The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

Jan 18, 2016

Photo credit: Andrew Testa for The New York Times

By James Gorman

Before humans milked cows, herded goats or raised hogs, before they invented agriculture, or written language, before they had permanent homes, and most certainly before they had cats, they had dogs.

Or dogs had them, depending on how you view the human-canine arrangement. But scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient bond originated. And a large new study being run out of the University of Oxford here, with collaborators around the world, may soon provide some answers.

Scientists have come up with a broad picture of the origins of dogs. First off, researchers agree that they evolved from ancient wolves. Scientists once thought that some visionary hunter-gatherer nabbed a wolf puppy from its den one day and started raising tamer and tamer wolves, taking the first steps on the long road to leashes and flea collars. This is oversimplified, of course, but the essence of the idea is that people actively bred wolves to become dogs just the way they now breed dogs to be tiny or large, or to herd sheep.

The prevailing scientific opinion now, however, is that this origin story does not pass muster. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies, and many researchers find it much more plausible that dogs, in effect, invented themselves.

Imagine that some ancient wolves were slightly less timid around nomadic hunters and scavenged regularly from their kills and camps, and gradually evolved to become tamer and tamer, producing lots of offspring because of the relatively easy pickings. At some point, they became the tail-wagging beggar now celebrated as man’s best friend.


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29 comments on “The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

  • 1
    hisxmark says:

    From the Times article: “Some researchers question whether dogs experience feelings like love and loyalty, or whether their winning ways evolved because being a hanger-on is an easier way to make a living than running down elk. ”

    Perhaps “feelings like love and loyalty”, even in humans, evolved because it is easier to survive by cooperation than by going it alone.
    I remember in a class on animal behavior we were cautioned against imputing human motivations to behavior in animals that was similar to human behavior. But it occurred to me that perhaps we ought not make humans a special case.



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  • hisxmark
    Jan 19, 2016 at 4:31 am

    “Some researchers question whether dogs experience feelings like love and loyalty, or whether their winning ways evolved because being a hanger-on is an easier way to make a living than running down elk. ”

    In the wild, as pack animals, pups dogs and wolves, survive by being fed by siblings who are loyal to the alpha male and female.

    Any who are not supportive loyal hangers-on as adults, are likely to be expelled from the pack and any pups without a dependent emotional attachment to others in the pack, are bottom of the priority list for feeding regurgitated meat brought to the den by siblings!

    I noticed a very close analogy, where Inuit hunters caught a seal, butchered it and fed it to their sledge-dogs.



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  • the alpha male and female.

    Discarded terminology Alan.

    The breeding pair are the mother and father of the pack with the pack composed ( save some emigration/immigration ) of siblings of one to two years old. This is the basis for the highly social wolf, especially Canis lupus.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU

    L. David Mech is considered the wolf “go to” expert of the era. Some of his talks are on youtube.



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  • Two comments: a few years ago a friend had the privilege of spending some time at the Wolf Education Research Centre in Winchester, Idaho (I’m not American) and had many interesting conversations with the biologist working and doing research there. They had no issue using the term Alpha or Beta to describe the relationships with the family groups making up the various packs. One very illuminating discussion, over a glass of red of course, was the discussion of how at least one Alpha male had started mating with another female Alpha from another pack. The biologists found this very interesting as it was not common, however, they were seeing these behaviours (especially the ‘promiscuous’ behaviour) as the wolf density populations in areas such as Yellowstone. In less dense populations, such as in Canada or Alaska, the wolves were not placed in what they described as “pressure cooker” scenarios. Next comment: In Australia, especially in outback or “bush” forest areas, we have many abandoned or wild dogs (not dingos) or ‘ferals’ as some call them, forming large packs. The article mentions that dogs don’t form pack structures on their own yet these dogs, without any human intervention or may I cheekily add, a researcher telling them that don’t form packs, have formed cohesive packs. Finally, reading this article highlights that we still have much to learn about both dogs and wolves; are they the same species with just a little molecular changes. Maybe if some members of our species stopped hunting wolves for sport, we might just find that a little bit of wolf still lives in your dog lying at your feet.



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  • It was experimented through breeding experiments in Siberia, that it takes 16 fox generations to domesticate foxes. There is a wild, aggressive behavior gene that is related to the ear gene also. I think humans can domesticate dogs from wolves fairly quickly in maybe 1-2 years in a repeat of history.



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  • Please tell me stepwise how a flagellum evolved bit by bit after the accumulation of thousands of random mutations… Remember that it is regulated by more than 50 genes and 17 operons and works together with the chemiotactic system that regulates the way and the sense by which the flagellum spins..



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  • 11
    hisxmark says:

    If you Google “Evolution of Flagella” you will find links and citations.
    Long experience has shown most of us that guiding a creationist through a careful and lengthy explanation will lead to nothing more than, “Nuh-uh!”, because those suffering from delusions will not allow facts to disrupt their “thinking”.



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  • I’m an ID proponent, not creationist.

    I’ve been studying several articles describing the modus operandi and structure of the flagella and the most reasonable conclusion that can be taken from substantial data is that random accretion of mutations cannot ever build up something 1% as complex and functional as a flagellum.

    Still, you have the evolution of more than 50 genes working in orchestrated fashion to account for, looking forward to reading your replicable evolutionary model of the evolution of such marvellous biomachine..



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  • Wolves, being the more aggressive of the two would take as long or longer to select the passive traits and get to that point.
    There are no shortcuts unless you can breed the wolves faster.



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  • Most of us here are smart enough to know that a “ID” and “creationist” are not any different.
    IF you have any credentials to dispute the accepted science, please feel free to state them.
    If YOU have studying “articles” you need to post your sources. “Substantial data”. is just a useless buzzword.



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  • Yep. lots of people have gone through several generations. And they have had lots of attacks in the past.
    And if you go through enough generations, you have a dog.
    So,,,,,,its reinventing the wheel.



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  • Before I got my first dog, I thought cats were smarter. They may be, but they are too introverted to be submissive.
    I am constantly amazed by this dogs intelligence. I have never taught him any commands but he seems to understand single words and short phrases
    I am going to show him Windows 10 next week. He is still on XP.
    There is a Border Collie in England on Youtube that know how to identify hundreds of stuffed toys. There is a doberman that places his toys in geometric patterns.

    BTW, your picture scares me………..



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  • 20
    hisxmark says:

    If you are looking forward to reading then Google “Evolution of flagella”. I got 374,00 hits.
    And by the way, even a Republican judge was able to discern that ID was just “creation science” in a very bad disguise. It is ignorance of the immense width, depth and breadth of your own ignorance. It is self-deception. It is delusion. It is religion.



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  • Wallace Barbosa
    Jan 22, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Please tell me stepwise how a flagellum evolved bit by bit after the accumulation of thousands of random mutations…

    Please show me that you understand basic high-school biology and basic genetics, so you can actually understand details of explanations of genetics and biological structures, before anyone wastes time only to discover you have no idea about science, and are just cutting and pasting incredulity from science-illiterates on pseudo-science websites.

    Remember that it is regulated by more than 50 genes and 17 operons and works together with the chemiotactic system that regulates the way and the sense by which the flagellum spins..

    As hisxmark points out, anyone with an understanding of genetics can use google to find science articles explaining this. – Pseudo-science sites offering incredulity and ignorant denials of science, are of course a waste of everyone’ time.



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  • Wallace Barbosa
    Jan 22, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    I’m an ID proponent, not creationist.

    If you don’t know that ID is creationism dressed up to look like science to try to get it into the science teaching in American schools, then you have minimal understanding of science or of the history of the invention of ID as a substitute name when Young Earth Creationism was debunked.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_intelligent_design#Creation_becomes_intelligent_design
    1987 (according to a 2005 apologia by the DI’s Witt) Thaxton’s definition of “creation-science” had been overruled at Edwards by being equated to YEC, so he needed a new term and found it in a phrase he’d picked up from a NASA scientist – intelligent design. He thought “That’s just what I need, it’s a good engineering term….. it seemed to jibe… And I went back through my old copies of Science magazine and found the term used occasionally.” Soon the term intelligent design was incorporated into the language of the book.[6]



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  • alf1200
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Wolves, being the more aggressive of the two would take as long or longer to select the passive traits and get to that point.
    There are no shortcuts unless you can breed the wolves faster.

    There have been a few tries with hybridisation!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfdog
    Among the dogs used in the development of the German Shepherd, at least four were either wolfdogs or partly descended from wolfdogs. In 1899, Max von Stephanitz, an ex-cavalry captain and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College, was attending a dog show when he was shown a dog named Hektor Linksrhein, who was allegedly one-quarter wolf. Renamed Horand von Grafrath, the dog and his progeny were used to create the German Shepherd. Horand became the centre-point of the breeding programs and was bred with dogs belonging to other society members that displayed desirable traits. Although fathering many pups, Horand’s most successful was Hektor von Schwaben.[16] Hektor was line bred with another of Horand’s offspring and produced Beowulf, who later fathered a total of eighty-four pups, mostly through being line bred with Hektor’s other offspring. In the original German Shepherd studbook, Zuchtbuch für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SZ), within the two pages of entries from SZ No. 41 to SZ No. 76, there are four wolf crosses.[17] This is the first documented use of pure wolf genes to create a domestic dog breed, the German Shepherd, which is historically thought to be the first documented intentionally-bred wolfdog.



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