Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Frans de Waal presents a fascinating history of the study of animal behavior and cognition. De Waal, who says his love of animals dates to his childhood, is a worldrenowned primatologist and ethologist and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. We asked him to shift gears and give us his take on the canine mind.
Bark: Konrad Lorenz (co-founder of your field) wrote Man Meets Dog in 1954. And while it is still one of the best, if slightly flawed, books on canine behavior, why did it take so long for ethologists, and other researchers, to to study dog behavior?
Frans de Waal: Dogs were (and are) considered imperfect subjects of study because they are “unnatural.” Many ethologists, including Lorenz, feel that natural behavior under naturalistic conditions is what we should focus on, and the dog is a product of artificial breeding. Lorenz liked all animals, however, and so couldn’t resist describing his dog stories, and we should all be grateful.
Clearly, the dog is a mammal with many typical mammalian tendencies, so now scientists are finally seeing that the fact that they are domesticated also has advantages. For example, they are eager to work with us, they are generally not dangerous, they are smart, they have empathy. Lots of great things can be done with them. And they are easier to work with than other large mammals, such as apes and dolphins.
Bk: Can you give an example of how other species, including dogs, demonstrate empathy?
FdW: American psychologist Carolyn Zahn-Waxler sought to determine at what age children begin to comfort family members who sobbed or cried “ouch.” It turns out that children do so at one year of age. In the same study, Zahn-Waxler accidentally discovered that household dogs react similarly. Appearing as upset as the children by the distress-faking family members, the dogs hovered over them, putting their heads in their laps with what looked like great concern. This work has recently been repeated in different studies, more focused on the dogs themselves, and it is clear that these animals show empathic concern for humans.
The ancestor of the dog, the wolf, probably behaves the same. If “man is wolf to man,” as Thomas Hobbes liked to say, we should take this in the best possible way, including a tendency to comfort the whimpering and help the needy. This insight, of course, would undermine much of political philosophy based on Hobbes’ dog-eat-dog view of nature.
Bk: Do you think human bias has played a part in some of the canine cognitive studies?
FdW: At first, dogs were rated as more intelligent than even apes and wolves because they followed the direction of human pointing (at a bucket with food), whereas apes and wolves ignored human directions. Then it was found that wolves raised in a human home will act more like dogs, following human pointing, suggesting that the earlier failures with wolves were probably due to lack of bonding and attention. The same probably applies to the apes. Now, dogs are seen not just as smart but rather, as finely in tune with the species that bred them.
They have a special bond with us, as also reflected in the oxytocin studies, which show that human-dog contact increases this “cuddle” hormone in both. The dog is perhaps the only animal that performs at its peak when tested by humans, whereas many other animals are not so into us, hence need to be tested in different ways. This is yet more proof that cognitive testing of animals always needs to take into account what kind of animal we are dealing with: we need to find the most species-appropriate way.
Bk: In contrast to behaviorism’s reward/ punishment model, ethology views animals as “seeking, wanting and striving.” Why do you feel the latter is a more productive way to look at animals?
FdW: The behaviorists (followers of B. F. Skinner) totally overlooked natural animal tendencies. Trying to explain all behavior on the basis of reward and punishment, they could not explain why you can train a dog to fetch, but not a rabbit or a goat.
Predators are obsessed with small moving objects, which we see every day in our dogs as well as cats. Their interest sets up a learning situation where they are going to absorb many lessons about how to catch these moving objects, how to trick them, how to outsmart them. Dogs eagerly learn all of those things.
Reward and punishment are only small parts of the story; their natural hunting instinct is, in fact, the driver of the process. This is where behaviorism failed. It had some good ideas, many of them applicable to animal training, but its perspective was far too narrow as it lacked attention to natural tendencies and the evolution of behavior.
Bk: Why do you think Darwin used dogs to illustrate emotional continuity?
FdW: Darwin was a dog lover, and he knew that to get his message across about the continuity between human and animal emotions, the dog would be the easiest way to communicate. Darwin mostly worked on the expression of emotions (it’s hard to know what animals feel, but we can at least document how they signal various states, such as fear, submission, anger, affection). Of course, the dog is very expressive with its postures, facial expressions, tail-wagging, growling and so on. Darwin knew that most people could relate to all of this, and would have more trouble if he described other species that people have less exposure to.
Bk: In terms of an evolutionary advantage, how important is it for a species to have self-awareness, or theory of mind?
FdW: These capacities require large brains. In terms of recognizing oneself in the mirror or understanding what others know, the champion species are apes, dolphins, elephants and perhaps also the corvids (crow family). This doesn’t mean that dogs lack them. They probably have similar understanding, but not as fully expressed.
The more complex the societies of a species, the more demands there are on cognition, and perhaps canines do not need social understanding at the level of an ape or dolphin. I feel we need to judge animals on what they are good at and what they need to know to survive. In this regard, canines have lots of specialized skills, often related to their sense of smell, their pursuit of prey, their need for tight cooperation and so on. This is where we should test them out, and probably find remarkable skills.
Bk: Clearly, emotions are important to the understanding of behavior; how do they relate to and inform one another?
FdW: In my book, I left emotions out on purpose because I felt it would muddle things. But there can be no studies of cognition without attention to the emotions, and vice versa. The two go hand in hand. In our famous capuchin monkey experiment with the grape and the cucumber, for example, you can see not only that the monkeys judge what they get relative to what others get, but also their strong emotional response. You cannot study the one and ignore the other.
Wellness: Health Care
As the mom of two young children, I’m always checking the weather forecast. Jacket or sweater? Rain boots or sneakers? As a veterinarian with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), I rely on a different forecast, the Companion Animal Parasite Council findings published by my veterinary colleagues, which tracks the intensity of pet diseases from year to year. Here’s what to expect for the remainder of 2016.HEARTWORM DISEASE FORECAST: STORMY
Veterinarians anticipate a rise in heartworm disease because of the unusual weather pattern created by El Niño. The warmer temperatures and wetter conditions create an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the larvae are injected into the dog’s skin. They migrate through the body, finding their way to the large blood vessels of the heart and lungs. There, they mature to the size of cooked spaghetti. These tangled masses of worms can cause heart failure, and even death, if not treated early.
Expect to see cases skyrocket in:
Heartworm disease is prevalent in the Lower Mississippi River region and this year it’s expected to spread to:
All dogs need to be protected from heartworms, even those who rarely venture outside. The one mosquito that flies through your open window and bites your dog just might be infected with heartworm larvae. Preventives are available in the form of pills, topical liquids and injections. All kill the larvae once they enter the bloodstream. The AAHA recommends year-round heartworm prevention.TICK-BORNE DISEASE FORECAST: PARTIALLY CLOUDY
An infected tick can spread a number of life-threatening diseases when it bites a dog. The most common are Lyme, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, and their prevalence varies by region. Some dogs with Lyme disease will run a high fever, experience painful joints and exhibit swollen lymph nodes. Others will present no signs at all. Untreated infections can lead to kidney failure and death.
In regions where Lyme has been living comfortably for years, the incidence is expected to rise. These regions include:
Recently, the disease has spread to:
These states may have a higher-than-average occurrence the rest of the year.
Historically, Lyme has thrived in New England, but, oddly enough, the incidence there is expected to fall below normal this year, perhaps because more owners are vaccinating their dogs.
If you live in an area where ticks are abundant, take precautions to keep your dogs safe. Your veterinarian will prescribe a tick preventive in the form of pills, topical liquids or collars. In areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, she may recommend vaccination.
Anaplasmosis causes disruptions in blood clotting, which results in bruising, internal bleeding and nosebleeds. Signs of Lyme disease also present in anaplasmosis.
Anaplasmosis shows moderate to high activity in:
Ehrlichiosis displays signs similar to both Lyme and anaplasmosis along with eye, liver and spleen infections. Above-normal incidence of ehrlichiosis is expected in:
Just like the human flu, canine influenza is spread by one infected dog sneezing or coughing on another. Two strains of canine influenza are present in the U.S. H3N8 has been here for years, but a vaccine has kept it at bay. A new Asian strain, H3N2, hit Chicago last spring, causing a local epidemic; dogs didn’t have a natural immunity to the strain and there was no vaccine. Since then, H3N2 has infected more than 1,000 dogs in more than 25 states. Fortunately, H3N2 vaccines were developed not long after the outbreak, which likely curbed the spread. It’s difficult to predict how the flu season will play out for the rest of the year. With so many dogs on the move with their owners, and not all of them protected by vaccines for the new strain, the disease could spread quickly. If you plan to travel with your dog, visit your veterinarian for a vaccine protocol.
News: Guest Posts
Pups as a Work Perk
For dog lovers, being able to bring our pups to work is a huge perk. Most companies don't allow pets in the office, but that is slowly changing. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, seven percent of employers now allow pets to come to work—up from five percent five years ago.
Many companies see this as a way to help with retention and work-life balance at no extra cost. It's often people's favorite perk.
At North Carolina based Replacements Ltd, there are about 30 animals that join their 400 workers on a regular basis. Their policy is probably one of the most liberal—the office has even been visited by a duck, potbellied pig, and possum. Public Relations manager, Lisa Conklin, even hopes to bring in her horse, Azim, one day.
The pets have always been on their best behavior. Although on a number of occasions the human employees have broken the fine dining dishes that Replacements sells, no one can remember an animal ever being responsible for an incident before.
Bringing our pets to work is a fun perk, but it has tangible benefits as well.
In 2012, Virginia Commonwealth University professor Randolph Barker led research that measured levels of cortisol in workers' systems. His team found that people whose animals came to work saw a decrease in stress throughout the day, while those who didn't have a pet saw their cortisol increase. Randolph says that pet friendly companies typically report more coworker cooperation and interaction as well.
But there are some challenges with having a liberal pet policy. Not all animals like being in an office environment and it's up to the individual employee to make the best decision for their pet. There are also other considerations for organizations, such as allergies and finding a building that is pet friendly.
However, provided that a company can make it work logistically, the benefits seem immeasurable!
News: Guest Posts
9/11 SAR Dogs honored with commemorative statue
The service dogs that responded to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks have not been forgotten. However, monuments to their service are few compared to those devoted to two legged responders. On Wednesday August 17, New Jersey officials gathered at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial in West Orange to do their part to change that. They dedicated a new commemorative statue honoring the Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11.
The four-foot tall bronze dog sits atop a 12-inch slab of granite, and weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. It was designed by Oregon artist, Jay Warren and paid for by corporate donations. The West Orange 9/11 Memorial opened in 2002, almost exactly one year after the attacks. The park overlooks Manhattan across the water. Citizens once gathered there, helplessly witnessing the chaos at Ground Zero.
In September 2001, countless heroes emerged from obscurity to aid their country in its time of need. Men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue courageously faced the devastation alongside everyday citizens. The new West Orange monument stands as a reminder that not all 9/11 heroes were human.
Roughly 350 Search and Rescue Dogs worked tirelessly in the tragic aftermath searching for survivors; and after, searching for human remains. Sifting through the jagged rubble and blinded by smoke and debris, the dogs battled exhaustion and emotional distress.
After hours of searching and finding no one alive, some handlers would ask for a volunteer to hide amidst the rubble to be “located”, helping to raise the dogs’ spirits. Even when the search mission became one of recovery instead of rescue, the dogs carried on diligently, providing what little peace they could for the families of the victims.
In a press release for the commemoration of the new statue, Newark Public Safety Director, Anthony Ambrose said:
"Search dogs covered 16 acres of land at Ground Zero covered with metal and debris, and went where humans could not go. This is a fitting way to remember how many families gained some sort of closure because of the work by dogs."
The presence of the dogs at the recovery sites had an even greater impact than many may realize. Dutch photographer, Charlotte Dumas is the author of the 2011 book, Retrieved featuring the stories and portraits of 9/11 canines. She interviewed Denise Corliss, handler of famous 9/11 FEMA Search Dog, Bretagne. Dumas recounted an emotional narrative from her time with Corliss to Daily Mail UK:
“She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble, and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognized Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion. It developed that even though the dogs couldn't find people still alive, they could provide comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.”
Most Search and Rescue Dogs are trained by non-government organizations. Often their handlers are civilians as well. Many of the teams that responded to Ground Zero did so on a volunteer basis, simply because their country needed them. Now these pups are getting the recognition they deserve from the folks in Essex County, NJ.
To learn more about search and rescue dogs and the brave men and women who train them and act as their handlers, visit searchdogfoundation.org or disasterdog.org.
News: Guest Posts
A Maryland pup was saved after falling into a dry well.
Earlier this month, a Saint Bernard in Perryman, Maryland found herself in an unlikely predicament—stuck at the bottom of a 30-foot dry well. Her family noticed Mabel was missing when they went to refill a play pool for her in the backyard. After looking everywhere, they decided to reconsider checking their well, which seemed unlikely because of the heavy lid. Too scared to look themselves, a neighbor ended up bringing a flashlight to peer in. To everyone's surprise, there was Mabel staring back up at them.
It's not exactly easy to rescue a dog from a 30 foot well, but fortunately Mabel had some incredible people on her side. First a hazmat team checked the air quality in the well before giving Daniel Lemmon, a firefighter with the Harford County Technical Rescue Team, the go ahead to rappel down. From there he gave Mabel a treat and harnessed her up. Mabel was then lifted her out using a pulley system.
As Daniel says, "It's a whole team effort. Sometimes we forget all those parts, but without them it just doesn’t work."
Although it was a complicated rescue, Mabel made it as easy as possible. According to Daniel, Mabel was on her best behavior. "She was so cooperative the whole time, no issues at all, didn’t snap at me, didn’t bark. If there’s someone who’s the star of this, it’s really the dog."
As soon as Mabel was lifted to safety, she immediately began jumping around, too excited to even drink water. Everyone was in disbelief that she survived the fall without any injuries.
No one knows how long Mabel was stuck in the well, or how she even got in there in the first place. Perhaps she was looking for a place to escape the 100 degree heat that day. Only Mabel will know for sure!
News: Guest Posts
Not surprisingly, a study published July 29, 2016 found that the English Bulldog no longer retains enough genetic diversity to correct life-threatening physical and genomic abnormalities. This means breeders cannot use the established population of purebred dogs to reverse the trend in extreme and painful exaggerations such as crippling dwarfism and respiratory deformities - traits that uninformed pet-owners find appealing.
In the early 1800s Bulldogs were trained for bull-baiting, a particularly cruel and vicious sport. In 1835 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals convinced Parliament to enact the first animal cruelty law for the protection of domestic animals, including outlawing bull baiting.
As such, the Bulldog had outlived its usefulness. Like the pre-19th century Wolfhound that disappeared with the eradication of wolves in the British Isles, and the Tumbler whose demise was the invention of hunting firearms, the Bulldog was destined for extinction.
English Bulldog from 1890
But it was not to be. Beginning about 1840, the Victorian dog fancy's unabashed sentimentality was a catalyst for saving even the most formidable working breeds from their inevitable demise. Like many others, such as the Dachshund and Mastiff, Bulldogs went from working hard to hardly working.
Utility dogs were "refined" and transformed to fill jobs they weren't originally bred for - as show dogs and companions. Altered physical and behavior characteristics along with decreased levels of aggression were more compatible for their augmented duties as house pets.
English Bulldogs from 1920s
Beginning in the late 1890s, Bulldog breeders (and other breeders as well) selected small groups of genes from a diverse genome and created new breed-types. They were in effect increasing the odds that genetic anomalies would more likely be expressed to bring out exaggerated traits, like the Bulldog's baby-like face, corkscrew tail and affable personality.
As "desirable" aesthetic traits were selected for, other genetic variants including beneficial genes that contribute to overall health were eliminated from the gene pool, never to be reclaimed.
In the last few decades the most exaggerated traits in the Bulldog - the extreme brachycephalic skull and deformed skeleton- have become increasingly pronounced because naive consumers want that type of dog and consequently that's what many breeders select for.
Driven by economics, fashion, and uninformed decisions, breeders and buyers either ignore or are unaware of the genetic problems that have spread throughout the population.
The demise of the breed may not be a good thing for Bulldog-lovers, but it will thankfully put an end to the malformed and painfully crippled modern Bulldog we recognize today.
The good news is that some breeders are intent on bringing back the "Olde-Fashioned-Bulldogge".
A ruling in an animal abuse case in Oregon should have far-reaching ramifications because the Supreme Court of that state ruled recently that pets are not just “mere” property. The case involved the conviction of a dog owner who was starving her pet. In this instance the owner had appealed her conviction for second-degree neglect because a veterinarian had drawn the dog’s blood (without her permission).
According to the Court’s summary of the case:
The case at issue began in 2010, when an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog, failing to properly feed it and keeping it in a kennel for many hours a day. An animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb's apartment in December 2010 and, once invited in, saw "Juno" in the yard with "no fat on his body." The dog, the investigator reported, "was kind of eating at random things in the yard, and trying to vomit."
The investigator asked why, and Newcomb said she was out of dog food but that she was going to get more that night, according to the summary of the case.
The investigator believed that defendant had neglected Juno. He asked her for permission to take the dog in for medical care, but defendant, who thought her dog looked healthy, refused and became irate. The officer therefore took protective custody of Juno without defendant’s consent, both as evidence of the neglect and because of the “strong possibility” that Juno needed medical treatment. He transported Juno to the Humane Society, where Juno would be housed and medically treated as appropriate. From medical tests, the officer expected also to be able to determine whether neglect charges were warranted or whether Juno should be returned to defendant.
The vet gave Juno food, charted his weight and measured his rapid weight gain over several days. The vet also drew Juno's blood and ruled out any disease. The investigator concluded nothing was wrong with the dog other than it was very hungry.
Newcomb was then convicted of second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor. Among other problems with the conviction, Newcomb argued, authorities violated her constitutional rights to be protected from unreasonable searches of property by drawing blood from her dog. Under Oregon law, animals are defined as property.
The prosecutor Adam Gibbs had argued that taking the dog to the veterinarian office was similar to care in suspected child-abuse cases. And further argued that a dog is not a container—like an inanimate piece of property—that requires a warrant. Rather, Gibbs argued that a dog "doesn't contain anything"—and that what's inside a dog is just "more dog."
The Supreme Court’s ruling agreed with his, stating that the chemical composition of Juno's blood was not "information" that Newcomb "placed in Juno for safekeeping or to conceal from view."
And concluded that the “defendant had no protected privacy interest in Juno’s blood that was invaded by the medical procedures performed.” And while dogs are considered personal property in Oregon, the ownership rights aren’t the same as with inanimate property, imposing other limits. “Those limitations, too, are reflections of legal and social norms. Live animals under Oregon law are subject to statutory welfare protections that ensure their basic minimum care, including veterinary treatment. The obligation to provide that minimum care falls on any person who has custody and control of a dog or other animal.”
Also interestingly the court added,
“As we continue to learn more about the interrelated nature of all life, the day may come when humans perceive less separation between themselves and other living beings than the law now reflects. However, we do not need a mirror to the past or a telescope to the future to recognize that the legal status of animals has changed and is changing still[.]”
See the full opinion here.
News: Guest Posts
Prompt park officials in Arizona to ban dogs
The city of Phoenix is now banning dogs from hiking trails when it hits 100 degrees at the parks.
Under the pilot program, which went into effect July 1 and runs through Sept. 1, someone who disobeys the rule could be cited for a Class One misdemeanor, be fined up to $2,500 and receive up to six months jail time. Phoenix officials say they are emphasizing the educational aspect of the program and not the punitive measures.
Phoenix has some of the largest municipal parks in the country with 15-mile trails that cut through desert that is beautiful but shadeless during the summer.
Summertime temps in the metro Phoenix area can easily reach 110 during the day and stay warm throughout the night, hovering around the mid to upper 80s. In 2015, there were 88 days when daytime temperatures were 100 degrees or higher.
Although the parks open at sunrise, it is not uncommon for runners, hikers and cyclists to be on the trails even during the hottest parts of the day. Already this year, six people have died on area trails and there have been reports of dog deaths but no statistics are kept in that area. Frequently, dogs who are overtaken by the heat are taken to nearby vets or emergency-animal clinics for care.
In 2011, three dogs died on trails in the nearby city of Glendale. The only way the city knew about those deaths was because its fire department was called to help the dogs. “For everyone incident reported, we believe there are dozens of animal fatalities that we don’t hear about,’’ said Sue Breding, Glendale spokeswoman.
Kristen Nelson, DVM, a Phoenix area veterinarian, said one Labrador recently came into her clinic with a temperature of over 107. The dog’s owners had taken him hiking at 2 p.m. during the day when it was over 100 degrees outside. The dog had collapsed on the trail and died two days later after many of his organs gave out.
In many southwestern cities like in Phoenix, dogs can overheat at any time of the year, says Aaron Franko, DVM, at BluePearl Veterinary Partners.
At end of February, he had a Labrador mixed breed dog come in who was suffering heat stroke. “It was a very warm day,’’ Franko said.
“People don’t realize how fast dogs can get overheated and into trouble,’’ he added.
All dogs can be bothered by the heat but some types are pre-disposed to problems, Franko said. Those types include short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers as well as dogs with underlying heart disease, older dogs and those with thicker coats.
If it is warm outside, people need to bring water for their dogs and if it is hot, they need to avoid taking them out at all, Franko said.
He estimates that his central Phoenix emergency clinic sees five or more heat-stressed dogs a week. “And we are just one emergency clinic here.’’
Many veterinarians say that the summertime heat danger to dogs can’t be emphasized enough to people with pets. The Arizona Humane Society says it can easily receive up to 50 a calls a day during the summer for animal rescues and investigations. Up to half of those involve animals who don’t have enough water or shade to deal with the heat.
Phoenix city officials believe this may be one of the few times municipal trails have been closed to dogs because of heat. Many U.S. national parks prohibit even leashed dogs on trails because the dogs may endanger themselves or area wildlife. Parks from Portland, Ore. to Maine have closed dog-friendly trails for various reasons including protecting the ecosystem and safeguarding nearby livestock.
Pat Summitt, the legendary basketball coach who brought women’s basketball to new heights, died at the age of 64. She had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at 58.
Not only did she have an amazingly successful career with the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols, but she was an inspiration both on and off the court to her players, all of whom also graduated, school officials said. She coached for almost 40 years, and started her career as coach when she was only 22 years old. She also inspired a variable Who’s Who in women’s sports, see this sampling of head coaches with ties to her.
Not only that, but her toughness, resilience—and love for her dogs—was demonstrated in 2008 when she dislocated her shoulder while forearming a raccoon off her deck to protect her Lab, Sally.
Her son, Tyler Summitt, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying his mother died peacefully at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.
“Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced,” Tyler Summitt said. “Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.”
[This following post appeared in 2011]
Pat Summitt is one gutsy woman, not only is she the winningest NCAA basketball coach in history (male or female) but this week she announced she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at 59. Her talents, on and off the court, are near and dear to our hearts and we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to interview her about how dogs have inspired her and her style of coaching. Not only that, but her toughness, resilience—and love for her dogs—was demonstrated three years ago when she dislocated her shoulder while forearming a raccoon off her deck to protect her Lab, Sally. We wish her, and her family, well—and hope that she will continue to inspire her players and all those who love the game of basketball.
News: Guest Posts
An international group of scientists proposes dual domestication from wolves.
Among the many hotly debated topics related to the appearance of dogs in the lives of humans is how often and where it first occurred. In their landmark 1997 paper on dog origins, Robert K. Wayne, Carles Vilá, and their colleagues made the case for multiple origins, but many other students of dog evolution, including Peter Savolainen, a co-author on that paper, have repeatedly and strongly argued for a single place of origin.
In this week’s Science magazine (June 3, 2016) [the article is available here, gratis], Laurent Frantz of Oxford University’s ancient dog program, writing for more than a score of his colleagues from institutions around the world, presents the case for dual domestication of Paleolithic wolves in Western Eurasia and Eastern Asia. According to this hypothesis, a now extinct ancestral wolf split into at least two genetically distinct populations on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent where they encountered and joined forces with humans to become dogs.
Frantz and his coauthors pin much of their argument on analysis and comparison of the fully sequenced genome of a 4,800- year old dog unearthed at Newgrange, Ireland, to other ancient and modern dogs and modern wolves. They found it retained “a degree of ancestry” different from modern dogs or modern wolves. Using that and other evidence the researchers argue that the most comprehensive model for the appearance of the dog involves at least two domestication events 15,000 or more years ago. Frantz writes: “The eastern dog population then dispersed westward alongside humans at some point between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago, into Western Europe (10,11, 20), where they partially replaced an indigenous Paleolithic dog population. Our hypothesis reconciles previous studies that have suggested that domestic dogs originated either in East Asia (9, 19) or in Europe (7).”
I asked Greger Larson, co-director of the Oxford project and corresponding author on the paper, just what were the boundaries of “Western Eurasia,” comprised apparently of Europe and the Middle East, and “Eastern Asia?” He answered in an email that the boundaries were left deliberately vague because where wolves became dogs remains unknown, like the date itself.
In Science, Frantz writes: [W]e calculated the divergence time between two modern Russian wolves used in the study and the modern dogs to be 60,000 to 20,000 years ago.” The first number puts the dog in the time when Neanderthal was still the big kid on the European block, raising the possibility that Neanderthal had protodogs or that early modern humans came to Europe with dogs or soon allied with wolves. Either of the first two prospects must have set off alarms in some circles for Frantz cautions that those dates should not be taken as “a time frame for domestication” because the wolves they used may not have been “closely related to the population(s) that gave rise to dogs.”
Fundamentally, this paper is at once a bold attempt to come up with a workable hypothesis to explain the appearance of the dog in human affairs and a tentative step into troubled waters. Left unanswered are virtually all outstanding questions regarding the who, what, when, where, and why of the transformation of wolves to dogs. Geographically all it does is exclude Central Asia. Whether it does so wrongly may depend on how you define Central Asia geographically.
What makes it bold and radical even is the suggestion that early humans and wolves could have gotten together wherever and whenever they met on the trail of the big game they were following. There are many reasons for that including similar social and familial cultures, but humans and wolves could have joined forces to have become more successful hunters. We learn from Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Prey by L. David Mech, Douglas W. Smith, and Daniel R. MacNulty (Chicago, 2016) that while wolves appear excellent at finding and trailing game, they are not very good at making the kill, succeeding perhaps half the time. It is dangerous work at which humans with their weapons excel.
Imagine the scene: Human hunters locate wolves on the hunt by watching ravens who are known to follow them. Human hunters move in for the kill and take as many animals as they can. If smart, they might share immediately with the wolves. If not, the wolves might consume what the humans do not carry off or follow them back to their encampment to take what they can.
The rest is a tale of accommodation through socialization—the ability to bond with another being—and all that entails.
This article originally appeared in Psychology Today's Dog's Best Friend, used with permission.
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