Friday, June 17, 2016

A Wolf is Not a Dog, and Vice Versa

To dog men, there is nothing quite as amusing as the folks who claim a dog is a wolf.

It's amusing, because the animals themselves are always ignored.

As I have noted in the past, the true experts on dogs have tails. People always assume I mean they are a dog, but in fact sometimes they are fox, a wolf, or a squirrel.

When a dog meets a wolf in the wild, what happens next is not romance but lunch or a terror-filled dash for survival. It's not hard to understand why:  dogs and wolves have very little to do with each other. They do not come into estrus at the same time  of year, do not vocalize the same, do not show and demonstrate rank the same, and are not close to being the same size in 99.99 percent of all cases.

Dog trainer Gary Wilkes notes that "Good science does not propose rules that are not confirmed by an objective observation of nature. Good science reveals nature as it is. If reality contradicts science, then it’s not really science."

Or, to put it another way, the real experts with dogs, have a tail. This is as true in taxonomy as it is in dog training. For years, scientists have lumped species in zoos that looked and acted identical, but would never cross-mate. The reason:  the animals knew what the scientists did not.

The very idea of "species" is problematic, as it assumes rigid line.  In fact, a very large number of creatures are not speciated, but speciating.  Most of the Big Cats can cross breed and produce fertile young, and they sometimes do so in zoos or other "prison planet" situations, but no one says a tiger is the same species as a lion, which is the same species as a cougar, which is the same species as a leopard.  A grizzly bear can cross breed with a polar bear, and the progeny are always fertile, but no one thinks they are the same species. The animals themselves clearly do not!

So what's the desperate need for a dog to be a wolf all about?

Some of it is due to the need some people have to cock up an "origins" story for the wolf.

Some of it is due to too many scientists chasing too few research dollars.  A dog-and-wolf story always gets headlines which, it is hoped, will result in more funding for bread and soup.

A lot of it, however, is the fact that people want to think there is some semblance of the wild in their living room.

We cut down Christmas trees for the same reason, put pine cones and rocks on our mantles, burnish the natural grain in our oak floors, and put flower prints on the sofa.

We adorn ourselves with the scent of gardenia, put leather on our feet, put landscapes on the wall, and cook slabs of red meat over a grill in the back yard.

And the fat dog asleep on the couch with his collar and tags?  The one that is scared of the neighbor's cat?  He's a wolf of course; the proud descendant of arctic killers.

To which I can only smile.  Of course he is.


jeffrey thurston said...

I don't know if I can do this again :). I would say that some "dog men" should look at why the idea that their dogs are just a domesticated version of the wolf is so hard to swallow. Yes, little Fifi on the couch is a wolf- at least genetically and taxonomically. Canis (dog) is in the name of the wolf- which is simply a wild undomesticated dog. By your logic an Australian aborigine is not a human...

PBurns said...

I'm very comfortable in you being wrong Jeffrey. :) So is the dog and the wolf. So are the people who own both dogs and wolves. So is the law. Dogs are "man's best friend." Wolves are so different, they have been hunted to near-extinction all over the world and wherever humans are found in any density at all.

jeffrey thurston said...

I give up... Uncle!

Dan O said...

I have read that there is really no such thing as a true wolf in the wild, any longer, because of the extensive cross breeding with dogs. Here's on citation:

Greg Mu said...

Jeffrey seems to be confusing 'species' with 'genus'. And/or he just doesn't understand the newly accepted history of Canis: modern Canis lupus and Canis familiaris are two different branches of an extinct Canis species from nearly 50,000 years ago.

jeffrey thurston said...

Jeffrey is NOT confused- Greg is! A dog is a SUB-species of the wolf- possibly from an extinct SUB-species from around 30,000 years BCE. This extinct species was Canis Lupus X- an extinct Canis Lupus. Speciation rarely occurs in 50,000 years- genetically wolves and dogs are as close to each other as all "races" of modern human. A coyote is a different species- it diverged 1,000,000 years ago or so- yet it is close enough to the dog or wolf to breed. There are SUB-species of wolves extant today which are further apart genetically than the dog and the Eurasian wolf- wolves here in America I believe fit into that category. When we discuss the the difference between dogs and wolves we are NOT discussing the difference between two species- the dog has been officially Canis Lupus Familiaris since the early 90s. It does not sit well for some people emotionally but it is a fact. A dog is VERY different from a wolf behaviorally and visually but not genetically or taxanomically. (sp?) I am not a canine geneticist but I can read and use a computer- I also have a calibrated bullshitometer. I suggest Greg slog his way through the 10 or so Wikipedia articles on this and straighten himself out!

PBurns said...

Species -- an idea invented by people.
Subspecies -- an idea invented by people
Genus - an idea invented by people.

None of the terms, above, have simple and agreed definitions. There is barely an animal or plant on the earth that has not been moved from one taxonomic tree to another. And yes, each move has had all kinds of people explaining their theories!

But the world of plants and animals is not theory-based; it's reality based.

What that means is that we know the reality of what happens when you look out into forest, field, farm, and fen. The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) knows it is a Mallard and not a Black Duck (Anas rubripes) and it acts accordingly. Cross breeding is rare even though it happens and there is a little Black Duck inside ever Mallard. So what? Different species because the animals knows it is different. Ditto for so many other species up and down the line -- Barred Owls (Strix varia) and Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis), nearly every species of trout, many species of parrots. etc. The fact that cross-pollination can occur is not considered meaningful because cross-pollination generally does not occur 99.9999 percent of the time. Different species, no question, no debate, at least among the owls, parrots, ducks, trout, bears, bobcats, lions, etc.

Just as ducks and parrots, brown trout, and polar bears know what speces they are, so too do wolves and dogs. They know who they are in Montana and in Mexico, in Italy and Spain, in Iran and in Kazakhstan.

The idea that animals do not speciate in a few thousands years is simply not true. They do, and they do it fairly often. Evolution is not a clock with a constant tick -- it jumps and stalls, runs fast, and runs slow. We can see it with dogs, easy enough. Primitive dogs, such as the Basenji, once brought into domestication, have changed their basic biology in less than 80 years. Wow! In evolutionary terms, moving from one estrus cycle per year to two is HUGE. And yet, we see it don't we? The reason for that is a Basenji, though a very primitive dog, is pretty far removed from being a wolf. It knows it's a dog. The wolf knows it's a dog. And so when I Basenji is brought into the modern world, it quickly moves to two-estrus cycles among at least a portion of the population. You know what doesn't? A wolf. One estrus cycle, not matter what.

The other differences between wolves and dogs are long, and impact every part of communication, appearance, social order, whelping, and feeding. NOTHING is the same. Not a thing. But, of course, the theorist does not run to the dog or the wolf -- he or she runs to the book and the lamp. It's all about the words in a book rather than the animal with four feet, one tail, and very different ways of reproducing, mating, communicating, and feeding.

No matter. The wolf knows what it is, and the dog knows what it is, so too do the primitive dogs that have evolved under western domestication in less time than I have been alive.

The experts always have tails, and vote with their feet.

jeffrey thurston said...

Patrick you write beautifully and passionately! I'll guess I'll take the label "theorist" because unlike yours my argument is scientific- not philosophical and semantic. Argue all you want about this particular subject but scientifically I'm correct. A wolf is a wild dog and a dog is a domesticated wolf. This IS a theory- all scientific ideas which have been proven over and over are theories- ( Theory of Evolution, Big Bang Theory etc.) you're confusing hypothesis with theory. Your two estrus cycle/one estrus cycle example isn't valid- just as quickly dingos (Canis LUPUS Dingo) have reverted back to one estrus cycle when left in the wild for 5,000 years. This has nothing to do with the scientific definition of speciation- like Greg you confuse SUB-speciation etc. etc. etc...

PBurns said...

Science is not based on theory. Science is based on observation. If your theory is not supported by observation, it's nonsense or (at best) speculation. This is science 101. Dogs and wolves know who they are, and what they are. All else is typing; the animals with the tails are the experts.

All of this reminds me of nothing so much as the dog training theorists who say every kind of outcome can be reliably and quickly delivered with a clicker and food alone. Guess what? Simply not true. The reality cannot be observed in the real world. Karen Pryor had a theory, but she could not train her Jack Russell to not chase squirrels according to Gary Wilkes who taught her about dogs. BF Skinner and the Brelands could not make a living training dogs because they could not train them quickly or reliably with food rewards alone. The solution: training non-carnivores who were confined in boxes. The theory of pure-food rewards was a beautiful one; it simply fell apart in the real world of Jack Russell terriers and squirrels.

And so it is with dogs and wolves. Theories about wolves and dogs fall apart as soon as the leash is dropped. The dogs know who they are, and so do the wolves; they are not the other, and they know it. The law knows it too, as do circus animal trainers.

And your argument about evolution and time spans is... what?? That 5,000 years is the same as 50 years? Not quite!

Rapid evolution happens all the time, and the evidence here is not hard to see, nor is it hard to document. In fact, all of Darwin's work with finches was about how rapidly an animal could be speciated. Darwin's finch work led to field observation about rapid speciation in the Peppered Moth brought about by 19th century soot and industrialization. David Reznick found similar rapid speciation in the freshwater fishes of Trinidad, inducing reproductive changes in the wild in as little as half a dozen generations. We see the same thing with mosquitoes, flies, lizards, birds, etc. Mosquitoes that populate London tube system are so now so different from their above-ground brethren, they cannot mate.

In the end, there is the observed world and nothing else. Science is there to explain what is observed. What does not conform to observation is not science. In short, follow the dog. The folks with tails know.

jeffrey thurston said...

Actually your argument in this case is not true! Science is not just observation- it is observation which leads to a hypothesis which leads to a theory which is the sum total of all observations and which at this point in time explains the observation best. I know about speciation and I know about canine genetics- I've been obsessively researching this topic using the internet for about two years now- the field changes constantly. There are subspecies of wolves in Italy that do not mate because they are ecomorphs suited to one tiny niche- their behaviors are quite different but no one is saying they aren't the same species. Wolf/dog genetics show that some wolves a behavior- howling, one estrusnd dogs are closer genetically than some wolves are to each other (if you can make out my meaning). It is by observing the genes that scientists have concluded that wolves and dogs are the same species. As far as rapid evolution- I did leave for that in one of my previous posts- but I don't know of any large animal which has evolved into a different species genetically in the tiny time spans you describe. Domestication is where it gets ugly- it has caused many weird changes to be sure- but none which call into question whether wolves and dogs are the same species. You exaggerate the differences and downplay the similarities to bolster your argument. Dogs can and DO devolve back into wolves- witness not only the dingo in Australia but also the wild dogs within the Dingo Fence (not dingos- wild dogs) who have reverted back to wolf behavior- howling, one estrus, pack hunting of large animals. The street dogs of Moscow are all devolving- one type even has a basically wolf-like existence. Wolves in North America have dog admixture in their genes- like on the order of 25%. The so called impossible wolf/dog in the wild matings happen! I could go on- but think of this: since wolves and dogs diverged and dogs hitched on to man the wolf has also been evolving- and much of that evolution has probably been to make it less doglike as far as man is concerned- they avoid man at all costs. Do the Wikipedia slog- click on every link- you'll be surprised!

PBurns said...

You fall down again. "I am expert because I read in a book."

Observation, observation, observation.

You prove the point I am making; the real experts have tails.

Observation, observation, observation, and in field, forest, and fen.

jeffrey thurston said...

Touche! I concede...