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.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A separation of almost a year ends
Marine Sergeant Ross Gundlach and bomb-sniffing dog Casey served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, completing over 150 missions together, but then they were separated. They both came back to the United States eventually, but Gundlach returned to his hometown of Madison, Wisc. to go to college and Casey began working in Iowa as an explosives detection dog.
While they were in Afghanistan, Gundlach promised himself and Casey that if they made it out alive, he would do whatever it took to find her. Once he learned that she was working in the Iowa state fire marshal’s office, he wrote to the director, Ray Reynolds. Gundlach explained that he had a strong connection with Casey and that he loved her. Over a couple of months, he worked on convincing Reynolds to let him have Casey. Gundlach was told that if it worked out, he would have to drive to Iowa to get her, to which he replied, “I would swim to Japan for my dog.”
Reynolds invited Gundlach to Des Moines, Iowa, supposedly to plead his case to a committee at the state capitol, but Reynolds had actually already arranged for Gundlach to take Casey home with him. When Gundlach arrived, he was told that the meeting had been postponed, but invited him to participate in an Armed Services Day celebration. At that event, Reynolds surprised Gundlach by bringing Casey to him and letting him know that the dog was now his.
This happy reunion was made possible because Reynolds and his colleagues understand the importance of the relationship between a Marine and his partner, a detection dog who saved many lives with her flawless work. It was also enabled by a donation of $8500 by the Iowa Elk’s Association to purchase another working dog for the agency. Casey was officially retired from active duty by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at the ceremony in which Gundlach and Casey were reunited.
Gundlach has a tattoo of Casey with angel wings and a halo sitting by a Marine, and he gives her credit for his survival in Afghanistan. It seems only fitting that the two of them are together again.
News: Guest Posts
Once again, the AKC is getting bad press. This time our leading authority on dogs stands accused of supporting, encouraging, or at least turning a blind eye to the illegal mass-production of sickly, traumatized animals for sale as pets in homes across the country. The only thing I find more annoying than the recent Today show interview is the AKC’s official response.
A carefully worded press release says Today “disregarded the important facts that should have been told.” But which “facts” are being “disregarded”?
The AKC wants to be seen as a poor, misunderstood victim of animal rights extremists like the Humane Society, award-winning scientists, and investigative journalists who forget to mention the AKC’s stellar achievements in “canine health research”—for health problems they themselves created by backing dogs into a genetic corner and endorsing items churned out like sausage links to set standards—approved and regulated by them—on shape, size, and color rather than health, temperament, or function.
The AKC suggests they’ve been minding their own business all these years like babes in the woods, that clients pay those registration fees to them “voluntarily,” and that they contribute to “kennel club inspections” (by a skeleton crew of just nine inspectors for the whole country). They also say there are, technically-speaking, no such entities as “AKC Registered Operations” or “AKC Registered Breeders”—because it’s a free country and nobody’s forcing anyone to seek the AKC’s imprimatur for those vast numbers of sickly, traumatized animals to be sold as pets?
The AKC implies it has a purely passive role, almost as an innocent bystander, in the current pedigree health crisis and puppy mill scandal. Meanwhile, they say they’ve taken a proactive role in “educational programs for responsible dog owners” who buy pitiful creatures wrapped in papers that seem more meaningless by the day.
“Facts” are easily missed or dismissed when someone’s playing word games, as in: “The belief that mixed breed or mongrel dogs are more vigorous, healthy, or well-adjusted than properly bred purebred dogs is a myth.” Of course there’s no guarantee that every or any one single dog will turn out healthy and balanced, but it’s a fact of nature that, on average and with vast numbers of AKC-registered puppy mill dogs tipping the equation, a tenth-generation mutt has better chances in life than a “purebred” or even a first-generation cross. Ask any evolutionary biologist. The fact is, and the AKC should know this because they write the grants that fund the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the annual list of “Top Ten” breeds—which the AKC just happens to announce each year on the eve of Westminster and which they actively promote—is top-heavy with hip dysplasia and other musculoskeletal defects (and a long list of other health problems) in percentages far higher than the average dog and many breeds.
Minding their own business? The real “education” would be an exposé on the AKC’s training of legislative liaisons to get out there and play with words some more in courts across the country. Campaigns are under way to limit the legal definition of “puppy mill,” to protect the rights of breeders to keep inbreeding for as many defects as the show-ring judges demand, and to stack their products in cages for as long a shelf life as the law will allow. Compared to the AKC’s history of working against the interests of dogs and the people who love them, “DNA testing” begins to look like puppy store window dressing.
And yet however shocking or unbelievable any or all of this might seem, there’s really nothing new about puppy mills or passing off inferior products as superior. This is the way dogs have been bred, packaged, and sold since the early twentieth century when the AKC incorporated, assumed control over breed standards, and targeted an emerging consumer market. The AKC, and the entire dog fancy, was built on puppy mills and unsound breeding practices. If anything has changed, it’s society’s feelings on what, exactly, “humane” treatment of animals means, and how far we have a right to go in expecting pets to please us. The AKC, show-ring judges, breeders, and associates are just doing business as usual, only they’re not used to being challenged and are acting like dogs backed into a corner. But what’s on trial here isn’t so much an archaic institution, its misplaced priorities, or its shady friends. The real bad guy is a bankrupt tradition of valuing companion animals for pedigree and for standardized shape, size, and color—and the belief that’s it’s alright to produce them in large numbers to meet these whimsical demands.
Not only is it not alright, the results have been disastrous. Time for the AKC to join the 21st century or go down with the rest of them.
Editor's Note: See our other post on this issue too.
Michael Brandow is the author of New York’s Poop Scoop Law: Dogs, the Dirt, and Due Process (Purdue University Press, 2008). His upcoming book, Dog Snobs: The Myth of the Purebred Dog, will be published by Beacon Press in 2014. He has written on society, the arts, and canine culture for The New York Times, New York Post, ARTnews, Stagebill, Town & Country, Barron’s, The New Criterion, and Animal Fair.
The American Heart Association issued a scientific statement yesterday that yes, owning a dog may protect us from heart disease. The statement was issued by an expert panel that was convened to look at alternative approaches to combat heart disease. They were prompted to look at the benefits of pet caring because of the growing number of medical studies linking pet ownership to better health.
Dr. Levine, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine said, “there are plausible psychological, sociological and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk.” Dog ownership, partially because it compels people to walk their dogs and thereby getting more exercise, proved more beneficial than owning a cat. Richard Krasuski, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, thought this statement as more of an indictment of societal attitudes toward exercise. “Very few people are meeting their exercise goals,” he said. “In an ideal society, where people are actually listening to physician recommendations, you wouldn’t need pets to drag people outside.” (Feeling that walking my dogs is one of the greatest daily pleasures in my life, I would not quite agree that many of us actually consider our dogs as “dragging” us outside.)
“Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present,” Dr. Levine said. Pet owners also tended to report greater amounts of physical activity, and modestly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some research showed that people who had pets of any kind were also more likely to survive heart attacks. All in all a definite win-win for us and our dogs.
The research also strongly suggested that there was a sharp contrast between those who walked their dogs themselves and those who did not.
Dr. Levine concludes by saying that they were not recommending that people adopt pets for any reason other than to give them a good home.
“If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure,” he said, “that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”
So sweet to see that Jon Stewart walking his three-legged dog, Champ is being written about by the online media, from Huffiington Post to E-Online . We certainly know just how great a dog lover Stewart is, after being invited to spend a whole day behind the scenes at the Daily Show’s office last year. We were so inspired by their approach to a dog friendly workplace—with free-range dogs integral to the unique office ambience—that we awarded them our first Best Place to Work award. Do check out the slideshow of Champ and Jon Stewart.
Last week Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn Heights was renamed Adam Yauch Park in honor of the late co-founder/member of the pioneering hip-hop group the Beastie Boys. Yauch, who went by the name M.C.A. and died last year of cancer at the age of 47, grew up in the neighborhood and learned how to ride his bike in the park. The park includes a dog run in addition to children’s play areas and a community garden. The New York City Parks & Recreation’s website offers these tips on visiting the park:
When you visit [Yauch's] namesake park, be sure to take in the wide variety of trees, including silver lindens, London planes, pin oaks, and Norway maples. The playground also includes full and half basketball courts, a community garden, a greenhouse, a small fitness area, an open play space, drinking fountains, and a dog run.
We expect to see Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz (aka Ad Rock) and his dog Bobby chillin’ at his bandmate’s namesake.
A man walking his dog witnesses a police shootout. Rescued hikers are greeted by their wives and dogs. Lurking behind many of the news headlines of the day’s biggest stories is a dog. Yesterday, one of the biggest stories was the announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he is gay. Collins is the first active player in a U.S. professional male team sport to come out publically. It is a courageous act, a historic moment that is being compared to Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in major league baseball. But was there a dog angle? As I read Collins excellent first person article in Sport Illustrated, I came upon this passage:
“As I write this, I haven’t come out to anyone in the NBA. I’m not privy to what other players say about me. Maybe Mike Miller, my old teammate in Memphis, will recall the time I dropped by his house in Florida and say, ‘I enjoyed being his teammate, and I sold him a dog.’ I hope players swap stories like that. Maybe they’ll talk about my character and what kind of person I am.”
I believe Collins used this example as representative of the many ordinary, real life exchanges he has had with teammates over the years—nothing to do with basketball, nothing to do with sexual orientation. Everyday life. And what represents normal everyday life more than a dog.
“I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season,” Jason Collins said. “I’ve been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German Shepherd I got from Mike Miller.”
In the photo gallery accompanying the article, most of the 16 images show Collins in uniform battling for rebounds, defending and performing the unglamorous duties of an NBA journeyman that have earned him accolades from teammates and coaches. There’s an image of him and his twin brother, Jarron, (a former NBA player as well) when they were college students at Stanford. The second to last photo shows Jason with his dog Shadow, both are clearly smiling.
I know that this tip is a little late for tax day this year, but this is something definitely to consider for next year. A friend passed along this article about how a landmark 2011 U.S. tax court decision allows deductions for fostering dogs and cats.
“In Jan Van Dusen v. Commissioner, an Oakland-based cat lady successfully argued that the expense of caring for dozens of stray felines for a local rescue group should be deductible as a charitable contribution.
Any unreimbursed expenses, such as food or medical bills, have to be directly related to animal care, said Richard Panick, a spokesman for the IRS.”
Keeping your receipts is key, and if you claim more than $250 you will need a verification letter from the 501(c)3 organization.
Also good to note for those who raise puppies for service dog organizations, they also qualify for itemized deductions.
And while adoption fees aren’t deductible, if you offer a larger donation than just the adoption fee, that “extra tip” is deductible.
See other pet-related deductibles in this article.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What’s new with the dog pros
Dog training is a dynamic field (although probably not as dynamic as dogs themselves), and at the annual national conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) in Louisville, Ky., in mid-October ’08, it was fascinating to witness the ways in which the field continues to evolve. Following are, in my opinion, some of the most notable trends in dog training, all of which figured prominently in conference talks, workshops and dinner conversations.
1. An emphasis on people. Historically, dog trainers have paid more attention to canine ethology than to the behavior of their clients, but now, these instructors are also looking at how people learn, how to encourage them to practice at home, and how to most effectively communicate what they need to do to accomplish their dog-training goals.
2. An intense interest in play behavior. For years, play has been considered a fun topic and very enjoyable for dogs, but with the exception of its relevance to socializing puppies, it has not been widely considered to be worthy of serious attention. Now, canine play is a hot topic in dog training on several levels: establishing and maintaining the relationship between people and dogs, maintaining a high quality of life, and even solving serious behavioral problems. This year’s conference devoted an entire day to a play symposium, during which all of these topics were explored.
3. Fewer crossover trainers. The change from coercion training to positive reinforcement is not new, but what is new is that now, most positive trainers have always trained that way. Fewer people are learning coercive techniques in the first place and therefore, there are fewer trainers to cross over.
4. An emphasis on science. For years, scientifically based training principles have been gaining ground in the dog-training world. This trend continues, with more trainers than ever coming from a scientific background or pursuing continuing education with a scientific basis and an emphasis on the critical thinking skills that allow trainers to distinguish anecdotes and opinions from facts based on scientific evidence.
5. Training as a profession. Many trainers have left careers in business or other professional fields and brought that professionalism to dog training. As a result, more people are training full time rather than doing it part time as a second job or as a hobby.
6. A broader range of information to offer. Instead of focusing narrowly on dogs’ responses to cues such as sit, heel and come, dog trainers now consider what is necessary for dogs’ overall well-being and to improve their quality of life. As a result, most trainers are able to help clients directly (or indirectly, through referrals) in the areas of canine massage, nutrition, exercise and enrichment activities.
7. A focus on family dogs. Dog training used to be directed toward competitive events, primarily obedience and dog shows. Now,many dog-training schools are focusing on teaching pet dogs the skills necessary to be mannerly members of society—walking nicely on leash, greeting others politely and coming when called. These skills are different from competition skills such as a perfect heel, a formal recall and a long sit-stay.
8. Relationships as a top priority. Training is universally considered to be more effective and more quickly accomplished when a strong relationship exists between the person and the dog. As a result, that relationship has become a bigger part of the equation. This recognition means dog trainers are emphasizing ways to develop and strengthen those relationships in connection with the way people train, play and interact with their dogs. Along with that understanding comes the idea that dogs are members of our families. This view, which used to be expressed timidly, almost apologetically, is not only widely accepted now, but unquestionably mainstream.
So, what’s the take-away message? Here it is: It has never been easier for you and your dog to get quality training from a highly skilled, educated professional who focuses on your needs as well as those of your canine companion. And what a great combination that is.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
“Scar” will help him heal
Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware adopted a dog to help him as he heals. The dog, who is named Scar, will be his constant companion during his long recovery. Sometimes I worry when I meet a dog named Scar that it refers to a fighting history or a desire to scare others, but in this case, the name Scar is a reminder of the work ahead of Ware and the scar that his leg will have.
When Kevin Ware went down with a horrific injury last Sunday in the NCAA basketball tournament, the world reached out to comfort him. He has been fielding calls and messages from the likes of LeBron James, Lil Wayne, Matt Lauer, Kobe Bryant and Joe Theisman, not to mention coaches, players, and others throughout the NCAA. His teammates have also showed how much they care from the moment of the injury and every day since. All the support means a lot to Ware, and being a class act, he has acknowledged all of it repeatedly with tremendous gratitude.
Perhaps this simply reflects my own dog lover’s perspective, but it’s hard to imagine anything helping him more during the rough months ahead than the good company of Scar. The college sophomore will not be playing basketball for the better part of a year, and he will be able to spend a lot of that extra time with his new dog. Other family members will need to help with his daily care at first since Ware’s mobility is limited in these post-surgery days. Hopefully Scar will benefit, as many dogs do, from being an important part of his guardian’s life and spending heaps of time together.
How has your dog helped you through a health crisis?
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