Recently, I had the chance to preview a National Geographic Channel special, And Man Created Dog (airing Sunday, August 8, 9p.m. ET/PT). This show is about canine evolution; one of our favorite topics! I must admit I had trouble with its title (too human-centric) and its diorama-like reenactments that confidently state scientific conjecture as proven fact. There is also too much of a “golly gee” flavor to the narrative for my taste. But mainly, I am disappointed that alternative theories of canine evolution aren’t presented, including one to which we subscribe: co-evolution. It’s possible that wolves shaped us as much as we shaped them. Considering that wolves have been among the leading megafauna predators for millions of years, our ancestors would have had a lot to learn by observing their hunting prowess.
Nonetheless, it is interesting and well worth watching. Two of our favorite researchers—UCLA’s Robert Wayne and Barnard’s Alexandra Horowitz—help explain the story, which includes an emphasis on the longevity of the canine/human partnership.
Another problem I have with the program is the lack of coverage about how closing breed registry books means that dog breeding (especially in the U.S.) has increased the prevalence of canine diseases and resultant health problems. This is such an important topic—it deserves more coverage (or a whole show unto its own). The program spends much too much time with more “exotic” storylines, such as how Italians train Newfies (and other water dogs) to perform water rescues. Or how Italians use dogs for their truffle hunting—seems as if some producer wanted to spend a paid vacation in Italy, perhaps.
Among the most poignant pieces of evidence for the long term association of “us” and dogs is an archeological finding from Chauvet Cave in Southern France: two sets of footprints—those of a dog (which are different than a wolf’s) and a young child—embedded close together in the fossilized mud of the cave floor. The propinquity of the two left no doubt that a prehistoric child and his dog were in that cave together 26,000 years ago! That is, in itself, worth tuning in for.
Meet a therapy dog named Tuesday, who helps an Iraq veteran suffering from PTSD in this clip from And Man Created Dog.