Tag: Gray wolf

Reflections on Father’s Day.

Not exclusively the domain of the male human species!

As most of you know yesterday was Father’s Day. But offering memorial pictures of our recently deceased Hazel was far more important.

Nonetheless, I had seen an item published over on the Care2 site that I wanted to share with you. Namely, that amazing dads are also a feature of the animal kingdom. Granted, not all animals but nevertheless of sufficient importance to attract the attention of The Smithsonian. Or in their words:

Most mammal dads wouldn’t exactly win the “Best Father of the Year” award.

 Engaged fathers—those who care for their offspring or bring home the bacon so their female mates can focus on childcare—are present in only about 10 percent of mammal species. But for the rare few who do stick around, the rewards can be myriad: new research finds that parenting efforts pay big dividends for offspring and mates alike. Stay-at-home dads appear to boost reproductive success among their mates by enabling them to breed more frequently and produce larger litters, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Read the full story here.
Back to that Care2 article. It was published last Saturday and is happily shared with you all.


10 Amazing Dads From the Animal Kingdom

3095002.largeBy: Alicia Graef June 18, 2016

About Alicia Follow Alicia at @care2causes

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally posted on June 14, 2014. Enjoy!

Not all non-human animal dads are cut out for family life, but there are a number of species who have become known for their role as fathers who deserve a salute, from giant water bugs who carry dozens of eggs on their backs to males who actually get pregnant and dads who operate solo as single parents. This Father’s Day, it’s time to celebrate some of the amazing dads from the animal kingdom who go above and beyond when it comes raising and protecting their young.

Red Fox

Male red foxes aren’t just loving mates, but excited and protective fathers. They take on the task of providing food for their mates every few hours for about a month after she gives birth. Then they take on the role of teacher – but teachers who like to take time out to play. Even when it’s time to get serious and teach their young how to start finding their own food, fox dads help them out and make sure they don’t really go hungry by hiding it near their dens.

3095002.largeEmperor Penguin

After females lay a single precious egg, Emperor penguin dads take over the responsibility of incubating it by balancing it precariously on their feet and keeping it warm under their feathers in the frigid Antarctic weather while mothers go off to feed. Dads can go for about two months without eating until the egg hatches, at which point he will feed it before mother’s return to give them a break from baby-duty.

Emperor Penguin Protecting Offspring from the Cold
Emperor Penguin Protecting Offspring from the Cold

Sea Horse

Seahorses, who are also known to mate for life, have reverse roles; the females compete for males, and the males don’t just play a role in pregnancy, but actually get pregnant. Females deposit their eggs in the male’s pouch, where he fertilizes and carries them until tiny baby seahorses emerge fully developed. According to Science Daily, the process of male pregnancy is unique to the fish family Syngnathidae, which also includes pipefish and sea dragons.

Black seahorse among seaweed
Black seahorse among seaweed

Spotted Sandpiper

It doesn’t happen every time, but sandpipers have been found to reverse roles where female sandpipers establish and defend territory, while taking on multiple male partners. After luring a male to mate with and laying her eggs, she takes off to find another mate. Dad meanwhile stays to incubate the eggs and becomes the primary caregiver for the young for the first few weeks of their lives.

Spotted Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper

Gray Wolf

Despite the myths surrounding wolves that make them out to be villains, alpha male are loving, loyal and protective mates, fathers and leaders. Also known to mate for life, males who breed will guard their partners and pups while they’re in the den and take on the responsibility of finding everyone food. Even as pups grow older, dads will take on the role of teacher, helping them learn their role in the pack and the world.

mother and son
Mother and son

Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl dads are the stereotypical breadwinners in their families. After finding the perfect home with their mates, male great horned owls take on the role of provider by hunting enough to feed himself and his mate, who is bigger than he is, before taking on the added responsibility of hunting for their young when they hatch.

Grumpy Owl
Grumpy Owl

North American Beaver

Beaver dads are devoted family men, handymen and providers in the animal world. They mate for life and take on a co-parenting role in raising their young until they’re about 2-years-old, while helping care for them and teaching them how to become successful ecosystem engineers before they go off and start families of their own.

In 2012, a beaver in Martinez, Calif., known as “Dad” raised fears about what would happen to his young after his mate died from an infection, but he showed us he could do it all as a single father of three.

Beaver Wearing Leaf
Beaver Wearing Leaf

Titi Monkey

Male titi monkeys, who are known for monogamous relationships, are also known for the strong bond they build with their young as primary caregivers. Except for time spent with mom nursing, babies spend the rest of their time being carried around, cared for and protected by their fathers for the first few months of their lives.

Titi Monkey
Titi Monkey


As members of a polygamous species, male rheas have a lot of partners, but when it comes to child-rearing these dads pull their weight and then some. Males can have up to a dozen or so female partners who all lay eggs in a nest he builds before they leave. Males then take on the role of incubating and guarding what can be more than 50 eggs for close to two months before taking on the role of a single parent after they hatch. Males have also been known to adopt orphaned chicks who have been separated from their brood.

Nandu Greater Rhea
Nandu Greater Rhea

Darwin’s Frog

Darwin’s frog dads, who are native to South America, have come up with a neat and bizarre way to protect their offspring from predators. While they breed like other amphibians, where females lay eggs in the water that are fertilized by males, the males of this species take the fertilized eggs into their mouths, store them in their vocal sacs and keep them there until they’re fully developed frogs — at which point he throws them up.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


So tomorrow is June 21st or Mid-Summer’s Day.

Except that the precise moment of the Summer Solstice is later today or Monday, June 20, 2016 at 3:34 PM PDT to be exact. In universal time (UTC) that is Monday, June 20, 2016 at 22:34 UTC.

However, it is a rather special solstice and all will be explained in tomorrow’s post, albeit a little under nine hours after the event!

See you tomorrow!

The book! Back to the beginning.

Learning from Dogs

Back to the beginning.

The grey smoke from the fire drifted up into the still air of the night sky.  It had been a good day for them. Their small community out here in the wild lands. Eight of them had been foraging since the sky had first become light. They had found nuts and plants and fruit aplenty, perhaps sufficient to provide food through one more darkness, maybe two.

Jogod and Omo sat together with their loving animals.  Those two tiny, helpless, shivering, baby wolves that Jogod and Omo had rescued so many moons ago.  Now grown to such beautiful animals and now so much a part of their tribe that Jogod and Omo could not imagine ever being without them.  The wolves were not outsiders.  They were part of the community, even to having names like all the others members of the tribe.  The young female wolf had been called Palo and the young male had been called Toto. So quickly did they come to know their names. So quickly they came to speak with Jogod and Omo in their strange voices. So quickly that Jogod and Omo came to understand those voices; know what so many of those sounds meant.

The fire at the start of darkness was another part of the way they all lived.  For it offered some warmth before the long night. It made the animals that would want to harm them stay away. Now with the fire burning and having Palo and Toto sleeping in the entrance of their cave, they could sleep so more deeply than ever before. Palo and Toto had become their ears and eyes.  They knew when danger was coming close.  They knew how to wake the sleepers in the cave so that they would make noises and shouts to make the creatures that would harm them go away.

Having fire to keep them warm and safe had been long part of their lives. But this very day their fire had given them something very different. It had given them new food. Good new food.

Jogod, with Gadger and Kudu, and with Palo and Toto, had been deep in the land of tall trees when they saw an animal that they had seen before at times. An animal with a head on a long, slender neck, a body covered in brown hair with rows of white dots, a body on long, slim legs.  It was eating the leaves of a tree, did not hear them until, too late, it tried to run as Palo and Toto lunged at it.  Palo and Toto grabbed the animal, held on to its back legs.  It could not run. Kudu came up and threw his arms around the slender neck. Gadger brought down his wooden club hard between the soft ears of the creature. It became still and fell to the ground.

Jogod had carried the dead animal across his shoulders back to the cave. They had lit their evening fire as they always did.  But in this new darkness they also had sticks in the fire, each stick had some of the meat of the animal in the heat of the flames. They had tasted and then eaten some of the hot meat of the animal and it was good.  This hot animal meat seemed to comfort them in a way unlike the fruit and the nuts.

Jogod held a stone with a sharp edge and cut meat from the animal for Palo and Toto.  Palo and Toto knew that what they had found for these animals who walked on two legs was good. Good for all.  Palo and Toto knew they could find other animals like the one they had found today.

After they had all eaten, it was time to sleep in the cave.

Jogod felt good.  He rested down and put his arm around Omo. They slept.

Then Toto came to lay with Jogod and rest beside him, and then he slept. Then Palo came to lay with Omo and rest beside her, and then she slept.

Such was the moment of these happenings. This moment when the trust between man and wolf became the power of faith of each in the other. The faith that they would forever be joined. The destiny for wolf and man for the rest of time.

718 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

That book! In the beginning.

Well I’m underway!

Last Thursday, I announced that I had decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month.  Or NaNoWriMo as it is more familiarly known.

It’s clear that to achieve the goal of 50,000 words by the end of November, it must be all about writing; writing flat out.  Any distraction from writing will make it impossible to maintain the average of 1,670 words a day for 31 days!

So just warning you that as I publish each chunk of the book here on Learning from Dogs don’t expect anything like a polished result.  Given the miracle of actually completing the 50,000 words then December will be the time to edit, refine and polish.

Mind you, any feedback good, bad or indifferent would be fabulous to have from you.  OK, enough said, on with the show!


Learning from Dogs

In the beginning

Omo stirred, aware that she had heard a sound. Somewhere out there in the deep night. Somewhere not far outside their cave. Jogod fast asleep next to her. Omo could see from the light of the fire that burnt at the entrance of this ancient limestone cave that Jogod had one arm across the skins that covered them. Like the early tribes before them, before they arrived and took their tribal lands, living and sleeping in a cave without fire would offer easy pickings for the many animals that preyed on them.

Even so, Jogod’s arm still cradled the small club he had used the previous day when out hunting.  Just in case creatures decided to try their luck this cold Winter’s night.

There it was again. Some creature in pain. The sound was the sound of whimpering.

Omo shook Jogod’s arm. He was awake instantly. It was instinctive. Their survival, as with all the members of their clan, depended on always being alert to danger.  Always keeping ahead of the many wild beasts that wouldn’t, and often didn’t, hesitate to feast on them; on the unwary, or on the sick, or on their young. Another reason for the protection of their cave.

Omo had her hand over Jogod’s lips to prevent any sound coming from him. There it was again, that whimpering sound. Possibly the sound of a very scared small animal. Perhaps more than one animal.

The darkness of the night outside, their cave surrounded by the dark forest, made it impossible for Omo and Jogod to leave the protection of their group. Nothing for it but to wait for the sun to rise, light up the sky and shine down into the forest.

They sat back-to-back in their cave, their bedding skins about them, each listening. Each trying to identify the animal from the sounds. A faint night-time breeze stirred, the gentle air wafting across the cave entrance. The breeze carried a familiar odour. Jogod picked up the scent of wolf! Not an uncommon odour because the wolves were constantly shadowing the group, drawn by the smells of their cooking, hoping to find a scrap of meat, a bone, a piece of skin. But Jogod smelt only young wolf. That was unexpected. Unexpected because the young wolves were always within the safety of their wolf pack.

Slowly the blackness of the night sky gave way to a hint of pale from the edge of the land from whence the light of the day always came. The paleness spread and became half-light. Further into the cave, as each of the other members of their hunting pack stirred, Omo, almost silently, touched each one on the shoulder or arm and motioned to remain perfectly quiet. Each of them in turn smelt young wolf, heard the whimpering, waited for more light.

Soon it was time. Time to search out these young wolves. Jogod and Omo, with Gadger and Kudu.  Gadger and Kudu, both experienced tribe elders, especially when it came to dealing with the wolves and other animals who ate their peoples.  All four of them fanned out and, as quiet as that night-time breeze, slowly followed the scent upwind.

It was not far to go. As they closed in on the sound, it became clear to them that not only were there two young wolves, but most likely one of each gender.  They all knew from past experiences how the sounds of a male wolf, even a young animal, sounded so differently from that of the female.

Then they saw them.  Just a few strides away two young wolves perhaps of age only two or three passings of the moon; four at most. The two young creatures had been attacked by an unknown predator; the rest of their pack must have abandoned them. Nature was so cruel at times.

The tearing of their small bodies was clear; dried blood all over their fur. The two frightened young animals quietened down as the hunters came up to them.  There was nothing that could be done for them. The young wolves must be left because it will only be a matter of time before more predators will arrive to take advantage of an easy kill.

But Omo had come forward and was crouching next to the shivering creatures. These two young wolves were utterly exhausted. Too tired to move, to try and flee from these humans who always tried to attack them and their packs. Yet Omo was speaking quietly to them and deep in the heads of these tiny animals so, too, was some instinct talking to them. Omo was not coming to harm them. This animal who walked on two legs, who made sounds like no other animals in the land, who so often was such a deadly threat to their wolf-packs; this time something was different. This animal was going to help them.

Omo’s arm slowly reached out and the fingers of her hand drifted across one of the tiny heads, the gentlest whisper of a touch of finger on fur. The whimpering stopped. The two frail cubs instinctively knew they were safe.

874 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The power of sharing.

“Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.”

My post last Monday, The lure of patterns, appears to have resonated far and wide.  In the sense of many echoes reinforcing the perilous nature of our present times and the desperately uncertain decades ahead.  Tomorrow I shall be writing specifically about those echoes.

Today, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on dogs and communities!  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs!

In Monday’s post I opined that the future may well see a return to people re-evaluating and re-energising the benefits of local communities.  Now when it comes to communities, there are no better examples than dogs and, so many thousands of years before dogs, grey wolves.  These species have an incredibly strong social structure.  I mean, of course, the pack.  It’s a shame that the expression ‘pack of wolves’ or ‘pack of dogs’ has such misplaced negative connotations.

Before dogs were domesticated, as in when they first evolved from the grey wolf, they shared with wolves a natural pack size of around 50 animals.  There was a very strong social cohesiveness within that pack yet a very ‘light’ status differential between those dogs having pack status and the mass of the pack group.  Ditto with wolves.

In fact there were (still are) just three status roles: Mentor/Monitor/Nanny.  Or has been described previously on this blog: Alpha/Beta/Omega roles.  Even within the domesticated dog, thousands upon thousands of years later, those social instincts are alive and well.  Many followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Pharaoh, him of the Home Page, now an elderly German Shepherd is a Monitor or Beta dog.  I could write about this aspect of dogs for hours!

Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.
Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.

So back to us funny old humans.

I closed last Monday’s post off with three predictions:

  • That the power of internet communications will allow more people, more quickly, to find their soul-mates wherever they are on this planet.
  • That the realisation of how dysfunctional many Governments are, of how truly poorly they serve the majorities of their citizens, will lead to mass rejections of these so-called Governments’ policies.  Such rejections predominantly peaceful, as in taking the horse to water but being unable to make it drink.
  • That there will be a new form of localism.  At two levels.  Literally, people geographically close to each other creating 21st C. versions of local communities.  Virtually, those local communities linking to other like-minded communities right across the world resulting in highly effective and innovative learning, accelerated common-sense, (call it wisdom if you wish), and extraordinarily efficient and sustainable ways of living on this planet.

Patrice commented:

Dear Paul: I like your predictions. They will play some role. But maybe somewhere in the bushes only. I think predictions of the future beyond the next 12 months are obsolete.

Jeremy remarked: (and do click the link and read some of Jeremy’s fantastic poetry)

I am hoping for a new localism. I see signs of this in the local food movement and a growing concern about factory farming, for one thing. I think people are really scrutinizing where their food comes from, where their medicines are made, and I think there also is a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). I do see signs of these things permeating the consciousness of many people and leading them to want to become more “local.”

Alex said:

Your predictions are good, and I liked the one of communities from different parts of the world working with each other… that was creatively brilliant.

(Click on their names to see three wonderful blog sites, by the way.)

So my idea of a return to an era of localism, but a 21st C. version reflecting the way so many millions of us are connected electronically, wasn’t immediately rejected.

Patrice recently published a post called Devils In The Details.  I mentioned in a comment to that post that I would be referring to it in this place.  Patrice replied [my italics]:

Very good, Paul! No doubt you will bring more common sense to one more of these interesting collaborations you bring together! Internet debates! A long way from the paleolithique cave!… But still the same idea. Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.

I found that last sentence so powerful that it was used as the sub-heading to today’s post.  Then Alexi Helligar commented:

The word consciousness, breaks down to con+scious+ness, which literally means together knowing or shared knowledge.

Adding in a subsequent comment:

In other words: Without society there is no consciousness. The sages of old knew this. Why has it been forgotten?

So right before my eyes (and yours!) we are seeing the power of ‘finding together‘.

Finally, just on the spur of the moment, I did a web search under an entry of ‘early caveman social structure’.  Guess what!  One of the top search returns was an essay by an Erik D. Kennedy under the title of On the Social Lives of Cavemen.  From which jumped off the screen:

Human beings are no strangers to group living.  Call it a family trait.  Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off of their friends’ back.  While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree.  In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being.  And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle—things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends.  Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone—TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy.  It’s no surprise that humans are social animals—but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year—or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

My goodness me, this sharing idea may be core to a healthy society in ways that we need to return to.  Erik’s essay goes on thus:

That particular case—of Roseto, Pennsylvania—is mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.  In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of[ii]).  Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The happiness and health I’m describing are not, however, ingredients to a long-lost elixir of well-being.  This sort of paleo social life occurs in cultures large and small all over the globe.  America just happens to be an enormous exception (and the one that I live in).  The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.  This was basically an Italian village in the American countryside, and it stood out because Italy’s social culture was remarkable compared to America’s—and that was in the 1950’s.  America’s social culture has only deteriorated even further since then.  We’ve lost a lot, but my thesis is a positive one; we have as much to gain as ever.

So if wolves and dogs naturally settle into packs of 50 animals, what’s the optimum ‘pack’ size for humans?  Dear Erik even offers that answer:

Along with that urban emigration came a shrink in residents per household and a widespread decline in community and organization engagement.  This isolation has been taxing on our physical and mental health, and the reason has been clear from the beginning: it’s not good for man to be alone.

So we’ll spend more time with other people.  Fine.  But who should we spend our time with?  What kind of groups should we hang out in?  And how big of groups?  The simple answer is: as long as you’re pretty close to the people you’re with, it hardly matters. Piles of research back up what is essentially obvious from everyday experience: that the more time you spend with people you trust, the better off you are.  That’s not to discourage actively meeting new people, but seeing as though close friends push us towards health and happiness better than strangers, there does appear to be a limit on the number of people you can have in your “tribe”.

And that number is about 150, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who achieved anthropologist fame by drawing a graph plotting primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes.  He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and lo and behold, the number 150 has been making a whirlwind tour of popular non-fiction books ever since.  Beyond being the upper bound for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Paleolithic farming villages,  it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for number of close social ties.

You really must read Erik’s essay in full; it really ‘spoke’ to me and maybe it will do the same for you.

So no other way to close than to say that of all the things we can learn from dogs, the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

Dogs and man should never be alone.
Dogs and man should never be alone.


I'll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!
I’ll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!

Please don’t forget the wolves!

Time is not on the side of the wolves and for all those who care for them.

It’s unusual for me to publish a post at this time of the day. However, following my recent post I cry for the wolves I wanted to circulate two recent emails received from the Center for Biological Diversity.  Here they are in their original format.

Feel free to forward this post as far and wide as you would like to.

Thank you,

Paul and Jean.


Center for Biological Diversity

Dear Paul,

Gray wolf

Last week the Obama administration issued a sweeping delisting plan to remove protections for wolves across the lower 48 states. The plan only maintains protections for the small population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

If finalized this proposal will mean the premature end of decades of work to restore wolves to the American landscape — even though wolves currently occupy a mere 5 percent of their historic range.

The proposal also means that states will hold the reins of wolf management across most of the country. We’ve already seen what state management entails for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes, where protections were removed in the past two years — in short, aggressive trapping and hunting seasons designed to drastically reduce populations, resulting in at least 1,600 wolves killed.

Please take action now to halt this delisting plan before it’s too late: Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to turn its back on America’s wolves.

Click here to take action and get more information.

If you can’t open the link, go to http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=13725.


Center for Biological Diversity

Dear Paul,


Donate Now

Help Save America's Wolves.

Wolves Stripped of Protection —
Don’t Let it Happen.

The future of America’s wolves is at stake right now: The Obama administration just announced its plans to strip Endangered Species Act protections from nearly all wolves in the lower 48 states.

We need your help. A generous member is matching all emergency gifts to our Wolf Defense Fund until tomorrow. Please give right now.

This announcement means the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is gutting 40 years of wolf conservation and recovery.

And when wolves lose federal protections, they die. Too often they’re hunted, trapped and ruthlessly persecuted with the same vicious attitude that nearly drove them extinct a century ago.

It also means that wolves — absent today from 95 percent of their historic habitat in the continental United States — are virtually guaranteed never to fully recover in places like the Northeast, California, and most of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s expert legal team is already working to get into court right away to stop this terrible plan.

The Center has an amazing track record of saving wolves. We’ve overturned illegal wolf-killing decisions in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Wolves in Oregon today are protected by a court injunction won by the Center. But this will be the biggest wolf case yet, and we need your help to win it.

The entire U.S. wolf recovery program hangs in the balance.

If this decision stands, wolves will never be reintroduced to California, the Northeast or the southern Rocky Mountains. Killing of the small population in Oregon and Washington will ramp up, preventing it from ever recovering. Make no mistake: Despite the government’s warm and fuzzy PR spin, this decision is about ending wolf recovery in the United States once and for all.

Our team of scientists, lawyers and activists has been preparing for this terrible decision, and now — with your help — they’ll begin the biggest legal battle of the decade.

If you’re as sickened as I am by the killing, please help us stop it. Donate to the Wolf Defense Fund today.

For the wolves,

Kierán Suckling
Kierán Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity

P.S. Because this is an emergency, one of our members will match every gift made by tomorrow, Sunday, June 16. Help us take advantage of this extraordinary offer by donating as much as you can to the Center’s Wolf Defense Fund and passing this appeal on to your friends and social media networks.

P.P.S. If you have problems with the links above, please cut and paste this into your browser: https://org.salsalabs.com/o/2167/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=9994&track=E1305G2


I cry for the wolves.

This is so wrong.

Like thousands of others I have been supporting the efforts to ensure that the US Government did not proceed with the proposal to remove wolves from endangered species protection.

Wolves are the animals that enabled early man to ‘progress’ from hunter-gatherer to the life of farming, and thence to our modern world.  As I write elsewhere on Learning from Dogs,

There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.

So it utterly breaks my heart to republish a recent post on The Sand County, Jeremy Nathan Marks wonderful and evocative blog.  Here it is, republished with Jeremy’s kind permission.


I used to believe

As some of you may have heard, late last week the Obama Administration officially delisted gray wolves from endangered species protection. This means that 40 years of wolf recovery efforts have come to an end. Wolves only occupy a tiny fraction of their former habitat and with anti-wolf governments occupying the state houses in the few places that still have wolf populations, states like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Wisconsin, it is hard to imagine that wolves have a bright future in the lower 48 states.

I am deeply, profoundly saddened by this decision. I have learned over time how wolves -like so many other species- just don’t register on the list of national concerns and priorities. A great many people oppose the delisting, in fact one gets the impression that the effort to remove these protections has consistently been guided by political pressures and a political agenda and not by a true commitment to a sustainable and enduring wolf recovery. I know that I am hardly alone in registering my disappointment and voice of protest.

I cannot let this sad milestone pass without acknowledging it here on this blog. If you do not like wolves -if you feel hatred or resentment towards them or are pleased at what has recently transpired, I respectfully request that you refrain from sharing your feelings here. I seldom offer any “directives” like this, but if you are a reader of this blog then you know how strongly I feel about this issue. I am sharing these thoughts because I want to not only draw attention to what has happened, but also because I feel the need to mourn it. I tremble at the thought of a United States -or a North America- without wolves. Defenders of the administration and the Department of Interior’s position will say that the United States Government is committed to protecting wolves and ensuring their future but I am afraid I see things quite differently. This is not a partisan political issue: Democratic and Republican administrations alike are behind this stance towards wolves.

I would like to share a poem which I feel is very incomplete and does not begin to adequately draw upon the well of feelings, concerns and thoughts I have on this subject. But I would be remiss I think if I did not mark what has just happened.

I used to believe

I used to believe that one day
I might live carefully, cooperatively
beside the wolves

I would go to them but respect their
space; wait for their return and tend
my garden with local mind, open my windows

When they moved off I would wait
and make a space; I would lock my guns
in bolted cabinets to honor and not to intrude

I used to believe that there was a chance
of this because there were others who saw
in wolves the same uncertainties and histories

And we, a new community, would redraw
the map, eradicate “the frontier” and perhaps
expunge that word altogether from our plans

It is ironic really how a word, a concept,
one invisible line can have more tendrils
and seeds than a weed, more pups than a pack.

Jeremy Nathan Marks


The Center for Biological Diversity has been incredibly active in fighting for the continued protection of the wolf. The Press Release about the loss of protection is here.  Do read it and do everything you can to help. PLEASE!

Let me share some of my special feelings about wolves.

Back in September, 2009, I wrote about An amazing true story of a relationship between a wild wolf and a man, from which this picture is taken.

Luna, the wild wolf, sleeping with Tim and Tim's dog, taken in 2006.
Luna, the wild wolf, with Tim and Tim’s dog; taken in 2006.

Then in February this year, I wrote about Oregon and the wolf.  The following picture was in that Post.

These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)
These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)

Please now listen to this:

So you can see that I have written frequently about wolves; indeed just a few days ago did so and included this photograph.

Wolf greets man.
Wolf greets man.

Now just look at those eyes of the Grey Wolf above and compare them to the eyes of the German Shepherd dog below and tell me that wolves aren’t as close to man as dogs.


Finally, feel free to share this post as far and wide as you can.  Learning from Dogs is published under a Creative Commons License. This link covers how to share my material.

Please do something to help these ancient animals who, more than any other creature, helped put mankind ‘on the map’.

Thank you.

Musings on love.

Dedicated to MaryAnne G.

A week ago I started the first of what became four day’s writings about passing the 400ppm CO2 level in the planet’s atmosphere.  As I said in the penultimate post, “In nearly four years of writing for Learning from Dogs, I can’t recall devoting three days of posts to a single subject.

Later that week, I had a wonderful telephone conversation with MaryAnne back in Payson. MaryAnne and husband Ed were among a group of people who did so much to ease our transition into our new home in Arizona.  As part of the process of obtaining my fiancee visa, I was to and fro between Payson and London which meant having to leave Jeannie alone for a number of weeks at a time. So for Jean having to get used to a change of country as well as home and for me wondering if I would ever get the magic piece of paper allowing me and Jean to be married and settle down, having so many loving friends around us was invaluable.

In last week’s telephone conversation MaryAnne spoke so easily about love that I promised her that I would dedicate a post on Learning from Dogs to her.

In fact, rather than one post, I’m setting myself the challenge of writing about love for the entire week, i.e. Monday to Friday.  I will readily admit that over and beyond today’s post, I don’t have more than the vaguest inkling of how the week will pan out.  You have been warned!

But how much better that ‘devoting three days to a single subject‘ should be about love rather than climate change.


Love across the species.

A week ago, we had friend Richard and his partner Julie from England staying with us.  Richard and I go back 40 years and have been wonderful buddies all that time.  Last Monday, I took Richard and Julie across to Wildlife Images just a few miles from the house here in Merlin, Oregon.  As their website explains,

Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center was founded as a non-profit corporation in 1981 by renowned wildlife rehabilitator J. David Siddon. The facility was created in order to provide for the care and treatment of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

and a little later,

The organization’s clinic, animal sanctuary, and education center are located on 24 acres of land adjacent to the wild and scenic section of Oregon’s famous Rogue River. Animals treated at Wildlife Images have included everything from baby squirrels and badgers to American bald eagles.

Wildlife Images release rate of intakes is near 50 percent each year – far above the national average of 33 percent. Animals with permanently disabling injuries that make them unable to live in the wild are integrated into one of Wildlife Images educational programs, either as educational ambassadors, or as permanent residents of the facility.

While we were looking at the animals, along the pathway came a couple of the volunteer staff walking a Grey Wolf (Canis Lupus).

An afternoon walk for Tundra.
An afternoon walk for Tundra.

I was utterly captivated by this beautiful animal.  Her story was that she was born in captivity and owned by an individual who soon decided he didn’t want her!  Not long thereafter Tundra, as she became named, was brought to the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Washington and thence to Wildlife Images when she was just 8 weeks old.

Tundra turned to look at me. I stood perfectly still and quiet.  Tundra seemed to want to come closer.  As one would with a strange dog, I got down on my knees and turned my eyes away from Tundra’s.  I sensed she was coming towards me so quickly held up my camera and took the picture below.

Wolf greets man.
Wolf greets man.

I kept my gaze averted as I felt the warm breath of this magnificent animal inches from my face.  Then the magic of love across the species!  Tundra licked my face!  The tears came to my eyes and were licked away.  I stroked her and became lost in thought.

Was this an echo of how thousands and thousands of years ago, a wolf and an early man came together out of trust and love and started the journey of the longest animal-human relationship, by far?

As I write elsewhere on this blog,

Dogs are part of the Canidae, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.

Let me close the first day of these musings by coming forward all those thousands of years to the year 2012.  To the 6th April, 2012.  To the day that we brought puppy Cleo back home.  That sweet little creature of less than ten weeks of age starting her own journey of love across the species.

10-week-old little Cleo experiencing Jeannie's love for her dogs.
Little Cleo being loved from the start.

It really is a very simple message!

Repeat after me: We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

There are times when I look back at my writings on Learning from Dogs, now well over 1,500 posts (1,633 as of today, to be anal about it!) and ponder if the fundamental message behind the name of the blog often gets overlooked.  The Welcome page states:

As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.

Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!

Elsewhere on the blog, I underpin that proposition by listing the attributes of dogs:


  • are integrous ( a score of 210) according to Dr David Hawkins
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans can only dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

Now this is all fine and dandy but of what relevance is this to the mess that homo sapiens now finds itself in? Two parts to that answer come to mind.

The first part is that watching a dog out in the open countryside quickly brings home the fact that these animals are part of nature and, if push comes to shove, can live in the wild and fend for themselves.  Not saying that a domestic dog would enjoy the experience but that their wild dog and grey wolf roots still rest somewhere in a dog’s consciousness.

The second part of the answer is that all animals instinctively live in harmony, in balance, with their surroundings; with their environment.

For the incredibly obvious reason that dogs, as with all other animal species, are an evolutionary consequence of the natural history of Planet Earth.  That evolutionary journey from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) part of the Canidae family, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  That journey all the way to the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris).

That ancient journey where the African wild dog (Lycaon pictuspainted dog) came together with early man. No one knows when but the African wild dog was certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago!

Two vastly different natural species, dog and man, evolving compatibly with each other for so many thousands of years.

Back to the attributes of dogs, in particular a dog’s ability to cherish the present.  Earlier this week I was chatting with Kevin Dick, friend from Payson, AZ days, about the ‘interesting’ times we are living in.  Kevin thought there was a significant difference between the generations born in the 1940’s and 1950’s and those born in later times.  Most people over the age of, say 55, were brought up to save for ‘a rainy day’ and, possibly, be able to leave a legacy to their offspring.  Kevin then went on to reflect that more recent generations exhibit a ‘buy today, don’t delay’ mentality.

A by-product of this materialistic instant gratification approach is that the whole damn consumer machine has created a total disconnect with the fact that we humans are of this planet.

The earth is the mother of all people..

(Chief Joseph 1840 – 1904, leader of the Wallowa band, a Native American tribe

indigenous to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon)

Humans today fail to comprehend this fundamental fact: Our ability to harm the planet and think that it won’t affect our species is complete madness!  If only we could learn how to cherish the present in the way that our dogs do!

I’m now going to offer an essay from John Hurlburt.  I knew John had written this essay but didn’t get round to reading it properly until I had finished the introduction above.  I’m blown away by the resonance between the two but, as always, John’s words are so much more eloquent.

Inside Out

Climate change, religion, economics, government, politics and social issues are topics which create strong personal opinions and cultural divisions. We have difficulty accepting ideas which may conflict with our personal understandings. As usual, it’s an ego thing. The arrogance of our species is inclusive. We all suffer the consequences.

To counter our ego, we know that everything fits together. We exist in a unified cosmos with fluctuations and diversities that emerge around and through us.

Our present transformative state is as a biological form of energy and matter which possesses a conscious awareness of the natural order. We choose to ignore or deny the essential nature of our being at our own peril. Do we live only for the moment or do we live to insure our species future? That’s our fundamental choice.

Seek the truth and identify the common good.” Zoroaster [also known as Zarathustra, Ed.]

We are a consciously aware component of a living world in an isolated corner of a remote galaxy. Everything within and on the earth has an extraterrestrial origin. We live on an incubator we call the earth. We rarely truly communicate with or fully understand the energy of nature in our lives. Our critical thinking ability has become enveloped by an electronic cloud.

We generally agree that the actions of many religions and most politics are based upon short term human interests rather than upon the long term well being of our planet and its disappearing life forms. The fact is that we only began to emerge as a species about 100,000 years ago. Hubble telescope observations have dated our universal origin to roughly 13,002,000,000 years ago.

Could it be that we only imagine ourselves as independent beings? Could it be that beyond the mind games we play there is a vast reality greater that we can understand with our limited sensory apparatus and our finite minds?

Life is a transformative experience. All species, tribes, races and genders are united by the nature of life. We pass through a period of being selfish and ambitious during our journey. Many of us choose to move into these familiar ruts and furnish them. We do not always walk the way we talk.

Nature favors species which adapt to constant change in an emerging universe.

If we agree that our intelligence is judged by choices we make, there is some question about intelligent human life on earth. A recent Harvard University study of species in relation to change estimates that the life span of the human species is approximately 100,000 years. Sound familiar?

The wisdom of our brief human history tells us that we are on a careless and needless path to self destruction. All that’s necessary to verify this assertion is to turn on the news of the day. The systemic paradigm that has been imprinted on our psyches is in constant flux. As we live and learn, we realize that our purpose is to leave life better than we found it.

A delicate balance is necessary to maintain an even strain of faith in the natural process rather than dwelling upon our self centered fears of losing something we imagine we own or not attaining something we believe we want. The earth heals itself from the inside out. We can do the same as a species. Today is the tomorrow we dreamed of yesterday. What have we done to fulfill the true purpose of our lives?

an old lamplighter

So, yes, we have much to learn from dogs.

I will close as I started. We are of this planet!  It’s really very simple!

Oregon and the wolf

Sharing a beautiful aspect of this new home State of ours.

Let’s face it, Jean and I know as much about Oregon as we know about Timbuktu! A house and property requiring much love and care and 10 dogs, 5 cats and 2 miniature horses does rather cramp one’s style!  Actually, let me be honest.  We just adore the grounds that surround the house.  Almost every single walk around the property with or without a few dogs brings some new discovery.  Thus we are not lusting to get out.

Just by way of example, yesterday we discovered that the dam built across our creek, just upstream of the bridge, was used in days long ago for creating flood irrigation.  That’s the dam in the picture below.  The old plank and steel work are still in the undergrowth alongside the creek; to the right of the picture.

Irrigation dam on Bummer Ck.
Irrigation dam on Bummer Ck.

OK, to the point of this post.

Shortly after we arrived here in Merlin, Oregon we joined Oregon Wild.  Their Mission Statement says: Oregon Wild works to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife and waters as an enduring legacy for all Oregonians.  Can’t argue with that!

Last December a press release was issued about Bringing Wolves Back Home to Oregon.  Here’s part of that release.

Wolves in Oregon:

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) were once common in Oregon, occupying most of the state. However, a deliberate effort to eradicate the species was successful by the late 1940s.

Trouble for wolves began before Oregon even became a state. In 1843 the first wolf bounty was established and Oregon’s first legislative session was called in part to address the “problem of marauding wolves”. By 1913, people could collect a $5 state bounty and an Oregon State Game Commission bounty of $20. The last recorded wolf bounty was paid out in 1947.

After an absence of over half a century, wolves began to take their first tentative steps towards recovery. Having dispersed from Idaho, the native species is once again trying to make a home in Oregon. One of the first sightings came in 1999 when a lone wolf was captured near the middle fork of the John Day River, put in a crate and quickly returned to Idaho. In 2000, two wolves were found dead – one killed by a car, the other illegally shot.

In 2006, a flurry of sightings led state wildlife biologists to believe that a number of wild wolves were living in Northeast Oregon near the Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. In May of 2007 a wolf was found shot to death near La Grande, OR.

As I explain on this blog, there is a deep connection between dogs and wolves:

Dogs are part of the Canidae, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.  See an interesting article by Dr. George Johnson.

Back to Oregon Wild.  Just three weeks ago came this update.

State Announces Wolf Recovery Numbers

With the state’s wolf killing program on hold, conservationists celebrate recent success, express concern for the future.

SALEM, OR Jan 16, 2013

Today the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced the state’s wolf population has risen to at least 53 animals and as many as five breeding pairs. Though still mostly confined to the Northeastern corner of the state, the news was welcomed by conservationists.

The confirmation of wolf numbers comes on the heels of a number of announcements of new wolf pups, interbreeding between packs, and new science demonstrating the important and irreplaceable role wolves and other native hunters play on the landscape.

The announcement also comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of another great wolf recovery story. On December 28, 2011, a wolf known as Journey (OR-7) crossed the Oregon border to become the first wolf in California in nearly a century. The story was celebrated around the world.

Read the rest of this good news story here.  But I couldn’t resist showing you this photograph that appeared in that story.

These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)
These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)

Let me close with these two videos.

Imnaha alpha female wolf, July 2011

Snake River Wolf Pack howling

Published on Aug 1, 2012

On July 25, 2012, an ODFW wolf biologist on a survey for wolf pups took this video of a Snake River wolf pack pup howling. The video was taken in the Summit Ridge area within the Snake River Wildlife Management Unit, in Wallowa County.

In the video, the pup howls three times. A low returning howl is heard and the pup gets up. Then, other members of the wolf pack (not seen in the video) return the pup’s howls.

Wolves are highly social animals and howling is a common behavior that help packs communicate and stay together. Wolf howls can be heard from several miles away.

More information on wolves in Oregon can be found at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves.

The Woof at the Door

The grandeur of the ancient relationship between dog and man.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article that had been published in American Scientist magazine (online version) written by Professor Pat Shipman.  The article provided the background and evidence to support the proposition that dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized.

Very quickly I came across Pat Shipman’s website and learnt that this is one clever lady. As her About page explains,


Prof. Shipman

I am internationally known as a paleoanthropologist and conducted research for many years in Africa on human evolution and the animal communities in which humans evolved.

I have conducted research on material from sites in France, Spain, the United States, Java, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.  I have written more than 50 scholarly articles, appearing in journals such as Nature, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Paleobiology, Journal of Human Evolution, and Current Anthropology.

I have written more than 100 articles in popular science magazines or newspapers, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, American Scientist, Discover, and Natural History. Two of my books were featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review: The Neadertals and Taking Wing. Taking Wing won the Phi Beta Kappa prize for science book of the year and was a runner-up for the LA Times Science Book prize.

My book on Homo erectus, Wisdom of the Bones, was co-authored by Alan Walker and won the Rhone-Poulenc Prize in science writing.

My books have been widely praised as compelling, accessible, and highly readable, with a strong narrative thread. Reviewers frequently comment upon the meticulous research that underpins my books, a feature I consider to be my trademark.

My most recent popular science book, The Ape in the Tree, written with Alan Walker, was called by The Vancouver Sun “part adventure story, part cutting-edge science.” In a Science magazine review, the book was praised as “a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bone.” Another reviewer raved, “Wonderfully engaging and insightful, The Ape in the Tree, is sure to become a classic in the literature on human origins.” MacArthur fellow John Fleagle wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology, “Science writing doesn’t get any better than this.” In 2009, this book was awarded the W.W. Howells Book Prize by the American Anthropological Association.

In Britain, my new biography of Mata Hari, Femme Fatale, was selected as The Book of the Week by BBC radio. Each day during the week, an actress gave dramatic readings from the book on the air for fifteen minutes.

With The Animal Connection, I return to paleoanthropology and consider the influence of our connection with animals on human evolution and the origin of modern human behavior.

See what I mean!

Anyway, as you can readily understand, as the author of a blog that writes about what we can learn from this ancient relationship between the dog and man, it struck me as wonderful if I might be permitted to republish in full that article.  Prof. Shipman promptly gave me such permission.

So today, I am doing just that and tomorrow I want to write more about Pat Shipman’s latest book, The Animal Connection.


The Woof at the Door

Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized

Pat Shipman

It’s funny how much difference a single letter makes. A “woof” at the door is a very different thing from a wolf at the door. One is familiar, domestic, reassuring; the other is a frightening apparition of imminent danger. The distinction between our fond companions and the ferocious predator of northern climes goes back a long way.

Dogs are descended from wolves, probably the gray wolf. Some scientists argue that, because dogs and wolves can and do interbreed, they shouldn’t be considered to be separate species at all. They believe that domestic dogs are only a subspecies or variant of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, and ought to be called Canis lupus familiaris (the familiar or domestic wolf) instead of Canis familiaris (the familiar or domestic dog). Although the ability to interbreed and produce fertile offspring is a tried-and-true criterion for recognizing that two populations are really variants of a single species, the reality is more nuanced. We cannot know whether dog-wolf hybrids will thrive and survive, or die out, in the long run.

Prehistoric cave paintings rarely depict wolves or other carnivores. This watercolor tracing of a cave painting was made by the archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil in the early 1900s from the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume in France. The 17,000-year-old cave paintings number about 250 and mostly show bison and mammoths—only one is thought to be a wolf. Canids may have been domesticated by this point; it is possible that portraying wolves and humans was taboo.
Paul Bahn

Certainly we expect to be able to distinguish a dog from a wolf if we see one. Of course, domestic dogs are wildly variable in size and shape, thanks to several hundred years of selective breeding. Some have long, fluffy coats; others have tightly curled, nearly waterproof coats and webbed feet. Some are leggy and swift, whereas others are solid, stoutly built guard dogs. Some fit neatly into a pocketbook, but others barely fit into a compact car. As Robert K. Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles declares, “Dogs show more diversity in appearance than any other mammal.”

What is it that tells us this animal is “dog” and that one is “wolf?”

Modern wolves and dogs can be distinguished reasonably easily by their appearance. The most telling feature of dogs is the snout, which is significantly shorter and wider than wolves’ snouts. Only a few dog breeds with extremely elongated, slender snouts, such as Irish wolfhounds, surpass wolves in “snoutiness.”

But a crucial part of the difference we perceive is in the animals’ manner and attitude towards humans. Domesticated dogs are just that: canids that live in the house or domicile of humans. They are genetically disposed to seek out human attention and approval and to accept human leadership. Wolves are not.

How did this important change come about? Probably in the distant past, humans took in a wolf cub, or even a whole litter of cubs, and provided shelter, food and protection. As the adopted cubs matured, some were aggressive, ferocious and difficult to handle; those probably ended up in the pot or were cast out. The ones that were more accepting of and more agreeable to humans were kept around longer and fed more. In time, humans might have co-opted the natural abilities of canids, using the dogs’ keen noses and swift running skills, for example, to assist in hunting game. If only the most desirable dogs were permitted to breed, the genes encoding for “better” dogs would continue to be concentrated until the new domesticated species (or subspecies) was formed.

Time to Tame

The creation of a domestic, useful, familiar canid by years of selectively breeding wild and terrifying wolves was almost certainly unplanned. The wolf at the beginning of the process of domestication was tamed—made individually docile—but the essential fact is that, over time, the offspring of those initial wolves were genetically inclined to be more tractable.

Domestication was one of the most brilliant accidents in the entire history of humankind. What’s more, we got it right the first time: Dogs were the original trial animal, and successful product, of such an accident—the happy outcome of years of unwitting experiments and dumb luck.

How long does domestication take? Nobody knows. In an experiment, Russian biologists kept a breeding colony of silver foxes and intentionally selected for breeding those with the least fear and the least aggression toward humans. After 10 generations, 18 percent of the foxes sought human contact and showed little fear. After 30 or so generations, a “domesticated fox” had been created.

The catch is that this experiment was deliberate and strictly controlled. The foxes could not breed with wild foxes and dilute the changing gene pool. Human contact was minimized so animals could not be tamed by their handlers. And because of the experiment’s scientific intent, no one could say, “Oh this one is so cute, let’s let it breed even if it is a little aggressive.” So in the case of dogs, without all these controls, the process could have taken much longer.

Another way of estimating the time at which domestic dogs originated is to consider their genetic differences from wolves. One prominent group of researchers, including Robert Wayne, along with Carles Vilà of the Uppsala University in Sweden and their collaborators, initially estimated in 1997 that dogs diverged from gray wolves 100,000 to 135,000 years ago. After more study, they revised their divergence date to between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago. Another group, led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, favored the Chinese wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, as the probable ancestor and estimated in 2002 that it was domesticated between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

How do these genetic estimates stack up against the fossil record? Until 2009, the oldest known remains of domestic dogs were two adult skulls dated to between 13,000 and 17,000 years ago, from Eliseevichi, a region in Russia. Both had the relatively broad, short snout typical of dogs, and both were large, heavy animals, nearly the size of great Danes.

Then a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences reported a stunning new finding in the February 2009 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science: a nearly complete fossil dog skull dated to 31,680 + 250 years ago.

Another Look

Germonpré and her colleagues thought that researchers might have overlooked early prehistoric dogs in the fossil record of the Upper Paleolithic, so they analyzed skulls of large canids (wolves or dogs) from various European sites. The Upper Paleolithic time period spanned 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and is divided into sections based on the artifacts from those times. By convention, each span is named for a culture of people who made the artifacts, and the people, in turn, are usually named for the geographical location where the artifacts were found. The Epigravettian culture existed from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago; before that, the Magdalenian culture thrived from 18,000 to 10,000 years ago; and skipping back a few sections, the Aurignacian culture occurred from 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.

In order to identify the fossil skulls accurately, Germonpré’s team first analyzed a large reference sample of 48 wild, modern wolves and 53 dogs belonging to 11 different breeds. They also examined five skulls (including the ones found in Eliseevichi) that were firmly established as prehistoric domesticated dogs.

In order to establish the morphological differences between wolves and dogs, a group of researchers led by Mietje Germonpré statistically analyzed skulls from 48 modern, wild wolves and 53 modern dogs from 11 breeds, as well as five skulls that were previously established to be from prehistoric dogs. Recent wolves (pink) and prehistoric dogs (blue) clustered into their own groups, based on the length of their toothrows and the shape of their snouts. Modern dogs clustered into four groups, with some overlap in their areas. Recent dogs with archaic proportions included huskies (brown), recent dogs with wolflike snouts included German shepherds (yellow), recent dogs with short toothrows included great Danes (orange), and recent dogs with slender snouts included doberman pinscers (green). One modern dog, a Central Asian shepherd, clustered with the prehistoric dogs. The group then classified new skulls into the established groupings; examples that fell slightly outside of the ranges but that are statistically likely to be within the group are shown as lighter-shaded areas. Recent young wolves fell into the recent-wolf group, whereas wolves kept in captivity were classifed as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Fossil canid skulls divided between the recent-wolf group and the prehistoric-dog group, with one falling in the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts.
Stephanie Freese, data courtesy of Mietje Germonpré.

The team used statistical analysis of cranial and dental measurements on the skulls to sort the reference sample into six natural clusters. One cluster contained modern wolves. Another consisted of recent dogs of archaic proportions (such as chow-chows and huskies); a single specimen of a Central Asian shepherd was closer to this group than any other but fell outside it. A third cluster included dogs, such as German shepherds and malinois, which have wolflike proportions. These three groups overlapped each other in their cranial proportions. A fourth group of modern dogs has short toothrows—the length of the jaw that contains teeth—and includes such breeds as great Danes, mastiffs and rottweilers. This group overlapped slightly with the archaic-proportioned dog group but not with the others.

The fifth and sixth clusters were completely separate from all others. One consisted of dogs with extremely long, slender snouts, such as Doberman pinschers. The final group, which had long toothrows and short, broad snouts, was made up of the prehistoric dogs. Statistically, the team’s ability to identify any individual specimen as belonging to the correct group was highly significant and accurate.

Using these clusters as reference categories, Germonpré and colleagues used a statistical technique (called discriminant function analysis ) to assign 17 unknown fossil canid skulls to the established categories. Not all of the “unknowns” were truly unknown, however. Five were immature modern wolves that might have had different proportions because of their age, two were wolves that had been kept in captivity, and one was the Central Asian shepherd that didn’t cluster into any of the groups. Additional unknowns were 11 fossil skulls from sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia, although two of these fossil skulls proved to be too incomplete to classify.

The technique correctly classified all of the immature wolves as wolves, but the two zoo wolves were classified as recent dogs with wolflike snouts. Five of the fossil skulls also fell easily into the modern wolf group; although two of these specimens fell into the region of measurements that overlapped with the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, they had a higher statistical probability of being wolves. One fossil skull fit directly into the group of recent dogs with wolflike snouts, even though this specimen was clearly ancient.

The remaining three fossil skulls—one from Goyet Cave in Belgium and one each from Mezin and Mezhirich in the Ukraine—resembled each other closely. All three were classified as prehistoric dogs with probabilities of 99 percent, 73 percent and 57 percent, respectively, as was the (modern) Central Asian shepherd, with a 64 percent probability. In addition, the Mezin skull was odd enough in appearance (for a wolf) that another researcher has suggested it might have been a captive wolf. Germonpré and her team were delighted with these results.

The group also successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from seven ancient canid bones from Goyet Cave and Trou des Nutons in Belgium. Rather than damage precious skulls, they sampled only bones in which wolves and dogs differ little, so they presumed all of those they sampled for mtDNA were wolves. From each sample, they sequenced a segment of the mtDNA that is highly variable in living wolves and dogs. Each fossil had a unique mtDNA sequence, or haplotype , in this region, which could not be matched with any known sequences for modern wolves (of which there are about 160) or modern dogs (of which more than 1,000 exist) stored in GenBank, a database of all publicly available nucleotide sequences.

“I was not so surprised at the rich genetic diversity of the fossil wolves,” says Germonpré, because there have been other studies with similar findings. Foxes and wolves underwent a severe bottleneck in population size at the end of the last Ice Age, and many genetic lineages went extinct at this time.

“But we were surprised at the antiquity of the Goyet dog,” Germonpré adds. “We expected it would probably be Magdalenian,” perhaps 18,000 to 10,000 years old. This outcome would fit with their results for the Mezin and Mezhirich skulls, which were found with Epigravettian artifacts roughly 14,000 to 10,000 years old. When the age of this specimen from Goyet was directly dated using accelerated mass spectroscopy radiocarbon-dating techniques, the team found that it was not 18,000 years old, but almost twice as old as the next oldest dog, placing the Goyet dog in the Aurignacian period.

A Time of Change

The Goyet dog fossil shows that the domestication of the first animal was roughly contemporaneous with two fascinating developments in Europe.

Around this time, Europeans began producing objects that are recognizable as art. Some of the earliest known art objects from Europe include the remarkable cave paintings of Chauvet Cave in France, the oldest of which were made 32,900 ± 490 years ago. None of the hundreds of glorious Chauvet paintings show wolves. However, the cave preserves something even more haunting: the footprints of a human child about four-and-a-half feet tall, as well as many footprints of large canids and bears.

Around 33,000 years ago, humans began perforating teeth for use in decoration. Although canid teeth made up a very small percentage of the total fauna teeth available, they were used in a majority of the ornaments. Fangs from foxes and wolves appear to have been favorites. One example of a perforated wolf tooth (shown in two views at right) is from Abri Castanet in France and has been dated to 33,000 years ago. A strand of beads interspersed with fox teeth came from the Russian site of Sungir and has been dated to 24,000 years ago (left). There is no specific evidence that canid teeth were used in necklaces; the fox-teeth strand may have been a belt.
Randall White

Michel-Alain Garcia of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nanterre noticed in 1999 that one track of canid prints appears to accompany the child’s prints. These canid prints, unlike the others, have a shortened middle digit on the front paw: a characteristic of dogs. Garcia suggested that the child and dog might have explored the cave together. Charcoal from a torch the child carried is 26,000 years old.

The Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe are famous for the flowering of all kinds of exquisite art: sculptures, carvings, paintings and engravings. Animals are common and readily recognizable subjects. Prehistoric art expert Paul Bahn notes that depictions of carnivores, including wolves or dogs, and of humans are rare. Bahn conjectures that portraying wolves and humans might have been taboo.

Anne Pike-Tay of Vassar College offers another perspective. She observes that the scarcity of artistic depictions of carnivores parallels their scarcity in the fossil faunas of the Upper Paleolithic. If domesticated dogs were helping humans hunt, she speculates that they might have been placed in a completely different symbolic category from other animals.

“What if dogs were put in the ‘human family’ category as an extension of the hunter, and like humans, warranted no (or very few) painted or engraved depictions?” she wonders.

The second development of the Aurignacian period is the appearance of objects of personal adornment: jewelry. Although beads and perforated objects occurred much earlier in Africa, the earliest such objects in Europe appeared about 40,000 years ago. At 33,000 years ago, early Aurignacian people began perforating animal teeth (and occasionally human teeth) to wear as pendants or other ornaments, such as belts.

Which teeth did they choose? Among their favorite sources are what have been identified as fangs of foxes and wolves. These identifications might better be termed “small or large canids,” because until now no one has considered the possibility that dogs might have been domesticated so long ago. Besides, identifying a single canid tooth specifically as dog or wolf would be difficult, if not impossible.

Randall White of New York University argues that Aurignacian and later people chose to wear objects that displayed their identity or membership in a certain group or clan. Like gang colors or a t-shirt that proclaims its wearer to be a fan of a particular band, ancient people wore things that made their allegiances clear.

Fossils have helped to establish a far earlier timeframe for dog domestication. A paleolithic canid skull from Goyet in Belgium, about 31,000 years old, has traits characteristic of a dog rather than a wolf (a). When compared to wolves from a similar era, one from Trou Ballu (b) and one from Trou des Nutons (c) in France, the Goyet dog has a relatively wider snout and larger carnassial teeth, and it also has a wider braincase.
Elsevier Ltd.

White observes that the teeth Aurignacian people chose to wear were obviously not a random sample of the animals in the fauna. For example, the fauna from the Grotte des Hyènes (Cave of Hyenas) at Brassempouy, France, is dominated by horses, aurochs (a type of cattle) and reindeer—mostly as food remains that often show cutmarks or charring—as well as hyenas, which probably lived in the cave when humans did not. Wolves are rare, making up less than 3 percent of the total fauna. Of approximately 1,600 animal teeth at Brassempouy, only about 2 percent were modified for use as ornaments. However, nearly two-thirds of the ornaments are teeth of wolves or foxes. The rest of the perforated teeth are from other rare species: bear, humans and red deer. None of the teeth of the most common species were used as ornaments at Brassempouy.

Did someone who wore a perforated canid tooth 33,000 years ago proclaim him- or herself to be one of the group that domesticated dogs?

Possibly. Domesticating dogs was a remarkable human achievement that doubtless provided a definite selective advantage to those who accomplished it successfully. They might well have had reason to brag about their accomplishment by wearing canid teeth.


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