Tag: Pat Shipman

Friendly play between dogs, or what?

An informative article about bullying by dogs.

Another day that almost disappeared as a result of my impending book launch soaking up so much time.


The book should be available for sale by the end of the month, with the launch and book signing taking place locally in Grants Pass on Saturday, December 12th. Followers of this blog will be offered a special discount on the ebook versions once they are released shortly. So if that “rocks your boat” then sign up to follow this blog. Here’s a description of the book:

About the book

There’s a tiny amount of domesticated wolf in all of us. The relationship between canids and humans goes back nearly 40,000 years, when dogs split away from wolves. With our dogs, we have traveled the ancient track from hunter-gatherers to modern humans. However, this track now seems to offer an uncertain future for humankind and society.

Learning from Dogs shows how and why now, more than ever, we humans need to learn from our dogs. At times the book relates personal stories through autobiography, diary, and blog entries. Other times it reinforces a point with speculative and imaginative fictional narrative. Throughout the book, there is a foundation about the history of wolves, dogs, and humans, as the author injects factual research to assist us to more fully understand the importance of this unique relationship.

With just the right blend of humor, story-telling, perception, compassion, and insight, the author shares his unusual perspective and how he came to share what he’s learned through a lifetime of observation and interaction with dogs.

Readers who love dogs, or any animals, will connect with this book and become more fully aware of why our animal friends are valuable to learn from to help us heal the challenges of the 21st century. Occasionally launching into intellectual tangents that will provide intrigue and inspiration for the heart and soul, the book ultimately returns to the central thesis: “What we can (and should) learn from dogs.”

Pat Shipman, retired adjunct professor of anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University, and the author of The Animal Connection and The invaders; How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, described the book as, “both wise and thoughtful. It also includes some of the best writing about the intimate and special relationship between dogs and humans I have ever read.”

The Foreword to the book is by well-known local vet, James R. Goodbrod, Master’s Degree, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

So with no further ado, here is an informative article that was recently published by Mother Nature News and is republished here with their kind permission.


Is your dog a playground bully?

What starts out as rambunctious play can quickly turn into a toothy problem.

By: Jaymi Heimbuch, November 12, 2015.

I'm the boss and you'll do as I say! (Photo: Rita Kochmarjova/Shutterstock)
I’m the boss and you’ll do as I say! (Photo: Rita Kochmarjova/Shutterstock)

You’re at the park with your dog as he finds another four-legged buddy to play with. The two dogs seem to be having fun, but something feels amiss. Your dog is extra rambunctious and is really pushing the other dog around. Maybe the other dog is handling your dog’s overly rough-and-tumble attitude with patience. Or perhaps the other dog begins to hide behind or between his owner’s legs, looking for a break from your bossy dog.

Been in this situation? You just might have a bully on your hands.

Bullying behavior is a bigger problem than simply having a rude dog. In the immediate situation, it can lead to an attack or a fight, and in the long run it can cause the dog’s unappreciative play partner to become fear-aggressive, thinking all dogs are bullies. That’s why it’s important to stop bullying behavior the second you see it and train your dog to play appropriately.

Signs of bullying behavior include:

  • Being overly demanding about getting a toy, attention from people, or other resources
  • Continually standing over or pinning another dog to the ground
  • Ignoring signals from a play partner that the play is too rough or unwanted
  • An escalating intensity when the other dog pushes back or tries to leave

If you have a dog that behaves like a bully on the playground, there are steps you can take to fix the situation, which will benefit both your dog and all the other dogs he wants to play with.

Play can quickly escalate into bullying behavior. Here's how to keep an eye out for it. (Photo: Photick/Shutterstock)
Play can quickly escalate into bullying behavior. Here’s how to keep an eye out for it. (Photo: Photick/Shutterstock)

What causes bullying behavior?

“Over-stimulation often leads to bossy behavior,” says Erin Kramer, an expert dog trainer who specializes in rehabilitating fearful, anxious and aggressive dogs. “This means that as the energy level rises, such as during chasing games, tug of war, or even just enthusiastic wrestling, dogs often become too stimulated and start to ignore signals from other dogs that they are playing too rough or that their interaction is not welcome. Dogs also feed off of each others’ energy, so a group of playing dogs can escalate into over stimulation and bullying behavior faster than a dog would with just one play partner.”

Kramer adds that simply watching how another dog is responding to your dog can tell you if your dog is being a bully. “If the other dogs are attempting to move and stay away, overly submitting by rolling on their backs, or are showing signs of stress or avoidance, that is a good indication your dog may be getting too rough.”

If you aren’t certain if your dog is bullying or if that’s just the play style of the two dogs, Kramer suggests getting a hold of your dog and seeing what happens when you make him take a break from play. If the other dog runs to your dog for more, then the two are getting along fine. But if the other dog maintains space, then the other dog is likely not really enjoying your dog’s rough play behavior and your dog needs to tone it down.

What to do if your dog is the bully

The old advice of letting dogs “work it out themselves” is the source of many problematic behaviors that can take years of training to overcome. Bullies will simply get better at bullying, and the dogs being picked on will likely develop increasingly intense fears about your dog and other dogs. Humans need to step in immediately to break up play that isn’t fun for both dogs, and prevent a bad situation — and bad behavior — from getting worse.

Once you’ve identified that your dog is being unappreciatively assertive with other dogs, it’s important to interrupt the behavior in the moment, then begin training to end the behavior in the long run.

In the moment, call your dog away and have him sit or lie down until he calms down. This can take a long time for a dog easily aroused in a dog park. Your dog is not calm until he can look away from other dogs playing, focus on you and exhibit relaxed body language. If after several minutes, your dog can’t seem to take his eyes off the other dogs and just wants to dive back in, then it’s time to leave the play area as it’s likely your dog won’t be able to tone down his play style.

The next thing is to begin setting your dog up for successful play sessions in such a way that you can easily step in to interrupt bullying behavior the moment it happens.

“If your dog does not have the advanced obedience it takes to perform an off leash ‘come’ out of play — and let’s face it, that’s a really challenging time to respond — then you need to set up your dog to deal with their bullying issues,” advises Kramer. “Have the dog wear a long leash, select a small play area where it’s easy to get control, and practice your obedience training so you are prepared to handle your dog correctly.”

Watch for things that might set your dog into bully mode, including the energy level, the play partner's personality, and other factors. (Photo: Ksenia Raykova/Shutterstock)
Watch for things that might set your dog into bully mode, including the energy level, the play partner’s personality, and other factors. (Photo: Ksenia Raykova/Shutterstock)

During play, look for the timing of your dog’s bullying behavior and see if there are patterns. Kramer notes to watch if it’s a certain type of play partner, such as a high-energy or confident dog, that brings out the bully in your dog, or perhaps it’s simply that your dog bullies more when he hasn’t had as much exercise or training practice.

“If you can find a pattern to what creates or worsens their bullying behavior, then you can take steps to reduce it from happening and set them up for success by choosing more appropriate play partners or getting them increased exercise before play,” says Kramer.

Taking steps to train your dog to end bullying behavior is important, and Atlanta Humane Society has a great article outlining one way to interrupt and retrain your dog to end bullying over the course of many weeks. In addition to solid training addressing bullying during play, it’s important to have other tools to help your dog take the lessons beyond the dog park.

One lesson that Kramer notes is essential for pushy dogs is concept “Nothing In Life Is Free.” Teach your dog that he only gets the rewards he wants most in life when he thinks about what his human wants. Your dog will then continually check in with you, so he can earn what he wants.

“Demanding dogs are often dogs who need to know, ‘what’s in it for me?'” says Kramer. “Start making an asset list of all the things your dog sees as valuable. Remember that there are things that should go on the list outside of just treats and toys such as going through the front door, playing with friends, greeting strangers, even tummy rubs and snuggle time. Instead of giving away all those valuable rewards, ask your dog to earn them by performing commands like sit, down, stay, come, or doing a trick. Your dog will still get access to all of the things he likes, but he’ll have to earn those things from humans and in doing so, he’ll learn that pushy behavior doesn’t get rewarded. Once they learn this skill, they will be less bully-ish in general, and much more willing to listen to people when you need to get their attention.”

You can also implement a “no reward marker” or NRM, which works in the same way as clicker training, but rather than the marker indicating that a reward is coming, the marker indicates a loss of something is coming. Pat Miller writes in Whole Dog Journal, “My preferred NRM, the one I teach and use if/when necessary, is the word ‘Oops!’ [which] simply means, ‘Make another behavior choice or there will be an immediate loss of good stuff.’ An NRM is to be delivered in a non-punitive tone of voice … Timing is just as important with your NRM as it is with your reward marker. You’ll use it the instant your dog’s bully behavior appears, and if the bullying continues for more than a second or two more, grasp his leash … and remove him from play. Don’t repeat the NRM. Give him at least 20 seconds to calm down, more if he needs it, then release him to go play again.”

Sharing is caring! (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)
Sharing is caring! (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

What to do if your dog is being bullied

You may have an issue with a bullying dog, but it isn’t your dog causing the strife. It’s just as important to step in to interrupt your dog getting picked on. Again, letting dogs “work it out themselves” leads to significant behavioral problems, including a bullied dog becoming excessively fearful or reactive to other dogs because of the bad experience of being bullied.

“This mindset is just much too risky!” says Kramer. “We the humans very often do not know the social skill level of the other dogs involved nor can we successfully know exactly how stressed or scared our own dog is in that situation. I would much rather a dog learn that his humans step in when he is showing signs of discomfort rather than him learning he is forced to defend himself, and that being fear-aggressive is a good strategy to keep himself safe.”

If you see that your dog is getting picked on or is uncomfortable in a play situation, calmly but confidently step in. You can leash your dog and leave, or step between your dog and the other dog to break up play. Staying calm but assertive is key, since your reaction sends a message to your dog. Screaming and yelling at the dogs to break it up tells your dog that this is a scary situation, where as firmly stepping in lets your dog knows that what happened was uncomfortable but nothing to be scared about.

“By demonstrating to your dog that you are responsible and actively engaged in keeping them safe, they will gain confidence in handling tricky social situations and will be less fearful and reactive when negative experiences arise,” says Kramer.

“As a trainer who does a lot of aggression rehabilitation work with dogs who have been bullied or attacked by other dogs, there is a particular joy I get in watching fearful dogs learn that they are no longer responsible for protecting themselves, and that I as their human handler will observe the body language messages they send me and will then take the steps needed to alleviate their discomfort. There is a bond that comes with such a system of partnership that makes a dog a more confident, social, and happy being. Allowing your dog to bully or be bullied means that you are undermining that system, and teaching your dog that they are on their own in learning how to make successful social decisions. With just a bit of observation, intervention and repetition you can help your dog learn the boundaries of positive social interaction and you will not only have a dog who is a better playmate, you will also have a stronger relationship altogether.”


To my mind, this is a very helpful article and all the links offer a wealth of supporting information.

Pharaoh demonstrating his benevolent status with puppy Cleo. April 2012.
Pharaoh demonstrating his benevolent status with puppy Cleo. April 2012.

A return to integrity

Can we mend our broken ways? Just possibly.

Yesterday’s long rant was the outcome of me promising ‘a debate’ with Patrice Ayme.  Succinctly, I had disagreed with a comment from Patrice where he had written: “Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.” and wanted to respond within the space of a post rather than the more restrictive comment.

For my disagreement with Patrice had been essentially about his statement, ‘Force is the truth of man‘.  I don’t recall a war in the last 50 years that has been a force for good.

But then it was Alex’s comment, see below, that stopped me short.  For I realised that I was confusing ‘force’ with ‘war’ and that was probably a big mistake on my behalf.  Of course, I’m writing this without the benefit of knowing better what Patrice meant in his comment! Blogging, as powerful a media as it is, does not provide for immediate interaction!

Nevertheless, Alex’s comment yesterday was powerfully inspirational.  Because so many of us (and I include me in that ‘us’) all too often behave as though we are a species utterly divorced from Nature.

I closed yesterday’s post with these words;

So what to do?  Because I am fundamentally at odds with the sentiment expressed by Patrice Ayme; “Force is the truth of man. Everything else is delusion, even the vegetarian style.

The answer takes us to tomorrow’s post, A return to integrity.

And, yes, it does mention dogs!  Rather a lot as it happens!

Dogs are the one species that man has lived with longer than any other species.  So when we refer to the qualities of the dog it is simply because we are so familiar with them.  In no way does that exclude the numerous other species that bond with man and share the same wonderful qualities.

Qualities so easily seen: Love, Honesty, Loyalty, Trust, Openness, Faithfulness, Forgiveness and Affection. Together they are Integrity.

Of course dogs will kill a rabbit, for example, as readily as a cat will kill a mouse.  In this respect force is the truth of Nature.

The only way for species man to survive on this planet is for every element of man’s existence on this planet to be rethought of in terms of the natural order.  Read the comment left by Alex in yesterday’s post:

Hi Paul, what you highlight are examples of disconnection between humanity with nature and each other. I have on my own blog highlighted a concept of Ubuntu – “I am because we are” – which is only possible when the self realises they are part of an inter-connected network of life. Your example of islands of fragmented forest where disconnected wildlife are dying out is how it is with disconnected humanity, we are doomed to destruction because we are cut off from the life-giving connection to nature.

All the problems you highlight are symptoms of the disease of disconnection, until there is reconnection to nature none of these symptoms can be successfully addressed.

War is an integral part of nature, when people seek to dismiss this then they add to the disconnection from nature. I was stung in the face by a drunken wasp a few days ago, this is how it is with nature, it is beautiful but also brutal. Peace and balance are illusions, life is in a becoming because of unbalance and strife. I advocate harmony, like a downhill skier we do not seek to control our surroundings, but instead act in harmony by moving around the obstacles such as rock and tree.

Disconnection can be as large as destroying whole forests by ignorant energy policies to those idiots who kicked a puffball to pieces before I could harvest it, or the new owners of my former home who have taken a chainsaw to all the trees and bushes in the garden. People who are disconnected do not consider how their actions impact nature or people contrary to the philosophy of Ubuntu.

I am because we are!” Each and every one of us is where we are today, for good or ill, because of what we are: part of Nature.  It’s so incredibly obvious – we are a natural species – yet who reading this wouldn’t admit at times to behaving “as though we are a species utterly divorced from Nature.”

Millions of us have pets and animals that we love.  Yet we still miss the key truth of our pets.  That we are a part of Nature, subject to Natural order, just as much as our pets are.  We have so much to learn from our animals.

Take this rather sad story but, nonetheless, a formidable story of the integrity of one species for another.  Watch the video.


Take this rather happier story about the integrity of one species for another. Watch the video.


Thus when we see the extraordinary benefits that arise from love and trust, from loyalty and faithfulness, and much more, why oh why is so much of our society fundamentally broken?

As John Hurlburt wrote in a recent email, it is because, “we are spiritual bankrupt. We spend too much of our time thinking about ourselves and what we want and too little of our time thinking about other people and what we all need.”  John went on to add that this spiritual bankruptcy had preceded our moral and economical bankruptcy. He pointed out that the solution to our moral and financial problems, as well as our salvation as individuals and as a species, is spiritual. “We simply need to love the Nature of God, the earth and each other regardless of what we may believe God to be.”

Now whether you are a religious soul, or a heathen, or somewhere in the middle, it matters not.  For if we continue to defy Nature and the natural laws of this planet we are going to be dust before the end of this century.  Again in John’s powerful words:

Denying climate change is a death wish.

Nature always wins in the long run.

Nature is balanced. Are we?

As if to endorse the great examples that Nature offers us in terms of the benefits of love and trust, take a look at these three recent photographs from here in Oregon.

A young timid deer responding to me sitting quietly on the ground.
A young timid deer showing her trust of me as I sat quietly on the ground less than 30 feet away.


A mother and her fawn trusting Jean's love for them, and getting a good feed!
A mother and her fawn trusting Jean’s love for them, and getting a good feed!


Sweeny, on back of settee, and Cleo in peace and comfort.
Little Sweeny and Cleo converting trust to peace and happiness.  (Not to mention Jean!)

Now these are not photographs to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over, these are reminders that kindness, generosity, selflessness and trust are part of Nature.  All the great virtues and values of man do not come from a vacuum, they come to us via Nature.

We have been blessed by an evolution that has allowed mankind to achieve remarkable things.  Even to the point of leaving the confines of our planet and setting foot on the Moon and sending probes from out of our Solar System.  There’s a sense, a distinctly tangible sense, that man has conquered all; that we have broken the link from being part of Nature; from being of Nature.

And now Mother Earth is reminding all of her species, every single one of them including species man, that everything is bound by her Natural Laws.

Does this mean that man has to revert to some form of pre-civilised stone-age era?  Of course not!  Progress can be as much within the Natural order than in competition with it, as it has been in recent times.  In fact, Professor Pat Shipman explains our progress is benefited by being part of that Natural order.  Here’s how Amazon describe her book, The Animal Connection.

The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human

A bold, illuminating new take on the love of animals that drove human evolution.

Why do humans all over the world take in and nurture other animals? This behavior might seem maladaptive—after all, every mouthful given to another species is one that you cannot eat—but in this heartening new study, acclaimed anthropologist Pat Shipman reveals that our propensity to domesticate and care for other animals is in fact among our species’ greatest strengths. For the last 2.6 million years, Shipman explains, humans who coexisted with animals enjoyed definite adaptive and cultural advantages. To illustrate this point, Shipman gives us a tour of the milestones in human civilization-from agriculture to art and even language—and describes how we reached each stage through our unique relationship with other animals. The Animal Connection reaffirms our love of animals as something both innate and distinctly human, revealing that the process of domestication not only changed animals but had a resounding impact on us as well.

It’s a powerful read and greatly recommended.  Here’s an extract from the book [page 274, my emphasis]:

Clearly, part of the basis of our intimacy with tame or domesticated animals involves physical contact.  People who work with animals touch them.  It doesn’t matter if you are a horse breeder, a farmer raising pigs, a pet owner, a zoo keeper, or a veterinarian, we touch them, stroke them, hug them.  Many of us kiss our animals and many allow them to sleep with us.  We touch animals because this is a crucial aspect of the nonverbal communication that we have evolved over millennia.  We touch animals because it raises our oxytocin levels – and the animal’s oxytocin levels.  We touch animals because we and they enjoy it.

From the first stone tool to the origin of language and the most recent living tools, our involvement with animals has directed our course.

So to round this off.  These last two posts came from my need to debate with Patrice the statement that “Force is the truth of man.”  If Patrice’s meaning was that the truth of man is subject to the force of Nature, then I agree one-hundred percent.

For the time for man to recognise that the force of Nature is “the truth of man” is running out.

Each of us, whoever you are, for the sake of your children and for all of the children in the world, embrace today the qualities, the values of Nature.

Love, Honesty, Loyalty, Trust, Openness, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Affection.

(Unknown author)

If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,

If you can face the world without lies and deceit,

If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, colour, religion or politics,

Then, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog.

Let us learn from dogs.

Let us return to integrity.

What is love?

How the relationship that we have with domesticated animals taught us the meaning of love.

This exploration into the most fundamental emotion of all, love, was stimulated by me just finishing Pat Shipman’s book The Animal Connection.  Sturdy followers of Learning from Dogs (what a hardy lot you are!) will recall that about 5 weeks ago I wrote a post entitled The Woof at the Door which included an essay from Pat, republished with her permission, that set out how “Dogs may have been man’s best friend for thousands of years longer than we realized“.

The following day, I wrote a further piece introducing the book and then commenced reading it myself.  Please go there and read about the praise that the book has received.

What I want to do is to take a personal journey through love.  I should add immediately that I have no specialist or professional background with regard to ‘love’ just, like millions of others, a collection of experiences that have tapped me on the shoulder these last 67 years.

I would imagine that there are almost as many ideas about the meaning of love as there are people on this planet.  Dictionary.com produces this in answer to the search on the word ‘love’.


[luhv]  noun, verb, loved, lov·ing.

  1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
  2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
  3. sexual passion or desire.
  4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person;sweetheart.
  5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection,or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?

But, I don’t know about you, those definitions leave something missing for me.  Here’s my take on what love is, and it’s only by having so many dogs in my life that I have found this clarity of thought.

Love is trust, love is pure openness, love is knowing that you offer yourself without any barriers.  Think how you dream of giving yourself outwardly in the total surrender of love.  Reflect on that surrender that you experience when deeply connecting, nay loving, with your dog.

Here’s how Pat Shipman expressed it in her book:

Clearly, part of the basis of our intimacy with tame or domesticated animals involves physical contact.  People who work with animals touch them.  It doesn’t matter if you are a horse breeder, a farmer raising pigs, a pet owner, a zoo keeper, or a veterinarian, we touch them, stroke them, hug them.  Many of us kiss our animals and many allow them to sleep with us.  We touch animals because this is a crucial aspect of the nonverbal communication that we have evolved over millennia.  We touch animals because it raises our oxytocin levels – and the animal’s oxytocin levels.  We touch animals because we and they enjoy it. (p.274)

Pat soon after writes,

From the first stone tool to the origin of language and the most recent living tools, our involvement with animals has directed our course.

Thus it is not beyond reason to presume that tens of thousands of years of physical and emotional closeness between humans and their animals have developed the emotion of love in us humans, so eloquently expressed in art and life.

There’s another aspect of what we may have learned from dogs.  In Alexandra Horowitz’s book Inside of a Dog, she writes of the way that dogs look at us,

Having been folded into the world of humans, dogs no longer needed some of the skills that they would to survive on their own.  As we’ll see, what dogs lack in physical skills, they make up for in people skills.


There is one final, seemingly minor difference between the two species.  This one small behavioral variation between wolves and dogs has remarkable consequences.  The difference is this: dogs look at our eyes.

Dogs make eye contact and look to us for information – about the location of food, about our emotions, about what is happening.  Wolves avoid eye contact.  In both species, eye contact can be a threat: to stare is to assert authority.  So too is it with humans.  In one of my undergraduate psychology classes, I have my students do a simple field experiment wherein they try to make and hold eye contact with everyone they pass on campus.  Both they and those on the receiving end of their stares behave remarkably consistently: everyone can’t wait to break eye contact.  It’s stressful for the students, a great number of whom suddenly claim to be shy: they report their hearts begin to race and they start sweating when simply holding someone’s gaze for a few seconds.  They concoct elaborate stories on the spot to explain why someone looked away, or held their gaze for a half second longer.  For the most part, their staring is met with deflected gazes from those they eyeball.

Then a few sentences later, Alexandra continues to write,

Dogs look, too.  Though they have inherited some aversion to staring too long at eyes, dogs seem to be predisposed to inspect our faces for information, for reassurance, for guidance.  Not only is this pleasing to us – there is a certain satisfaction in gazing deep into a dog’s eyes gazing back at you – it is also perfectly suited to getting along with humans. (pps 45-46)

No apologies for now inserting the photograph of Pharaoh that adorns the Welcome page of Learning from Dogs.  Underlines what Alexandra wrote above in spades.

Now that is a gaze!

OK, time to start bringing this to a close.

The Toronto Star ran a great review of Pat Shipman’s book from which I will just take this snippet,

“But understanding animals and empathizing with them also triggered other changes in humanity’s evolution, Shipman said.

All those things allow people to live with people. Once people have domesticated animals, they start to live in stable groups. They have fields, crops and more permanent dwellings.”

In other words, we can see that living with animals took us from nomadic hunter-gatherers to living with other people in stable groups; the birth of farming.  It is my contention that the evolution of communities and the resulting more stable relationships elevated love leading to love becoming a higher order emotion than just associated with the ‘grunt’ of reproduction.

I started by saying that it was Pat Shipman’s book that stimulated me to wander through my own consciousness and realise that when I bury my face in the side of one of the dogs, say on the bed, it resonates with the most ancient memories in my human consciousness.  Indeed, I am of no doubt that my openness and emotional surrender to that dog enables me to be a better, as in more loving, person for Jean.

So let me close this essay by asking you to return here and read the guest post tomorrow from author Eleanore MacDonald, where Eleanore writes of the loss of their dog Djuna.  You will read the most precious and heart-rending words about love.  Thank you.

Prof. Pat Shipman

Pat Shipman showing how animals were intimately involved in the development of early humans.

Yesterday’s fascinating post was predominately taken up by a long and deeply interesting essay by Prof. Pat Shipman, The Woof at the Door.

Today, I want to report further on Pat Shipman primarily by looking at her book The Animal Connection.

What makes us human?

Let me do no more than quote from page 259,

Domesticating animals provided a new sort of benefit.  They were living tools first and meat sources later, only when their useful lives were over or circumstances required.  The crucial importance of animal domestication in modern life shows that our relationship with animals selected for a set of communication skills and abilities to observe, draw conclusions and make connections among different observations that had been increasingly important since at least 2.6 million years ago.  The relationship between such skills and modern behaviors that characterize humanity is clear.

Prof. Shipman also confirms that the first domestication was of the dog at 32,000 years ago and goes on to say,

Other types of domestic animals provide enhanced protection for people, dwellings, stored crops, and other livestock.  Dogs and cats are the obvious examples, but herders have recently started touting llamas as guardians for flocks of sheep.

The domesticated carnivores also provide important assistance in hunting.  Dogs are better trackers than humans; they are faster runners, take larger prey, and will hunt with humans.  Cats hunt solitarily and are far superior to humans at catching rodents that can decimate crops or carry disease.  Dogs hunt with you; cats hunt for you; but both offer an advantage. (p.254)

As I said, it’s a fascinating book and one that is already reshaping my knowledge about the early evolution of man.  And in terms of reshaping knowledge about early man, do go across to Pat Shipman’s Blog, The Animal Connection.

You can read a full review with links to a number of book sellers here.  Let me close by using this praise for the book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.  (Masson’s book Dogs Never Lie About Love is just a few feet from me as I write this, a deeply moving book for all dog lovers.)

This is what Jeffrey Masson wrote about The Animal Connection,

Pat Shipman has written one of the most important books on the human-animal connection ever.  One might even say it is the single most important book, possibly the only one, to look at our deep connection to animals over the entire evolutionary history of our species.

The oldest bond in the world!

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.


  • Germonpré, M., et al. 2009. Fossil dogs and wolves from Paleolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 36:473–490.
  • Morey, D. F. 1994. The early evolution of the domestic dog. American Scientist 82:336–347.
  • Ostrander, E. A. 2007. Genetics and the shape of dogs. American Scientist 95:406–413.
  • Savolainen, P., et al. 2002. Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of domestic dogs. Science 298:1610–1613.
  • Trut, L. N. 1999. Early canid domestication: The farm-fox experiment. American Scientist 87:160–169.
  • Vilà, C., et al. 1997. Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276:1687–1689.

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