Karen Pryor’s impact on dog nation has a soundtrack —or rather, a sound: click! A pioneer of positive reinforcement training (inspired by the operant conditioning she mastered working with dolphins in the 1960s), Pryor is the founder and leading proponent of clicker training. Today, marking desired behavior with a noisy click (and a treat) isn’t limited to the dog world—the sharp snaps regularly ricochet off zoo enclosures, out in pastures with livestock and even in gyms, signaling “well done” to human athletes.
Ian Dunbar’s ideas about dog training—that it should be a fun bonding experience—have become so central to the practice, it would be easy to forget someone (Dunbar!) got us thinking this way in the first place. Advocating a hands-off, reward-based approach at his Sirius Dog Training centers, the behaviorist and vet first promulgated the now-accepted-as-gospel notion that teaching good behavior to puppies before six months of age, using positive reinforcement, prevents most future problem behaviors.
In academia or in the field, these scientists and researchers work to unlock the mysteries of the canine genome and pin down the history of domestication.
For more than two decades, Robert K. Wayne has used the powerful tools of genetic analysis to revise and, in some cases, redraw the evolutionary history and relationships of the family Canidae. In constructing that evolutionary tree (or phylogeny), Dr. Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA, his students and postdoctoral fellows have documented the monumental loss of diversity the gray wolf eradication programs of the past three centuries have wrought here and in Europe. In the early 1990s, Dr. Wayne used mitochondrial DNA to clinch the case for the gray wolf as the wild progenitor of the dog, laying to rest that “southern,” or pariah, dogs were descended from jackals, while “northern,” wolf-like breeds came from gray wolves.
A few years later, Dr. Wayne and Carles Vilà, a postdoctoral fellow, proposed that dog and wolf started down their separate evolutionary roads as long ago as 135,000 years, but certainly not much after 40,000 years ago in multiple locations. The dates are still controversial, and others have been proposed, but odds are that the final number will be
close to that put forth by Dr. Wayne and Dr. Vilà. With graduate student Jennifer Leonard, Dr. Wayne also showed that dogs were not domesticated in the New World independently; rather, they appear to have arrived with the earliest people crossing the Bering Land Bridge. More recently, he has worked with Elaine Ostrander and Heidi Parker at the National Institutes of Health to complete a new breed phylogeny, showing interrelationships among breeds and pointing to the Middle East as a center of early separation of wolf from dog.
In conducting his groundbreaking research, Dr. Wayne has also trained many of the people studying the genetics of canid evolution and has been consistently generous in assigning credit where it is due.
While at London’s Natural History Museum, Juliet Clutton-Brock penned many definitive texts on the archaeology of animal domestication, including A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. In her work, Clutton-Brock illuminates our tangled history with dogs (among others), establishing a baseline for understanding the reasons, biological and behavioral impacts, and unexpected consequences of domestication.
L. David Mech, founder of the International Wolf Center and chair of the IUCN Wolf Specialist Group, has studied wolves and their prey since 1958. His is among the foundation work on canines wild and domestic.