Few traces remain of the domesticated dogs that populated the Americas before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. On page 81 of this issue, Ní Leathlobhair et al. (1) shed light on the origins of the elusive precontact dog population through genetic analysis of ancient and modern dogs. Building on earlier work, they show that American dogs alive today have almost no ancestry from precontact dogs, a monophyletic lineage descended from Arctic dogs that accompanied human migrations from Asia. Instead, the authors found that their closest remaining relative is a global transmissible cancer carrying the DNA of a long-deceased dog. It remains unclear why precontact dogs survived and thrived for thousands of years in the Americas only to swiftly and almost completely disappear with the arrival of Europeans.
From the article I would add:
It is unclear why there is so little evidence today of this thriving precontact dog population. Early European colonists may have discouraged the sale and breeding of native dogs, or even actively persecuted them (10). Yet, cultural preferences alone seem insufficient to explain their rapid decline. Most dogs worldwide are free-breeding scavengers, with minimal human control and high reproductive rates (11); native American dogs were likely similar.
There is a chart in the same article that shows the first human sites in the Americas were about 15,000 years ago with the oldest dog remains, also in America, being about 10,000 years ago.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post Talking to One’s Dog. Many of you stopped by and left your comments, all of which was to confirm how much speaking to your dogs (and cats) is part of normal life for you.
I finished that post writing:
Let me close by reminding all you good people of yet another wonderful aspect of the relationship between humans and dogs. In that we all know the dog evolved from the grey wolf. But had you pondered on the fact that wolves don’t bark! Yes, they howl but they do not bark.
There is good science to underpin the reason why dogs evolved barking; to have a means of communicating with us humans.
Every person who has a dog in their life will instinctively understand the meaning of most, if not all, of the barks their dog utters.
Anyway, I was going through some websites yesterday and, quite by chance, came across that science that I referred to above. It was in a Care2 article published last September and I am republishing it below.
Yes, Dogs Apparently Do Understand What We’re Saying
You might want to start spelling out some words around your dog. According to a new study, not only do dogs comprehend what we’re trying to tell them by the tone of our voices, but they can also even understand what it is we’re saying — sort of.
Neuroscientist Attila Andics and his fellow researchers at the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest discovered that just like human brains, a dog’s brain reacts to both the meaning of a word and how it is spoken. Just like us, the left hemisphere of a dog’s brain responds to meaning, while the right hemisphere responds to intonation.
The study, published August 30 in the journal Science, shows that even non-primate mammals who cannot speak can still comprehend the meanings of words in a speech-filled environment. This suggests that the ability of our brains to process words is not unique to humans, and may have evolved much earlier than previously thought.
Not only could these results help make communicating with our dogs more efficient, but the study sheds new light on the origin of words during language evolution. “What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them,” Andics said in a press release.
While previous studies have observed dogs to see how they understand us, this is the first one that took a look inside their brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The 13 participants were all family pets. They included six border collies, five golden retrievers, a Chinese crested dog and a German shepherd.
To be tested, the dogs were first trained to lie still for eight minutes in the MRI machine while wearing headphones and a radio-frequency coil. (Based on the wagging tail of a Golden Retriever in the video below, this didn’t seem to bother at least one of the participants.) Their brain activity was recorded as they listened to a recording of their trainer saying, in both positive and neutral tones, words of praise – like “Good boy!” and “Well done!” – as well as neutral words like “however” and “as if.”
Not too surprisingly, the positively spoken positive words got a big reaction in the reward centers of the dogs’ brains. The positive words spoken neutrally and neutral words spoken with positive tones? Not so much.
Regardless of how they were spoken, the dogs processed the meaningful words in the left hemisphere of their brains. They processed intonation in the right hemisphere.
“There’s no acoustic reason for this difference,” Andics told Science. “It shows that these words have meaning to dogs. They integrate the two types of information to interpret what they heard, just as we do.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean dogs understand every single thing we say (although a Border Collie named Chaser understands over 1,000 words, which is pretty doggone remarkable).
Julie Hecht, a Ph.D. student studying canine behavior and cognition at City University of New York, offers this advice in Scientific American: “Before discussing this with your dog — ‘I knew you could understand me this whole time!’ — the caveat to this research is that a dog processing words — registering, ‘Ah! That’s familiar!’ — and a dog understanding words as you intend are not necessarily the same thing.”
Photo credit: Thinkstock
I have recounted this example before about how well our dogs listen to Jean and me.
For we take our dogs out for some playtime each day after our lunch. Years ago we used to chat about whether or not to have a cup of tea before taking the dogs for a walk. But pretty quickly once they heard the word “walk’ spoken aloud they were all crowding around the front door.
Then it was a case of spelling out the word: “W – A – L – K”. That lasted for, oh, two or three days.
Then it was using a variety of phrases that we thought would be meaningless to the dogs. That didn’t work!
And on and on.
Now, as soon as we are finishing up our food they are at the door. Jean and I now delay our hot drink to later on!
The most beautiful human – animal relationship in the world!
The last two weeks predominantly have been posts under the umbrella of WordPress’ Writing 101 event. I’m bowing out at the half-way point.
Simply because the arrival of Pedy and the huge pleasure that Jean and I have had from rescuing him meant I wanted to return to writing most of the time about dogs and what we humans can learn from them.
So with that in mind it has been widely reported in recent days about the news that we humans bond with dogs as we do with babies. Let me quote a little from a recent article from the BBC.
Gazing into a dog’s eyes can stimulate the same bonding process that occurs between mother and child.
Presented by Zoe Gough
Eye contact between a mother and her baby strengthens their attachment by activating the so-called ‘love hormone’ – oxytocin – in the mother’s brain.
This drives emotional bonding between parent and offspring by encouraging both nurturing and interactive behaviours.
Studies have shown that stroking or making eye contact with a dog can trigger a similar release of oxytocin in a human’s brain.
Now a team of Japanese scientists have found that the “mutual gaze” between dogs and their owners can lead to a bond that is similar to that between a mother and child, with humans experiencing the same feelings of affection for their dogs as they might do for their family, therefore helping to bring the species closer.
The findings are reported in the journal Science and also note that wolves do not show the same response. Authors suggest this means that the bonding process probably co-evolved in both species as dogs became domesticated.
“It can be said that dogs successfully cohabit with humans because they have been successful in adapting the bonding mechanism to relations with humans,” said lead author Dr Miho Nagasawa, from the School of Veterinary Medicine, Azabu University, Japan.
All of which serves as a wonderful foreword to how the stray dogs manage so successfully to exist on the Moscow subway. I reported on this back in 2011 under the title of The Tenacity of Dogs but immediate neighbours Larry and Janell sent me a link to a much more detailed account of these subway dogs. Here is the remarkable story.
The Life of Subway Dogs
To those of you who own dogs or like them, this should be interesting.
The elite of Moscow’s 35,000 stray dogs are about 500 Russian dogs constantly living in the Moscow subway (Metro). About 50 of subway dogs have learned to ride the trains, commuting from quiet suburbs stations where they spend the night to downtown where it’s easier to get some food.
Each morning, like clockwork, they board the subway, off to begin their daily routine amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. But these aren’t just any daily commuters. These are stray dogs who live in the outskirts of Moscow Russia and commute on the underground trains to and from the city centre in search of food scraps.
Then after a hard day scavenging and begging on the streets, they hop back on the train and return to the suburbs where they spend the night.
Living in the subway is just a survival tactic the Moscow stray dogs have come up with. The subway dogs have figured out how to use the city’s huge and complicated subway system, getting on and off at the stops they need. They recognize the desired station by smell, by recorded announcer’s voice, and by time intervals basing on their biological clocks. Usually they ride first or last car to keep away from crushes.
Experts studying the dogs, who usually choose the quietest carriages at the front and back of the train, say they even work together to make sure they get off at the right stop – after learning to judge the length of time they need to spend on the train.
In Soviet times stray dogs were barred from subway. Moscow Metro’s passengers are so accustomed to dogs on subway – sleeping on empty seats and hanging around stations – that they do not pay any attention.
For these strays the Moscow Metro is their home. The subway dogs get outside to do all their deeds and behave friendly to the passengers. They have very good instincts about people, greeting happily kind passengers and avoiding contacts with intolerant persons. And they always find somebody who will share food with them.
With children the dogs “play cute” by putting their heads on youngsters’ knees and staring pleadingly into their eyes to win sympathy – and scraps.
Dogs are opportunistic and intelligent, and when they figured out they were no longer chased away from the subway stations, they began hopping trains for a lift into the city. The Moscow subway system is a maze that can be confusing for people, but the dogs appear to have learned the system.
Once in the city, the dogs have their own special ways of getting food. Some position themselves outside butcher shops and wait for dog lovers coming out of the shop to toss them a bone. Others have refined a technique of sneaking up behind people who are eating food and surprising them with a loud bark which hopefully scares the person into dropping whatever they’re eating. If the dog is successful in getting the person to drop their food, he grabs his prize and runs.
Packs of stray dogs are led not by the strongest or most dominant member, but by the most intelligent dog in the pack. The dogs understand living among people in a large city requires brains and not muscle to survive. Researchers have observed dog packs selecting pack members that are smaller and cuter than the other ones who are then sent out to beg for food.
The dogs also don’t leave messes laying around where someone can step in them, and they relieve themselves in out of the way spots away from the main traffic areas. The subway riding stray dogs of Moscow have essentially learned how to interact with people and move among them in order to survive.
Aren’t dogs the most remarkable species of animal!
How fundamental reforms of environmental governance are urgently needed.
I must admit that as Post titles go, the one above is about as ‘weighty’ as it comes! But then again, one might argue as Ronald Firbank, a British novelist, was reputedly to have quoted, “The world is so dreadfully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain! ”
One of the great assets of the part of the world where Jean and I live, namely Arizona, is the state university or to give it it’s proper title Arizona State University. The university has an important School of Sustainability and I subscribe to their regular newsletter. But it was Rob I. here in Payson who spotted a recent item and forwarded same to me. Thank goodness because it covered something of supreme relevance to the future.
Fundamental steps needed now in global redesign of Earth system governance
Leading experts from around the world, 4 from Pac-12 colleges, argue for immediate ambitious reforms
Some 32 social scientists and researchers from around the world, including a senior sustainability scholar at Arizona State University, have concluded that fundamental reforms of global environmental governance are needed to avoid dangerous changes in the Earth system. The scientists argued in the March 16 edition of the journal Science that the time is now for a “constitutional moment” in world politics.
Research now indicates that the world is nearing critical tipping points in the Earth system, including on climate and biodiversity, which if not addressed through a new framework of governance could lead to rapid and irreversible change.
“Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years,” wrote the authors in the opening of “Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance.”
Reducing the risk of potential global environmental disaster requires the development of “a clear and ambitious roadmap for institutional change and effective sustainability governance within the next decade,” comparable in scale and importance to the reform of international governance that followed World War II, they wrote.
In particular, the group argued for the creation of a Sustainable Development Council that would better integrate sustainability concerns across the United Nations system. Giving a leading role to the 20 largest economies (G20) would help the council act effectively. The authors also suggested an upgrade of the UN Environment Program to a full-fledged international organization, a move that would give it greater authority and more secure funding
To keep these institutions accountable to the public, the scientists called for stronger consultative rights for representatives of civil society, including representatives from developing countries, NGOs, consumers and indigenous peoples.
“We should seek input from people closest to the ground, not just from the elites, not just at the 30,000-feet level,” noted Kenneth W. Abbott, a professor of international relations in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “Consultations should not take place only at the global scale, where the broadest policies are created, but also at local scales, smaller scales, all scales,” he said.
To improve the speed of decision-making in international negotiations, the authors called for stronger reliance on qualified majority voting. “There has to be a change in international negotiating procedures from the current situation, in which no action can be taken unless consensus is reached among all participating governments,” Abbott said.
The authors also called for governments “to close remaining regulatory gaps at the global level,” including the treatment of emerging technologies.
“A great deal of attention has been given to issues such as climate change, yet nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, which may bring significant benefits, also carry potential risks for sustainable development,” Abbott said.
Relying on research by Abbott and his colleagues at ASU’s College of Law, the authors wrote that emerging technologies “need an international institutional arrangement – such as one or several multilateral framework conventions” to support forecasting and transparency, and to ensure that environmental risks are taken into account.
“Working to make the world economy more green and to create an effective institutional framework for sustainable development will be the two main focal points at this summer’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro,” Abbott said. “This article was written to bring urgency to those discussions and to outline specific ‘building blocks’ for a more effective and sustainable Earth system governance system.”
The authors also argued for increased financial support for poorer nations. “More substantial financial resources could be made available through novel financial mechanisms, such as global emissions markets or air transportation levies for sustainability purposes,” they wrote.
Lead author Frank Biermann, of Free University Amsterdam and Lund University, Sweden, said, “Societies must change course to steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that could lead to rapid and irreversible change. Incremental change is no longer sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed needed to stop Earth system transformation.
“Structural change in global governance is needed, both inside and outside the UN system and involving both public and private actors,” said Biermann, who also is chair of the scientific steering committee of the Earth System Governance Project.
All 32 authors of the Science article are affiliated with the Earth System Governance Project, a global alliance of researchers and leading research institutions, specializing in the scientific study of international and national environmental governance. ASU’s Abbott is one of some 50 lead faculty of the Earth System Governance Project. Lead faculty are scientists of high international reputation who share responsibility for research on earth system governance. Additional information is at http://earthsystemgovernance.org.
Among the other authors of “Navigating the Anthropocene” are: S. Andresen, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway; K. Bäckstrand, Lund University, Sweden; S. Bernstein, University of Toronto, Canada; M. M. Betsill, Colorado State University; H. Bulkeley, Durham University, U.K.; B. Cashore, Yale University; J. Clapp, University of Waterloo, Canada; C. Folke, Stockholm Resilience Centre Stockholm University and Beijer Institute, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden; A. Gupta, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands; J. Gupta, Free University Amsterdam and UNESCO-International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering Institute for Water Education, Netherlands; P. M. Haas, University of Massachusetts at Amherst; A. Jordan, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, U.K.; N. Kanie, Tokyo Institute of Technology and United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, Japan; T. Kluvánková-Oravská, CETIP, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia; L. Lebel, Chiang Mai University, Thailand;
And, D. Liverman, University of Arizona and Oxford University, U.K.; J. Meadowcroft, Carleton University, Canada; R. B. Mitchell, University of Oregon; P. Newell, University of Sussex, U.K.; S. Oberthür, Vrije University, Belgium; L. Olsson, Lund University, Sweden; P. Pattberg, Free University Amsterdam; R. Sánchez-Rodríguez, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico, and University of California, Riverside; H. Schroeder, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, U.K.; A. Underdal, University of Oslo, Norway; S. Camargo Vieira, Universidade de Itaúna, Brazil; C. Vogel, independent scholar, South Africa; O. R. Young, University of California, Santa Barbara; A. Brock, Free University Amsterdam; and R. Zondervan Lund University, Sweden.
In that first paragraph, it was reported that the March 16 edition of the journal Science carried the argument put forward by the scientists. Here the link to that argument which also includes a link to the full text from which I quote the abstract,
Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance
Science assessments indicate that human activities are moving several of Earth’s sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years (1, 2). Human societies must now change course and steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that might lead to rapid and irreversible change (3). This requires fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions toward more effective Earth system governance and planetary stewardship.
The full list of references including the author’s email address can be seen here.