Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The book! Part Three: Introduction

leave a comment »

I described in the previous chapter how these are ‘interesting times’; albeit not using that particular phrase. What I wrote was, “ …. the feeling that we humans have to look outside of ourselves to find the inspiration and the motivation needed to make the changes in the sort of short timescales our present circumstances demand.

Expanding that to state: “We live in very challenging times. Widely acknowledged for it seems rare these days to meet someone who doesn’t sense, to one degree or another, a feeling of vulnerability to today’s world. A sense that many aspects of their lives are beyond their control.
These are also times where it is widely acknowledged that the levers of privilege and money are undermining the rights and needs of so many, that there are unprecedented levels of deceit, lying and greed; all enveloped within an abuse of power.
That’s even before we embrace the matter of climate change and whether or not there is a potential “end-of-world” tipping point; the so-called beat of the butterfly’s wing.

The rest of this section, under the theme of the challenges of our present times, of necessity, takes a closer look at six areas that, when I was musing about the construction of this book, came to mind as worthy of a degree of introspection. Six chapters that explore Selfishness, Power and Corruption, Short-termism, Poverty, Greed and, lastly, Materialism.

Now the last thing I want you, dear reader, is to groan and put down the book simply because you have no wish to plough through a litany of all that is wrong with our present times, most of which you are probably familiar with.

My justification for the following chapters is fundamentally wanting you to see where I am coming from and why I believe that these modern times are so very dangerous times for humanity, and much else in the natural world, and that we, as in mankind, have to find a way forward.

That’s how I set out when thinking about the overall objectives of this section. That my purpose was to reveal my own knowledge of each issue, including a good dollop of research, to offer my personal perspective of each same issue, and to allow you, the reader, to form your own conclusions and, inevitably, how much you agree or disagree with me.

But there are also some surprises; well there were for me. As I undertook the research into each aspect of the psychology, and more, of these challenges, I discovered much that had never occurred to me before. I suspect I am not alone regarding these findings.

So gird up your loins for a while as we start into the first aspect of these interesting times. Which is about the power of negativity.

464 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

About these ads

Written by Paul Handover

November 11, 2014 at 00:30


with 4 comments

Yesterday, I published a chapter from ‘the book’ under the title of The Power of Negativity.

However, as I contemplated a number of chapters coming along that, taken collectively, might seem out of place in a book that, essentially, offers a positive message, I decided an introduction was called for.

Thus in thirty minutes time that introduction is published.

I also realised that this introduction should have come before yesterday’s chapter on negativity.

So for those of you that might be following my draft, you poor souls, try and come at the Introduction as if it had been presented before The Power of Negativity.

Now for a complete change of topic!

Neighbour Dordie recently sent me the following.  Here’s Part One.


The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit)

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n):The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.


Weren’t they fun?!

Part Two later on this week.

Written by Paul Handover

November 11, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Two: The power of negativity.

with 2 comments

All we have to fear is fear itself.

Our brains are hard-wired to fear the things that could harm us. It’s an essential legacy of our early days when spiders, snakes and other harmful creatures, too numerous to list, could kill us. The part of the brain that protects us in this manner is the amygdala, an area of our brain that could be seen as our “fear centre”. It is an essential part of the body’s panic response system and numerous studies have shown that it lights up when people get scared in response to frightening situations. (Although recent research suggests that it may not be as simple as the amygdala being the direct source of our fear. I’m referring to a paper published in Nature Neuroscience in February, 2013.)

But whatever the precise human biological process in dealing with frightening situations, it doesn’t alter the fact that, to a very great extent, our lives in the twenty-first century are hamstrung by this ancient reflex action we all carry. What I have in mind is how we all tend to react to bad news as compared to good news. How our attention is much more likely to be grabbed by something frightening or sensational than by something positive, with the media headlines being the prime candidates of this.

A web search for classic newspaper headlines brought to light some wonderful old-timers. What about the English newspaper The Sun that ran a now infamous headline ‘Freddie Star Ate my Hamster‘ on its front page on March 13, 1986. The story was untrue, by the way!

Or the Australian Daily Telegraph in 1974 that announced: DARWIN TERROR STORM: 40 DIE!
Or The Washington Post of Monday, July 28th, 1952 that proclaimed: ’Saucer Outran Jet, Pilot Reveals’.

The advertising industry knows full well that making people feel needy, even if only very temporarily, is essential to generating a sale.

Not just the advertising industry. I well recall when I was a humble office equipment salesman for IBM in the UK in the early 1970s and helping spread the acceptance of the IBM Selectric typewriter, or golfball typewriter as it was often called, that when in front of a potential customer, one tried all sorts of questions that focussed on the limitations of the conventional electric typewriter. Asking questions such as how frequently did the typebars clash, or was there ever a need to have a different typeface?

Now these are quaint, almost charming examples of stirring up fear. Utterly trivial when compared to the heavy stuff. Around the time of writing the first draft of this book, in October 2014, the International Business Times ran a headline: US-Russia Nuclear War Could Wipe Out Humanity – Nuclear Physician Warns. The story opening:

A nuclear war that will deplete the ozone layer, emit radioactive pollution, form massive fire storms, and a nuclear winter could ignite between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Helen Caldicott, an Australian physician, an advocate of citizen action to address nuclear and environmental crises, the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a 1985 Nobel Prize nominee warns that the Cold War has returned and could escalate into a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. “It’s an incredibly dangerous situation. … If there’s a nuclear war tonight, that’s the Northern Hemisphere (of the entire world) gone,” she said at the National Press Club Newsmaker press conference.

If there’s a nuclear war tonight, that’s the Northern Hemisphere (of the entire world) gone,”

Now that’s negativity of the first order, and if you detect a slightly light-hearted tone to my words, then that is not intentional. It is just that it’s almost impossible, in my humble opinion, to have any serious, rational response to such a news item. We have no control over the ‘games’ being played by the superpowers, we can do nothing to prevent such an event, and were it to happen there is no practical response one could take.

Still the negativity has the potential to be increased by more extreme dire warnings. And the dire warning of all dire warnings is the one about mankind’s impact on this planet: climate change; loss of natural resources; over population; et al. Again, to a very great extent, we have no control over the ‘big picture’. The difference between a nuclear Armageddon and climate change is that most people can see the signs all around them. That’s a powerful source of personal fear.

There was an article in Psychology Today written by Dr. Alex Lickerman (Alex Lickerman, M.D., is a general internist and former Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago and has been a practicing Buddhist since 1989.) in October, 2011 under the title of How to Reduce Negativity. Dr. Lickerman made the point that, “Though we all have negative selves, there seem to be only two basic reasons they appear: one is as a result of a lack of self-confidence, or belief that we can solve a particular problem; the other is simply out of habit.

If that is read quickly, it’s easy to take it as “one is as a result of a belief that we can solve a particular problem“, as I did. Then on re-reading it, the meaning became clear. One of the reasons our negativity can appear “is as a result of a lack of belief that we can solve a particular problem …” I underlined a part of the sentence because it needs to sit squarely on the shoulders of our consciousness.

Once one has understood the ease with which the wider world, and especially how it is reported, affects us then we are armed, so to speak, to actively counter any negativity that arises in us.
Now I quoted Dr. Lickerman from a little way into his article in Psychology Today. But his opening words are extremely valuable for all of us to consider.

In one sense, the battle to be happy is a battle against negativity. Bad things happen all the time but how we internalize them, how we react to them, is what ultimately determines their final effect on us — and over that we have simultaneously more and less control than we realize. More, because we assign the meaning of events, not the events themselves, even though it feels as if that meaning is somehow assigned for us. Yet less, because we can rarely simply decide when confronted with a negative life event that is is, in fact, actually positive. To do that, we have to find a way to actually believe it, and that requires a process of continual self-reflection and attitude training; a program designed to strengthen our life force, so to speak.

Later on in Part Four there are a number of chapters that explore the power of positive thoughts and ways of countering the negativity that is so often in our faces.

1,124 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 10, 2014 at 00:30

Picture parade sixty-nine

with 2 comments

Breathtakingly beautiful planet of ours!

National Geographic’s annual photo contest brings in some of the most extraordinary images from around the globe. Professional and amateur photographers alike submit shots in the categories of people, places, and nature and deliver a visual feast of the world in all its splendor.

Winners of the competition will be announced later this year, but in the meantime, here are some of the striking scenes (along with captions from the photographers) that Nat Geo was kind enough to share with us. Have a look.

"In the Strezlecki desert of Australia, a flock of galahs replenish on the only small water available at the base of this lonely tree. It’s a rare photo opportunity to get such a clear and symmetrical shot of these beautiful birds in flight in the middle of the desert." Location: Strezlecki Desert, Australia.

“In the Strezlecki desert of Australia, a flock of galahs replenish on the only small water available at the base of this lonely tree. It’s a rare photo opportunity to get such a clear and symmetrical shot of these beautiful birds in flight in the middle of the desert.” Location: Strezlecki Desert, Australia. Photo by Christian Spencer.


"I was finishing up a photo shoot when a wild kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded onto the lake, as if walking on water. This, along with the picturesque sunset combined to create an absolute visual treat!" Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia.

“I was finishing up a photo shoot when a wild kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded onto the lake, as if walking on water. This, along with the picturesque sunset combined to create an absolute visual treat!” Location: Noosa, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.


"An early morning ride through Yellowstone National Park in the winter is always a treat. On this very chilly morning, hardly a sound was heard as this herd of bison reminded us that we are the visitors in their land." Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States.

“An early morning ride through Yellowstone National Park in the winter is always a treat. On this very chilly morning, hardly a sound was heard as this herd of bison reminded us that we are the visitors in their land.” Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States. Photo by Karoline Sleichter.


"This disorienting photo was taken from a cliff overlooking Lake Louise. Two people are enjoying a canoe ride on the lake's turquoise waters. Even boulders the size of large cars seem like pebbles from a high vantage point." Location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Ben Leshchinsky.

“This disorienting photo was taken from a cliff overlooking Lake Louise. Two people are enjoying a canoe ride on the lake’s turquoise waters. Even boulders the size of large cars seem like pebbles from a high vantage point.” Location: Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Ben Leshchinsky.


"Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground." Location: Brevard, North Carolina. Photo by Spencer Black.

“Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground.” Location: Brevard, North Carolina. Photo by Spencer Black.


"Before dawn [and] 25 degrees below zero. Just a short while [earlier], the rabbit seems to have walked across the snowy field." Location: Biei Hokkaido JAPAN. Photo by Mitsuhiko Kamada.

“Before dawn [and] 25 degrees below zero. Just a short while [earlier], the rabbit seems to have walked across the snowy field.” Location: Biei Hokkaido JAPAN. Photo by Mitsuhiko Kamada.


"I headed out one night to photograph the Milky Way. As I reached the top of the mountain, this magnificent scene presented itself to me. I immediately wanted to photograph it in all its glory. After trying out a few different exposure times, I settled on duration of roughly 16 minutes. This allowed me to capture the intense glow of the fire along with the surreal star trails seen in the sky." Location: Advancetown Lake, Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.

“I headed out one night to photograph the Milky Way. As I reached the top of the mountain, this magnificent scene presented itself to me. I immediately wanted to photograph it in all its glory. After trying out a few different exposure times, I settled on duration of roughly 16 minutes. This allowed me to capture the intense glow of the fire along with the surreal star trails seen in the sky.” Location: Advancetown Lake, Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia. Photo by Dave Kan.

Utterly stunning photographs.

Written by Paul Handover

November 9, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Three: Mankind in the 21st century

leave a comment »

Challenges of the present times.

In Part Two, I set out to show two things. Firstly, that we, mankind, are part of nature in every conceivable manner and that unless we recognise that pretty damn quickly then …. then I can do no better than repeat what Professor Dirzo and his colleagues spoke about in July 2014, namely that he and his colleagues :

… issued a warning that the present rate of what he called “defaunation” could have harmful downstream effects on human health. Professor Dirzo explained that despite the “planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error being the highest in the history of life.” we may have reached a tipping point.

The warning explained that more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates had become extinct since the year 1500 and that, since then, “Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.”

Professor Dirzo further went on to explain that “while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity.” He even gave this era a name: the era of the “Anthropocene defaunation.”

Secondly, in Part Two, I wanted to offer as much information as I could find on the science of the evolution of the dog and how long the dog had been part of mankind’s history. Simply to support the argument, OK my argument, that we humans are so perilously close to “shooting ourselves in the feet”, so close to the massive annihilation of millions of us, that we need a new era of hope; not tomorrow but now!

Implicit in that last sentence is the feeling that we humans have to look outside of ourselves to find the inspiration and the motivation needed to make the changes in the sort of short timescales our present circumstances demand.

Let me expand on this.

We live in very challenging times. Widely acknowledged for it seems rare these days to meet someone who doesn’t sense, to one degree or another, a feeling of vulnerability to today’s world. A sense that many aspects of their lives are beyond their control.

These are also times where it is widely acknowledged that the levers of privilege and money are undermining the rights and needs of so many, that there are unprecedented levels of deceit, lying and greed; all enveloped within an abuse of power.

That’s even before we embrace the matter of climate change and whether or not there is a potential “end-of-world” tipping point; the so-called beat of the butterfly’s wing.

Yes, these are challenging times. As we are incessantly reminded by the drumbeat of the doom-and-gloom news industry every hour, frequently every half-hour, throughout the day. A symphony of negative energy.

Yet right next to us is a world of positive energy. The world of dogs. A canine world full of love and trust, playfulness and relaxation. A way of living that is both clear and straightforward. Albeit, far from being simple, as anyone will know who has seen the way dogs interact with each other and with us humans.

In other words, dogs offer endless examples of positive behaviours. The wonderful power of compassion for self, and for others, and of loving joy. A way to live that we humans often crave for. A life full of love, hope, play and positive energy. A way to live for the millions of us that desire a positive, compassionate attitude to our own life, and to the lives of all the people around us.

604 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 8, 2014 at 00:30

Posted in Art, Communication, Dogs, People, Writing

Tagged with

The wonder of dogs.

with 2 comments

An article from Mark Derr that is just beautiful.

Yesterday, on my blog post about the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, a kind reader commented, “So beautiful and such interesting information! Thanks so much for sharing your research! :)

Mark Derr

Mark Derr

That was very motivational for me because Part Two of my book, being driven along by NaNoWriMo!, is much tougher and requires significant research.  Research to a much greater extent than I have been used to. Thus it was that my research wanderings  brought me to the magazine The Bark and thence to an article written by Mark Derr back in 2006.  I had previously heard of neither.

It was such a fantastic article, of such relevance to what I was writing about, that I took a deep breath and emailed Mark asking if I might have his permission to republish; both in the book and here on Learning from Dogs. Promptly, Mark replied in the affirmative. :-)

I’m still deliberating how it will be included in the book but have no hesitation in publishing it here for your enjoyment.


The Wolf Who Stayed

A domestication that went both ways

By Mark Derr

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 archaeological record around 14,000 years ago to the earliest estimated time for its genetic sidestep from wolves around 135,000 years ago. Did the dog emerge in Central Europe, as the archaeological record suggests, or in East Asia, where the genetic evidence points? Were they tame wolves whose offspring over time became homebodies, or scavenging wolves whose love of human waste made them increasingly tame and submissive enough to insinuate themselves into human hearts? Or did humans learn to follow, herd and hunt big game from wolves and in so doing, enter into a complex dance of co-evolution?

Despite the adamancy of adherents to specific positions, the data are too incomplete, too subject to wildly different interpretations; some of the theories themselves too vague; and the physical evidence too sparse to say with certainty what happened. Nonetheless, some models—and not necessarily the most popular and current ones—more clearly fit what is known about dogs and wolves and humans than others. It is a field in high flux, due in no small measure to the full sequencing of the dog genome. But were I a bettor, I would wager that the winning view, the more-or-less historically correct one, shows that the dog is the result of the interaction of wolves and ancient humans rather than a self-invention by wolves or a “conquest” by humans.

Our views of the dog are integrally bound to the answers to these questions, and, for better or worse, those views help shape the way we approach our own and other dogs. It is difficult, for example, to treat as a valued companion a “social parasite” or, literally, a “shit-eater.” To argue that different breeds or types of dogs represent arrested stages of wolf development both physically and behaviorally is not only to confuse, biologically, description with prescription but also to overlook the dog’s unique behavioral adaptations to life with humans. Thus, according to some studies, the dog has developed barking, a little-used wolf talent, into a fairly sophisticated form of communication, but a person who finds barking the noise of a neotenic wolf is unlikely to hear what is being conveyed. “The dog is everywhere what society makes him,” Charles Dudley Warner wrote in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1896. His words still hold true.

Since the dog is both a cultural and a biological creation, it is worth noting here that these opposing views of the dog’s origin echo the old theory that the sniveling, slinking pariah dogs and their like—“southern breeds”—derived from jackals, while “northern breeds”—Spitz-like dogs and Huskies—descended directly from the wolf. Darwin thought as much, so did the pioneering ethologist Konrad Lorenz until late in his life, when he accepted that the wolf was the sole progenitor of the dog. In the theories of Raymond Coppinger and others—and I think this transference is unconscious—the scavenging jackal becomes a camp-following, offal-eating, self-domesticating weenie of a tame wolf. In turn, those wolves become the ur-dog, still manifest in the pariahs of India and Asia, from which the dog we know is said to have emerged. It’s a tidy, convenient, unprovable story that has an element of truth—dogs are accomplished scavengers—but beyond that, it is the jackal theory with a tattered new coat. In dropping humans from the process, the scavenging, self-domesticating wolf theory ignores the archaeological record and other crucial facts that undercut it.

Fossils found at Zhoukoudian, China, have suggested to archaeologists such as Stanley Olsen, author of Origins of the Domestic Dog, that wolves and Homo erectus were at least working the same terrain as early as 500,000 years ago. The remains of wolves and Homo erectus dating to around 300,000 years ago have also been found in association with each other at Boxgrove in Kent, England, and from 150,000 years ago at Lauzerte in the south of France. It seems more likely that this omnivorous biped, with its tools and weapons, lived and hunted in proximity to that consummate social hunter, the wolf, through much of Eurasia, than that their bones simply fell into select caves together. Who scavenged from whom, we cannot say.

Wolves were far more numerous then than now, and they adapted to a wide range of habitats and prey. On the Eurasian steppes, wolves learned to follow herds of ungulates—in effect, to herd them. Meriwether Lewis observed the same behavior during his journey across North America in the opening years of the 19th century; he referred to wolves that watched over herds of bison on the Plains as the bisons’ “shepherds.” Of course, those “shepherds” liked it when human hunters attacked a herd because they killed many more animals than the wolves, and although the humans carried off the prime cuts, they left plenty behind.

Ethologists Wolfgang M. Schleidt and Michael D. Shalter refer to wolves as the first pastoralists in “Co-evolution of Humans and Canids,” their 2003 paper in the journal Cognition and Evolution. Early humans, they argue, learned to hunt and herd big game from those wolves; thus, the dog emerged from mutual cooperation between wolves and early humans, possibly including Neanderthal. There is no evidence yet of Neanderthal having tame wolves, much less dogs, but the larger point is that when modern humans arrived on the scene, they found wolves already tending their herds, and they immediately began to learn from them. That was long before humans began, in some parts of the world, to settle into more permanent villages, some 12,000 to 20,000 or 25,000 years ago.

Schleidt and Shalter based their model on wolf behavior and on genetic studies that have consistently shown that dogs and wolves diverged between 40,000 and 135,000 years ago. The first of those studies emerged from the lab of Robert K. Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who had already made headlines by showing definitively that the dog descended from the wolf alone. In a paper appearing in the June 13, 1997, issue of Science, Wayne and his collaborators said that dogs could have originated around 135,000 years ago in as many as four different places. They also argued that genetic exchanges between wolves and dogs continued—as they do to this day, albeit in an age during which dogs have become ubiquitous and wolves imperiled.

Since that paper appeared, the dog genome has been fully sequenced and provides a time frame for domestication of 9,000 generations, which the authors of a paper on the sequencing in the December 8, 2005, issue of Nature pegged at 27,000 years. But except for that, subsequent studies of mitochondrial DNA, which is most commonly used to date species divergence, have pointed to a time frame of 40,000 to 135,000, with 40,000 to 50,000 years ago looking like the consensus date.

Most of this work has been conducted in Wayne’s lab; in the Uppsala University lab of Carles Vilà, his former student and the lead researcher on the 1997 paper; and in the lab of Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, another collaborator on the original paper.

A signal problem with the early date is that it doesn’t appear to match the archaeological record. The dog is not only behaviorally but also morphologically different from the wolf, and such an animal first appears in the fossil record around 14,000 years ago in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany. Archaeologists nearly universally peg the origin of the dog to that time.

Wayne, Vilà and their supporters have suggested from the start that behavioral change could predate morphological change, which would have occurred when humans began to create permanent settlements, thereby cutting—or at least reducing—their wolf-dogs’ contact with wild wolves. People might also have begun attempting to influence the appearance of their dogs at this point.

But those Germans get in the way again. Bonn-Oberkassel, site of the consensus first fossil dog, is not a permanent settlement.

Trying to square genetic and archaeological dates, Peter Savolainen resurveyed the mitochondrial DNA of dogs and wolves, recalibrated the molecular clock and proposed in a paper in Science, November 22, 2002, that the dog originated in East Asia 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. It was a good try, but now it appears that his “40,000 years ago” date was more accurate. Also, the earliest known dog appears in Germany, not East Asia, a region to which other genetic evidence points as well.

In many ways, the dispute over dates and places is just a precursor for the debate over how that happened. Archaeologists and evolutionary biologists who want the first dogs to look like dogs have tended to argue that the transition is a result of a biological phenomenon called “paedomorphosis.” That basically means that the animal’s physical development is delayed relative to its sexual maturation. It produces dogs with more domed heads; shorter, broader muzzles; and overall reduced size and slighter build than a wolf. Accelerated physical development relative to sexual maturation (hypermorphosis), on the other hand, produces dogs larger than the progenitor wolf.

When maturation is stopped early enough, the resulting animal is said to resemble a “neotenic,” or perpetually juvenilized, wolf. Coppinger and others have carried the argument further to argue that behaviorally, the dog resembles a neotenic wolf, with some breeds being more immature or less developed than others. There is general agreement that, beginning in the late 19th century when the dog began to move into the city as a pet, breeders sought to soften and humanize the appearance of some breeds to make them look like perpetual puppies. But beyond that, it is more correct to view the dog as an entity different from the wolf.

Currently, many researchers like to invoke an experiment in domestication launched in 1959 at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Siberia, by Dmitry Belyaev and continued after his death by Lyudmila Trut and her colleagues. Belyaev selectively bred foxes for “tameness” alone, defined as their level of friendliness toward people. He ended up with foxes that resembled dogs. A number of them had floppy ears, piebald coats, curly tails and a habit of submissively seeking attention from their human handlers with whines, whimpers and licks. (I wouldn’t want such a dog.)

Anthropologist Brian Hare tested the tame foxes in 2004 and found that they, like dogs, had the capacity to follow a human’s gaze, something wolves and wild foxes, not to mention chimpanzees, won’t do.

A number of researchers have embraced these tame foxes as a template for dog domestication. While they doubtless cast insight on the problem, I doubt that they will answer all questions. Arguments by analogy are suspect science and should be even more so in this case, since the selection criteria for these foxes were also against aggression—hardly the case for dogs—and foxes clearly are not wolves.

That said, the experiment does appear to confirm that selective breeding for behavior alone can also produce morphological changes similar to what the wolf experienced in becoming a dog.

Coppinger has invoked the fox experiment to support his theory that wolves that became dogs self-domesticated. As humans in some areas moved into permanent settlements, their refuse heaps became feeding grounds for wolves who were tame enough—or least-frightened enough—to feed near humans. Subsequent generations became more tame, and people began to allow them to wander their camps, eating feces, hunting rodents. From that group, people took some animals for food. Then, when the animals were thoroughly self-tamed, people began to train them to more wolfish behaviors, like hunting.

What he and others overlook in citing the fox experiment is that those animals were subjected to intense artificial selection by people. They also ignore the fact that the first dog appears in a seasonal camp, not a permanent settlement.

In their book, Dogs, Coppinger and his wife, Lorna, argue that these early protodogs would have resembled the ownerless dogs of Pemba Island, a remote part of the Zanzibar archipelago. As a model, Pemba suffers numerous problems, as does Coppinger’s theory. It is an Islamic island, and Islam has scarce place for dogs, believing them filthy, largely because they scavenge and eat excrement.

Beyond that, Pemba was a wealthy island in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its clove plantations, which were worked by African slaves and overseen by Arabs. The plantations have long since fallen into disrepair, on an island populated by the descendants of free slaves, where poverty is the rule. Attempting to read the past by looking at the present is a well recognized form of historical fallacy. It can’t be done, especially in a place where there is no strong cultural tradition.

Elsewhere in the developing world, free-ranging dogs are often more than scavengers or food. Some are fed; they protect territories or vendors’ carts. A few might be taken in, but, again, these dogs must be studied and understood in their current context and then placed in a broader historical context, if possible.

Moreover, Coppinger ignores the entire tradition of dogs and people in Europe, Japan and Korea—wherever dogs were employed from an apparently early date for a purpose, including companionship and ritual. Archaeologist Darcy F. Morey clearly demonstrated in the February 2006 issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science that people have been burying dogs and treating them with reverence and respect from the beginning, hardly the fate of scavengers.

People will argue, but I think the question of whether the dog is a juvenilized wolf is best answered with this observation: The dog follows human gaze, according to Hare, and is so attentive to people that it can imitate them, according to Vilmos Csányi, and it does so from an early age. No wolf of any age can replicate that basic behavior. It is far better to look at the dog as a differently developed wolf than as a developmentally retarded wolf.

Similarly, until shown otherwise, it seems more accurate to view domestication as a dynamic process involving wolves and people. At a time when the boundaries between human and wild were much more porous than now, people doubtless took in animals, especially young animals of all kinds, especially wolf pups, since in many places, they were hunting the same game and perhaps scavenging from each other.

As those pups matured, they returned to the wild to breed, with the naturally tamest among them denning close to the camp where they had been raised and, yes, could scavenge. Over the past year, researchers have shown that the area of the brain known as the amygdala is quite active when “fear of the other” begins to develop. In 2004, a team of researchers from Uppsala University, including Vilà, reported in the journal Molecular Brain Research on changes they had found in gene expression in the frontal lobe, hypothalamus and amygdala of wolves, coyotes and dogs. More than 40 years ago, J.P. Scott and John L. Fuller showed that the dog pup had a lengthened socialization period before fear of the other set in, compared with the wolf pup.

No one knows how fast the change happened, but in some places, tame wolves—dogs—resulted from this process. They provided territorial defense, helped with hunting (which they do well), scavenged, and were valued for companionship and utility. Some could be trained to carry packs. That early dog probably remained nearly indistinguishable from the wolf except in places where their gene pool became limited by virtue of some isolating event. The smaller gene pool forced inbreeding that, along with changing environmental conditions, somehow “destabilized” the genome.

Vilà and two colleagues suggested in an article published online on June 29, 2006, in Genome Research, that domestication relaxed “selective constraint” on the dog’s mitochondrial genome, and if that relaxation extended to the whole genome, as it appeared to, “it could have facilitated the generation of novel functional genetic diversity.”

European and North American breeders have taken full advantage of that or some other mechanism to create the most morphologically diverse mammal around. But other cultures did not follow that path.

There are other theories afloat in what is an exciting time for people who study dogs. But the one that succeeds will reflect the dynamic relationship between human and dog.

Copyright © 2006, 2014 Mark Derr

This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 38: Sep/Oct 2006

Mark Derr is the author of A Dog’s History of America, Dog’s Best Friend, The Frontiersman: The Real Life and Many Legends of Davy Crockett, Some Kind of Paradise, and numerous articles on science, environment and transportation.


Thank you, Mark.

Time and time again, I marvel at how this modern, wired world creates such beautiful connections.

Written by Paul Handover

November 7, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Two: The dog’s ancestor.

with 5 comments

Mankind, Nature and Dogs

The dog’s ancestor: the wolf.

When we look at some breeds of dogs, for example the smaller breeds such as the Chihuahua, it beggars believe that thousands of years ago there was a common ancestor to the dog and to today’s wolf. Of course, not so if one looks at, for example, a German Shepherd dog (GSD). Many GSDs look like they are first cousin to a wolf!

However, when we look at the Latin binomial nomenclature for the wolf and the dog it all becomes clear irrespective of the specific dog breed. I am, of course, referring to canis lupus for the wolf and canis lupus familiaris for the dog. For those, like me, that had to refresh their memory of this naming convention, the first part of the name identifies the genus to which the species belongs; the second part identifies the species within the genus. For example, humans belong to the genus Homo and within this genus to the species Homo sapiens.

Thus both the wolf and the dog belong to the same genus. Conforming to the widely held view that the domesticated dog is a direct descendent of the wolf.
So far, so good!

When we turn to the history of how the particular species lupus familiaris split away from lupus then it all becomes much less clear.

Let’s take a little trip along that particular journey.

The widely held view was that sometime during the Mesolithic period, or around 10,000 years ago, when humans started settling down, turning their backs on hunting and gathering, there was contact with humans and wolves that led to (a few) wolves living their lives in and around humans and from thence the long evolutionary journey to the dog.

But it is an understanding that is not fully shared by all in the field.

Take, for example, husband and wife team, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger. In their book Dogs[ 2001 – The University of Chicago Press] , they challenge this view[ page 41] :

The widely popular view is that people created dogs by artificial selection. People took the pups from wolf dens and made pets out of them. They tamed them, trained them, and took them out hunting. After many generations of this regime, the wolves evolved into dogs.

The biological implausibility of this leads me to flights of fancy, and I tend to call it the Pinocchio Hypothesis.

What the wolf-pup-into-dog hypothesis is really depending on is that wolves are related to dogs (true), that dogs easily form associations with people (true), and that therefore wolves must have formed relationships with people in the past (not true).

The Coppingers go on to write[ page 51] that, “There is no archaeological evidence that Mesolithic people had a big enough population of trained or tamed wolves living among them.” Severe doubt is expressed about the connection between wolves and dogs.

Even if Mesolithic[ Page 49 of the book Dogs] people were able to tame generations of wolves, and then train some of them to obey simple commands (for example, to come when called, or sit), still the burning question remains: What changes wolf genes into dog genes?
When tamed wolves reproduce, they get wild pups (oriented away from human activity). When dogs reproduce, they get tame pups (oriented toward human activity). The two species are intrinsically, instinctively, generally distinct, one from the other, in this respect.

The Coppingers proposition is that there was a common ancestor to both the wolf and the dog, details of which have not been discovered. That this common ancestor goes back much further in time, sufficiently far so for the differences between wolves and dogs that we see today. Or, indeed, saw back in those earlier days.

Let me return to the Mesolithic period simply because many readers may again share my lack of detailed understanding of when that period was. A quick web search came up with the answer[and others]!

The Mesolithic period is generally regarded as that time period between the last glaciation, at the end of the Paleolithic era, some 12,000 years ago, and the start of the Neolithic era, some 7,000 years ago. In other words, between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago. This was the period where man evolved from a hunter-gather existence, when humans learned to hunt in groups and to fish, when farming communities began to be established as people first discovered how to cultivate crops and began to learn how to domesticate animals and plants.

Strikes me as perfectly reasonable to see this period as the most significant single development in the history of humans.

Returning to the differences between wolves and dogs already apparent as humans entered the Neolithic period one can quite reasonably infer that the split came about many thousands of years before.
That the domesticated dog is originally from the wolf genus is not beyond doubt even if the period when it occurred is unclear.

Dr. George Johnson wrote an article that appeared on the website ON SCIENCE that explored the evolution of the family dog. He found himself wondering about the origins of his dog, Boswell, who had recently died.

This week I found myself wondering about Boswell’s origins. From what creature did the domestic dog arise? Darwin suggested that wolves, coyotes, and jackals — all of which can interbreed and produce fertile offspring– may all have played a role, producing a complex dog ancestry that would be impossible to unravel. In the 1950s, Nobel Prize-winning behaviorist Konrad Lorenz suggested some dog breeds derive from jackals, others from wolves.

Based on anatomy, most biologists have put their money on the wolf, but until recently there was little hard evidence, and, as you might expect if you know scientists, lots of opinions.

The issue was finally settled in 1997 by an international team of scientists led by Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. To sort out the evolutionary origin of the family dog, Wayne and his colleagues used the techniques of molecular biology to compare the genes of dogs with those of wolves, coyotes and jackals.

Dr. Johnson went on to explain that Professor Wayne and his team collected, “blood, tissue, or hair from 140 dogs of sixty-seven breeds, and 162 wolves from North America, Europe, Asia, and Arabia. From each sample they extracted DNA from the tiny organelles within cells called mitochondria.

He went on to write:

When Wayne looked at his canine mitochondrial DNA samples, he found that wolves and coyotes differ by about 6% in their mitochondrial DNA, while wolves and dogs differ by only 1%. Already it smelled like the wolf was the ancestor.

Wolves had 27 different sequences in the control region, none of them exactly the same as any dog sequence, but all very similar to the dog sequences, differing from them at most at 12 sites along the DNA, and usually fewer.

Coyote and jackal were a lot more different from dogs than wolves were. Every coyote and jackal sequence differed from any dog sequence by at least 20 sites, and many by far more.

That settled it. Dogs are domesticated wolves.

Dr. Johnson’s penultimate paragraph addressed the question of when dogs first appeared.

The large number of different dog sequences, and the fact that no wolf sequences are found among them, suggests that dogs must have been separated from wolves for a long time. The oldest clear fossil evidence for dogs is 12,000 – 14,000 years ago, about when farming arose. But that’s not enough time to accumulate such a large amount of mitochondrial DNA difference. Perhaps dogs before then just didn’t look much different from wolves, and so didn’t leave dog-like fossils. Our species first developed speech and left Africa about 50,000 years ago. I bet that’s when dogs came aboard, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors first encountered them. They would have been great hunting companions.

The scientist, who writes under the nom-de-plume of Patrice Ayme, wrote an essay in April, 2014 under the title of Neanderthal Superiority. Towards the end of that essay he explains:


Some of the arguments against Neanderthals have been outright ridiculous: not only we were told, without any evidence, that they could not talk, but that the superiority of Africans came from eating shell fish, about 70,000 years ago (along the East Coast of Africa).

However, it has since been discovered that Neanderthal cavemen supped on shellfish on the Costa del Sol 150,000 years ago, punching another torpedo hole in the theory that only Africans ate (supposedly) brain-boosting seafood.

Neanderthals also used coal, as long ago as 73,000 years. Once again, making a fire in present day France, then suffering from a pretty bad glaciation, made more sense than trying to stay warm in the Congo.

Earlier and earlier prehistoric art has been found. It’s getting ever harder to claim that Neanderthals had nothing to do with it. Neanderthals also domesticated, and genetically engineered dogs, from European wolves. That’s very clear.

How do I know this? Simple. The Goyet dog, pictured below, was dated around 32,000 years. In 2010, an even older dog was found in the Altai mountains. Both dogs were derived from Canis Lupus Familiaris, the European wolf, but were quite distant from it, genetically, they had been evolved probably on a time scale of more than 10,000 years, thus well before any arrival of Sapiens Sapiens from Africa.

Those dogs were completely compatible with people, just as contemporary dogs are. Proof? Ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog deep in the Chauvet Cave, France. (OK, by then Neanderthals have been just deemed “extinct” by some… However, these are still the same dogs Neanderthals invented.)

In that essay, Patrice included a link to an article that appeared on the NBCNEWS website.

An international team of scientists has just identified what they believe is the world’s first known dog, which was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer, according to a new study.

The discovery could push back the date for the earliest dog by 17,700 years, since the second oldest known dog, found in Russia, dates to 14,000 years ago.

Remains for the older prehistoric dog, which were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggest to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period first domesticated dogs. Fine jewellery and tools, often decorated with depictions of big game animals, characterize this culture.

There was study published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal in March 2013 where the lead author, Dr. Robert Losey [Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta], explained:

Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,

If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals. Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.

The PLOS ONE paper went on to report that researchers found that most of the dog burials occurred during the Early Neolithic period, some 7,000-8,000 years ago, and that “dogs were only buried when human hunter-gatherers were also being buried.”

The strong implication being expressed by Dr. Losey is that the relationship between humans and dogs was as close and intimate as we modern-day humans know; to the point of almost taking it for granted. A relationship that had had thousands of years to become the way it was, and still is.

Back to Dr. Losey: “I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves, even at a spiritual level. At this time, dogs were the only animals living closely with humans, and they were likely known at an individual level, far more so than any other animal people encountered. People came to know them as unique, special individuals.

If dogs had already been part of our lives for some considerable time by the time we humans had turned away from hunting and gathering and started settling down, then we are lead, inexorably, to the question of how did it all begin? What were the circumstances of early man befriending a wolf or two and how from that relationship did it evolve into the tameness that was the start of the dog journey?

Maybe a true story from recent times offers us an insight into the answer to that question. This story was told to me by DR when I was living in Payson, Arizona. An amazing true story of a relationship between a wild wolf and a man. A story of a particular event in the life of Tim Woods, a brother of DR.

It revolves around the coming together of a man sleeping rough, with his dog, on Mingus Mountain, and a fully grown female Grey Wolf. Mingus is in the Black Hills mountain range between Cottonwood and Prescott in the State of Arizona, USA.

DR and his brother, Tim, belong to a large family; there are 7 sons and 2 daughters. Tim had a twin brother, Tom, and DR knew from an early age that Tim was different.

As DR explained,

Tim was much more enlightened than the rest of us. I remember that Tim and Tom, as twin brothers, could feel each other in almost a mystical manner. I witnessed Tom grabbing his hand in pain when Tim stuck the point of his knife into his (Tim’s) palm. Stuff like that! Tim just saw more of life than most other people.

The incident involving the wolf was when Tim was in his late 40s and, as mentioned, was living in a rough shack on the mountain. The shack was simply a plywood shelter with an old couch and a few blankets for the cold nights. The dog was companion, guard and a means of keeping Tim in food; the dog was a great hunter. But Tim was no stranger to living in the wild.

DR again,

Tim was ex-US Army and a great horseman. There was a time when he was up in the Superstition Mountains, sleeping rough, riding during the day. At night Tim would get the horse to lay down and Tim would sleep with his back next to the horse for warmth.

Anyway, Tim was up on Mingus Mountain using an old disk from an agricultural harrow as both a cook-pan and plate. After he had finished eating, Tim would leave his ‘plate’ outside his shack. It would be left out in the open over night.

Tim gradually became aware that a creature was coming by and licking the plate clean and so Tim started to leave scraps of food on the plate. Then one night, Tim was awoken to to the noise of the owner of the ‘tongue’ and saw that it was a large, female grey wolf.

The wolf became a regular visitor and Tim became sure that the wolf, now having been given the name Luna by Tim, was aware that she was being watched by a human.

Over many, many months Luna built up sufficient trust in Tim that eventually she would take food from Tim’s outstretched hand. It was only now a matter of time before Luna started behaving more like a pet[ DR showed my an unaltered photograph taken in 2006 showing Tim lying back on a blanket with his dog across his waist and sitting on its haunches just behind Tim and the dog was Luna the wolf.] dog than the wild wolf that she was.

From now on, Luna would stay the night with Tim and his dog, keeping watch over both of them.

DR also recalls,

I remember Tim being distraught because, without warning, Luna stopped coming by. Then a few months later back she was. Tim never did know what lay behind her absence but guessed it might have been because she went off to have pups.

Unfortunately, this wonderful tale does have a sad ending.

About two years ago, what would have been 2007, Tim lost his dog. He was awakened to hear a pack of coyotes yelping and his dog missing. Then tragically some 6 months later Tim contracted a gall bladder infection. Slowly it became worse. By the time he realised that it was sufficiently serious to require medical treatment, it was too late. Despite the best efforts of modern medicine, Tim died on June 25th, 2009, just 51 years young.

DR’s closing words to me were: “So if you are ever out on Mingus Mountain and hear the howl of a wolf, reflect that it could just be poor Luna calling out for her very special man friend.

I would close this particular chapter by pleading that whoever you are, wherever you are, if you hear the howl of a wolf allow yourself to disappear into your inner thoughts for a few precious moments and know that tens of thousands of years ago there was another Tim and another wolf. Keep that image in your mind for many reasons, not least so for this one. For those of you that have dogs in your lives and know what it feels like to gaze deeply into your dog’s eyes, then next time you are bonded eyes-to-eyes with your dog sense that first Tim cuddling up to that first Luna.

2,911 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 6, 2014 at 00:30

Posted in Art, Communication, Dogs, People, Writing

Tagged with


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,235 other followers

%d bloggers like this: