Monday, December 11, 2006

The Wolf Within


Darren Nash at "Tetrapod Zoology" has a very nice piece on the orgins of the domestic dog that is well worth reading. I cover this topic a bit in American Working Terriers, as I did in the post below (from March 11, 2005), as well as here.

Darren also mentions the Russian fox-breeding experiments which I covered here.

If anyone is interested in paleontology, evolution, and the kind of stuff Stephen Jay Gould might be writing (or reading) if he were alive today, check out Darren's site. Some of the Great Questions of our time are mused on here, such as: "Why do British slow-worms look so different from those of mainland Europe? " I dare you to click and find out! This is, let me say unequivocally, a darn good blog.

Meanwhile, a repost from March 11, 2005, because tonight I am too tired to write anything new:

People are not apes, no matter how often such nonsense is asserted by nodding know-nothings. People are people and apes are apes. Both sides know the difference. If you think otherwise, just try to steal a good-night kiss from a gorilla.

And so it is with dogs. Dogs may be descended from proto-wolves, but they are not wolves. They are dogs. They are exactly what they seem, and quite different from what is commonly asserted, especially by facile want-to-be dog trainers who claim everything is about "dominance" as seen in wolf packs.

This is not to say that wolves and dogs are not evolutionarily related -- this is an absolute fact. Dogs descended from wolves, probably through some form of long-lasting pro-wolf phase.

That said, dogs are not wolves anymore than humans are apes. Dogs are dogs.

A wolf, for example, goes into estrus only once a year, generally in February or March. A dog normally goes into estrus twice a year and this can occur in any season.

Dogs are so far removed from wolves that basic evolutionary adaptations for reproduction no longer line up.

A male dog lifts its leg to pee, while a female dog squats to pee. In wolf packs, only the top male and top female raise their legs to pee -- all subordinate animals squat to pee.

Wolves and dogs have drifted so apart from each other that key signals related to hierarchy are no longer shared. Little wonder that dogs lost in wolf country are quickly attacked and frequently eaten!

Dogs bark -- it is their primary vocalization and it is maddeningly common.
Adult wolves bark so rarely that it is almost never heard in the wild.

Wolves and coyotes howl, and do so very frequently -- generally in the early evening just after waking up and before going off to hunt. Dogs almost never howl except under very special conditions and in response to sustained noises that rise and fall -- like human singing or the wail of fire engines. You may have 15 dogs in the yard, but they do not howl for 5 minutes after they get up in the morning as a coyote or a wolf often will do.

Sex and communication -- can there be anything more basic to identity? And yet, the wolf and the dog operate on different wavelengths. This is one reason that in the real world dogs almost never breed with wolves or coyotes. This phenomenon only occurs in captivity or in those very rare instances when a vanguard of the species (a lone coyote or a lone wolf in a very large area devoid of all other wolves and coyotes) may find it impossible to mate with its own kind.

The simple truth is that dogs know they are not wolves, just as wolves know they are not dogs, and humans know they are not apes.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Your main point I agree with - dogs should not be seen as wolves, as they are separated by quite a space of evolutionary time. The other reason not to use dominance techniques on dogs is that we don't fully understand dominance in wolves, and even less so in dogs, and every technique currently used with dogs has failed with wolves in captivity.

One point I'd like to make, though, is that humans ARE classified as a type of ape. I see the point you're trying to make - we're not chimpanzees but, in fact, are descended from a common ancestor with chimps. But we ARE apes. It may be better to make the point by saying we're not chimps.

PBurns said...

Ah, but you are confusing words, political assertions, and obvious reality -- the exact point of the piece.

Calling a human an ape does not make it so, any more than calling a dog's tail a leg gives you a five-legged dog. A dog's tail is a tail no matter what you call it. Similarly, a human is not an ape.

Because a *scientist* somewhere has shoved humans into the "apes" taxonomic group for purposes of illminating evolution, does not actually make it a correct or logical grouping, does it?

It's worth remembering that scientists split and lump species and groups with abandon, and that these splittings and lumpings are driven, to no small degree, by fads.

Clads are a fad. I am not against cladistic analysis for purposes of evolutionary education and illumination, but it is important to recognize that while clads illuminate some important points about evolution, they obscure elemental truths about the animals being grouped.

Take humans and apes, for example.

Humans split off from apes so far back that while we may share a common ancestor (some sort of proto-ape), it is not a common ancestor that has been alive for millions and millions of years.

Because our relations are so far removed from each other, humans and apes do not even share the same number of chromosomes. Apes have 24 pairs (48) chromosomes, while humans have 23 pairs (46).

More obvious difference between humans and apes exist, however, and they are not hard to see with your own eyes.

For example, humans walk upright and as a consequence our entire pelvic ares is different from that of apes. Apes normally walk on all fours, and their pelvic area is poorly constructed for walking, except for short distances.

Apes also do they eat meat on a regular basis. Humans not only eat meat on a regular basis, our entire social structure appears to be arranged around hunting, raising and eating meat.

Apes do not have the vocal cords necessary for speech, and so their communication methods are markedly different and they can drink water while breathing. Humans have vocal cords and cannot drink water while breathing -- a trade off we made many millions of years ago.

And then there is the little issue of hair ears, etc. I will not detail these; they are obvious enough.

One reason folks get confused about humans and apes is that in selling the cause of Great Ape protection (a very good cause), it is often said that humans are 98 percent identical to chimps or gorillas.

There are two problems here. The first is that the data is wrong. g. Chimps and humans only share 87 percent of our genntic make up.
The second problem is that an 87 percent parallel does not tell us much. You see, humans are 75% identical to nematodes which are nothing more than tiny worms! So, in short, nematodes are as similar to chimps as chimps are to us. Smoke that in your pipe!

Finally, it's fun to turn to Mother Nature and ask her directly. And it turns out she will answer. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are walking around with pig parts in them (heart valves, etc.) No one is walking around with a chimp or gorilla anything in them. The reason: our bodies reject all ape parts even though they do not reject all pig parts. Mother Nature is telling us LOUD AND CLEAR that we may be a pig in many ways, but we are definitely not an ape.

So, to come back to it, do not drink the Koolaid of language. A human is not an ape. The apes know it, the surgeons know it, the geneticts know it. Only the clad-loving evolutionary biologists have a different point of view, and that is because they are willing to lose obvious truths in order to teach their issue. I am willing to let them do it, but I am not willing to say an ape is a human, because it is NOT true.