The Elements of Evolution (84-1) The Descent of Dogs

 The Descent of Dogs

The earliest dogs arose alongside hunter-gathers. ~ American evolutionary biologist Adam Freedman et al

Wolves and humans are both collaborative social animals: dependent upon cooperation as well as wiles for survival. ~40,000 years ago the two met on the trail of the large grazing animals upon which both preyed and decided they had coinciding interests.

Humans may well have picked up hunting stratagems from watching wolf packs at work. Providing leftovers was another aspect of early interaction. Indeed, scavenging scraps was key to wolves turning into dogs.

A crucial early step in the descent of dogs came in diet. Early dogs managed to thrive on more starch than wolves can stomach. Wolves are hard-core carnivores.

Where dogs descended is still disputed, but Eurasia looks most likely based upon genetic analyses. Dog domestication happened at least twice. Pigs were also domesticated twice: in China and Anatolia.

Companionship and guarding the home front were not the only benefit to humans in adopting would-be tail-waggers. Upon occasion, dogs were also dinner. Whereas westerners have shunned supping on the pooch for centuries, this culinary custom is maintained in the Far East.

The dog is literally the wolf that stayed. The descent of dogs started with a self-selection process: certain wolves especially inclined to tolerate proximity to humans. In effect, dogs invented themselves. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies.

Morphological changes from the larger wolf to domestic dog came from minor epigenetic alterations. This is the least momentous change.

Certainly, dogs developed a different lifestyle. Wolves mate for life, and wolf fathers help rear their pups. In contrast, male dogs are promiscuous and pay their offspring no mind.

Behavioral changes are especially striking. Wolves tend to reconcile shortly after conflicts, but dogs do not. Wolves live in packs, so quick resolution to conflicts is critical to group coherence. In becoming domesticated dogs lost many of their pack survival skills. (Wolf conflicts are short-lived, and combatants make up immediately. Contrastingly, dogs tend to fight more viciously and avoid one another after fighting rather than reconciling.)

Wolves will cooperate with men but take the lead in doing so. Dogs wait and see what its human partner does and follow that behavior.

Wolves are ready problem solvers. Dogs hardly give it a go, looking instead to their bipedal companion.

Dogs look to humans when confronted with an unsolvable task. ~ American zoologist Monique Udell

Therein lies the key to dogs’ success in domestication: emotional attachment and understanding coupled to willing submission. Wolves have social-learning skills. The sine qua non of domestication came with dogs taking that to the next level. Dog domestication came through transference of primary social affinity: from packmates to caretakers.

Dogs understand the emotional expressions on the faces of humans. They monitor their master’s attentions.

Dogs key their appeasement behaviors to pacify signs of threat and to garner loyalty. Thus, dogs develop a close empathic relationship between themselves and their human companions. Dogs dislike people who are mean to their caretaker.

Dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest. ~ Japanese zoologist Kazuo Fujita