posts
The more I consider the continuing debate over the “time” and “place” for the transformation of wolf into dog, the more I become convinced that the puzzle remains unsolved because of human devotion to a simplistic, clever-sounding idea that never made sense in the first place. As first put forth by Raymond Coppinger, that idea was that wolves feeding on the garbage piles of quasi-permanent Mesolithic villages grew tamer over the course of generations until they no longer feared or threatened humans. In the process of taming themselves, those wolves also became less fearful of and aggressive toward humans. They were cute, too. For reasons that were never clear to me, people took these cute obsequious dump divers into their homes, where they blossomed into dogs.
Coppinger pinned his argument on Dmitry Belyaev’s experiment, begun in 1959, at a Siberian fur farm, in which a group of foxes was bred for tameness alone and within ten generations was producing foxes that resembled dogs with floppy ears, piebald coats, and a high need for attention. They were juvenilized in behavior as well as appearance.
There are a number of reasons why the foxes are not a good model for origins of the dog, and I have elsewhere addressed them in detail. For now, suffice it to say that dogs arose not in quasi-permanent Mesolithic villages but in Paleolithic hunting camps. They were not sought nor selected because they solicited attention and showed no aggression—these are hardly traits of a good guard, which was one of the tasks of early dogs. Guarding remains a major reason why people keep dogs.
But the greatest problem with the self-domesticating theory is that it shuts the most creative creature on the planet out of the process. To put it bluntly, that makes no sense. Humans have always collected, tamed, and trained animals. It is inconceivable that they would ignore one as intelligent and inquisitive as the wolf.
Genomics and its offspring have shown that living organisms are not biological machines but energetic systems supported by layers of complexification. Genomics has also contributed to a more dynamic view of “domestication” as a process involving the interplay of biological, environmental, and cultural forces. The hard line between “domestic” and “wild” –always imaginary but not less real for that—has for the dog become increasingly difficult to find despite the distortions that define the current period of breedism. I am using “breedism” to refer to all aspects of the cult of the purebred dog that began to take hold about 200 years ago. Of course, there are significant differences between dogs and wolves, when they are in their own environments, but what happens when the dog goes native or the wolf becomes a lay-about?
It sometimes appears that every new find simply raises new questions while leaving old ones unresolved. That trend is apparent in two new papers by Ya-ping Zhang, a leading Chinese geneticist, who collaborated with geneticists from China and two different labs in Sweden and California on two new papers promoting Chinese indigenous dogs—native or village dogs—as the closest dogs to the ancient type.
Working with Peter Savolainen, of Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, Zhang has over the past decade or so insisted that dogs originated in southeast China no earlier than 16,000 years ago, and many researchers elsewhere adopted his argument despite the notable absence of dog or wolf remains from that region at that date and the presence of dog remains from other places considerably earlier.
The researchers redid the numbers using new chips that spot changes in the genome including so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, and indels—insertions or deletions of small amounts of genetic material. SNPs and indels can be used to measure degrees or years of separation of discrete groups of organisms. Crunching the numbers and running regression analyses, they found that southeast China village dogs separated from wolves 32,000 years ago. There were a lot of them by then, too, they reported in an article in Nature Communications [subscription required], with Guo-dong Wang and Weiwei Zhai as first authors and Zhang as senior author—8,500 dogs by their estimate.
The new date fits nicely with some “early dogs” identified from the Altai Mountains, Belgium and the Czech Republic, although Zhang and his colleagues are not quite willing to admit that those animals are dogs. In fact, they appear to want to deal with the early date by using it to mark the beginning of a long period of self-domestication for a group of scavenging protodogs.
Zhang’s group declares: “Early wolves might have been domesticated as scavengers that were attracted to live and hunt commensally with humans. With successive adaptive changes, these scavengers became progressively more prone to human custody. In light of this view, the domestication process might have been a continuous dynamic process, where dogs with extensive human contact were derived from these scavengers much latter [sic] when humans began to adopt an agricultural life style.”
The operative words here are “commensally” and “scavenger.” Together, they say that wolves were drawn to human garbage or some other waste and so started hanging around and hunting with them but without having a discernable effect or bringing them any benefit—thus, the term “commensally”—until the biped started farming. Then the scavengers showed their true worth as crossover omnivores and became dogs.
That is not complex, but it is convoluted. At a basic level, it is not clear why protodogs could not have arrived in southeastern China from the Altai Mountain region, for example, where the people who would come to enter the New World and spread through much of the Old World as the glaciers began to retreat, had gathered, presumably with dogs some 35,000 years ago. A population of dogs and people could easily have gotten to southeast China and radiated outward from there. The much trumpeted diversity of dogs in the region could be a result not of their origins there but an accident of geography and history, including intensive breeding of dogs for food and a settlement pattern that featured many small riverine villages along the Yangtze River, one of the world’s largest.
Zhang’s defense for the lack of wolves in southeast China is that wolf populations have changed everywhere, and so no one has an ancestral wolf for study and comparison. But the Chinese indigenous dogs and a couple of related breeds, are the dogs closest genetically to wolves, and that makes them all the more important as living artifacts, Zhang and his team reason. Specifically, they looked for genetic loci that might show positive selection pressure in dogs and humans and therefor might represent parallel evolution in the two species. The genes they identified as likely candidates are involved in diet, specifically the ability to digest grains; metabolism; cancer and neurological processes, especially some involving the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Zhang is also corresponding author with Dong-Dong Wu, both of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China, on a Molecular Biology and Evolution paper involving the laboratory of Robert K. Wayne, dean of canid evolutionary biologists, and several of the next generation of dog geneticists who have already published important work—Bridgett vonHoldt and Adam Boyko. They were especially focused on the prefrontal cortex and on parts of the brain that appear involved in fear response and sociability.
I say “sociability”, but, following Zhang’s lead, the researchers on these pages say “tameness,” while continuing to cling to the Soviet fox experiment as evidence that the dog was self domesticating, becoming obsequious and ingratiating and nonaggressive while eating garbage and offal. Standard descriptions of this work are abundant, and I won’t repeat them here. But it is fair to say that grand pronouncements about the working of the brain must be treated cautiously.
Most of these searches for genes involved in the transformation of wolves to dogs are based on at least two significant, faulty assumptions about the behavior of dogs and wolves. The first faulty assumption Is that wolves are now, and were in the late Pleistocene, aggressive competitors with humans. There is evidence documenting not only friendly but also mutually beneficial relationships of humans and wolves going back thousands of years. There are suggestive associations of wolf and Homo erectus remains going back hundreds of thousands of years.
The second faulty assumption is that a group of wolves effectively said to humans, “Because we like your leavings so much, we will stop vying with you and aggressing against you. We will be abject before you if you will give us excretia to eat because we cannot live by ourselves.” The question I always ask is, would you want such a creature in your house, in your bed? That is unlikely. This assumption is faulty because there is no evidence that wolves generically dislike or even fear humans. The global wolf recovery with wolves living in ever closer proximity to humans proves that wrong. It is humans who hate wolves.
That wolves and humans, similar as they are in so many ways, should make common cause, should surprise no one. Hunters study hunters. Species cooperate. It would be more aberrant if they did not. Coral groupers, Napoleon wrasse, and moray eels were recently shown to hunt cooperatively, for example. Around the world, hunting cultures had dogs that often interbred with, sometimes were indistinguishable from wolves. In the New World and elsewhere that situation was contemporaneous with the rise of multiple refined breeds in the Anglo-English speaking world.
In a real sense, then, what we call domestication of the wolf was really a rolling and flexible bringing into human culture of wolves who had the psychological and emotional capacity for sociability, for forming strong bonds not just with another individual but also with another species.
Some years ago Adam Miklosi and his colleagues compared hand reared wolves to dogs. The lengthening of the first critical socialization period and a greatly increased capacity to form strong bonds to another species were clearly central to the appearance of the dog, they concluded.
Yet for all of their problems, these two new studies are useful for their focus on indigenous dogs, the landrace dogs who although they might have several uses are generally not bred by humans to any purpose, but who still live, reproduce, and die in human society. How ancient or basic these dogs are is not really known. But they are found around the world, and I think that comparative studies of them and resident wolves and truly self-sustaining feral dogs, where they still exist, will prove most interesting. The same applies to comparison of DNA from ancient dogs and wolves. We do not yet see them clearly.
This article first appeared on Dog’s Best Friend at Psychology Today, it is used with persmission.
Mark Derr is the author of six books, ranging from Some Kind of Paradise, an environmental history of Florida, How the Dog Became the Dog, Dog's Best Friend, and A Dog's History of America. As an expert on the subject of dogs, he has been a guest on such programs as The Charlie Rose Show and Fresh Air. His articles and opinion pieces have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, Huffinton Post, Natural History, The Bark, Smithsonian and The New York Times. He lives in Miami Beach, Florida.
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