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Dog Culture: Science & History
Deconstructing the Gene Pool
Dr. Mark Neff and his team uncover the surprising origin of a potentially deadly mutation
Until the mid-19th century, any hodge-podge of similar-looking dogs performing similar tasks was awarded the right to be called a breed. However, as inventions (such as guns) mechanized jobs that dogs normally performed, many breeds—like the tumbler, who “tumbled and turned” to mesmerize prey—simply sank back into the ancestral soup, taking their unique traits with them. One of these ancient...
Dog Culture: Science & History
Fala, the Presidential Dog
How a special little dog made America’s house his home
Arguably the most important dog in World War II never saw combat; in fact, he was one of the breeds deemed unfit for duty by virtue of his stubby legs and long coat. But he was also of a breed that had been considered suitable for a gentleman to keep in town since the mid-19th century, and in President Roosevelt he met the perfect human companion. Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley,...
Dog Culture: Science & History
DNA Testing
Which DNA test should you choose to settle the “what’s in the mix” question?
For years, you’ve argued with your spouse that the 60-pound, black-and-tan tennis ball–chaser who takes you for walks and sweeps the coffee table clean with his tail is a German Shepherd mix, and that there is absolutely no Doberman Pinscher in there. Finally, in order to end the breed debate once and for all and restore peace to your household, you’ve decided to settle the question with a mixed-...
Dog Culture: Science & History
The Future of Dogs
Breeding for looks, not function, threatens dogs’ well-being
Like many people, my wife Diana and I had long been in the habit of buying purebred dogs without bothering to learn much about their breeding beforehand. And so it was in 1977, when we made an impulse purchase of a Jack Russell Terrier named Phineas. Despite the many other wonderful dogs who’d blessed our lives, we’d never known another like Phineas. Though short-legged and weighing barely 15...
Dog Culture: Science & History
Dogs: Wolf, Myth, Hero & Friend
Sniffing out the facts and exploring the relationship between our two species
No observer can help but remark upon the incredible variety of sizes, shapes, temperaments and behaviors of the dog—from the one-pound Chihuahua to the 200-pound Mastiff; the stubby-legged, placid Basset Hound to the long-legged, fleet Greyhound. Nowhere else in the animal kingdom does so much morphological diversity exist within a single species. In large measure, the 400 or so breeds of dog...
Dog Culture: Science & History
The Wolf Who Stayed
A domestication that went both ways
That the dog is descended from the wolf—or more precisely, the wolf who stayed—is by now an accepted fact of evolution and history. But that fact is about all that is agreed to among the people who attempt to answer fundamental questions about the origins of the dog—specifically, the who, where, when, how and why of domestication. Dates range from the dog’s earliest appearance in the...
Dog Culture: Science & History
The Wolf in Your Dog
Evolutionary pathways
"Though in their deep heart’s core, there is a commonality of origin, spirit, emotional intelligence and empathetic sensibility, the wild wolf looks through us, while the dog looks to us. " Of all the myriad members of the animal kingdom, the domesticated dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is closest to us. With individual exceptions in other species, this canine species is the most understanding, if...
Dog Culture: Science & History
Can DNA Decipher the Mix?
Unraveling the genetic tapestry provides clues to breeds and their mixes
A mongrel dog is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. And therein lies the appeal. What’s more fun than serendipitous unpredictability all bundled up in puppy fur? But when that puppy grows up, we inevitably make assumptions about her ancestry based on how she looks and behaves. Our logic goes like this: “If my pooch is long and low to the ground, and she never barks...
Dog Culture: Science & History
Buffon
The Science and Art of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
In setting out to explain everything that was known about the natural world in his 44-volume Histoire Naturelle, Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707–1788) reserved a special place for the dog. In fact, he may have been the first naturalist to raise the question of the role of dogs in human evolution: “To conceive the importance of this species in the order of Nature, let us suppose that...
Blog: Guest Posts
The Making of Rex 2.0
This month, Reason magazine takes a closer look at BioArts' ongoing efforts to expand and improve dog-cloning. The article provides some nuts-and-bolts details that were new to me and raises intriguing questions about the differences between cloning and traditional breeding. Check out the reader reactions as well.

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