Monday, August 08, 2016

Canine Origins and the Lies We Tell Ourselves

Greenland natives with pet wolf on deck of S.S. Diana, 1898.  Source.

How did wolves become dogs?

A lot of nonsense has been written on this topic. Some folks, for example, seems to be captivated by the notion that wolves self-domesticated by approaching ever-closer to our camp fires until at last they rested their heads on our laps. There's a "Just So" story if I have ever heard one!

Another story commonly offered up is that humans domesticated wolves and turned them into dogs in order to use them to hunt.


Wolves still exist all over the world today, but no one is domesticating wolves in order to turn them into hunting partners. In fact, most primitive people do not use dogs to hunt at all, and for a very good reason: dogs are more likely to alert game than find it, and dogs are not all that easy to train to a high degree of command.

Look at the the techniques used to bring home the bacon in primitive cultures all over the world, and you are more likely to find stealth, snares, traps, poison, and human drivers rather than dogs. Trained wolves used to hunt? They exist nowhere.

Yet wild wolves are still being domesticated every day.


Simple enough: for pets.

The same trend is true for every other animal under the sun: coyotes, red fox, monkeys, apes, hyenas, tigers, lions, tapirs, sloths, crows, hawks, parrots, badgers, fenecs, servals, raccoons, cheetahs, bears, bobcats, rats, agoutis, possum, groundhogs... the list is endless. We routinely make pets of them all, in modern culture as well as primitive.

Pet hyena with Nigerian street performers.

Children with pet coyote.

So why have we heaped special creation myths on the dog-to-wolf conversion? What's the subtext there?

The subtext may be that when it comes to the origin of dogs, we would rather tell ourselves a lie than the truth.

The truth is that our first relationships with dogs was not forged in their desire to return a tossed ball to hand, but in out brutal massacre of their mothers and fathers, and their kidnapping to a strange and alien world where they grew dependent upon us for food, affection and any semblance to freedom.

And why did we do this? For our own amusement, and nothing more.

Our first relationships with wolves and dogs, then, was not forged in some notion of benign, mutual co-dependency, but in blood and fear.

No wonder we created another story to hide the shame!

Adolph Murie and family with pet wolf, Mount McKinley, Alaska, 1940.

1 comment:

Giz Rhoads said...

Growing up with Tarzan, my fondest dream, as a child, was to have a relationship with a wild, exotic creature. I understand the appeal. As an adult, however, I have come to believe that we do a great disservice, to something we profess to love, by denying it the wildness that is part of it's nature, simply to feed our ego.