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.