Man’s (or woman’s!) best friend

My boyfriend and I recently lost our dog, and that lead me to ruminate on the nature of “man’s best friend”.

Evidence suggests that dogs evolved from wolves over 10,000 years ago.

I have noticed humans have difficult time categorizing dogs. Are they merely a modified wolf? Or are they distinct through their coevolution with humans? You can see this duality even in the naming convention, which alternatively lists the scientific name for dogs as either Canis familiaris (a distinct species) or Canis lupus familiaris (a subspecies of wolf).

Many older methods for training dogs relied on the application of knowledge of wolf pack behavior. However, studies have continued to emerge showing dogs act in a distinct manner from wolves.

1.     Multiple studies have shown dogs, not wolves, have a genetic predisposition to use humans as a tool. Examples include looking to humans for food and looking where a human is pointing.

Gácsi M, Gyori B, Miklósi A, Virányi Z, Kubinyi E, Topál J, & Csányi V (2005). Species-specific differences and similarities in the behavior of hand-raised dog and wolf pups in social situations with humans. Developmental psychobiology, 47 (2), 111-22 PMID: 16136572

Miklósi A, Kubinyi E, Topál J, Gácsi M, Virányi Z, & Csányi V (2003). A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Current biology : CB, 13 (9), 763-6 PMID: 12725735

Gácsi, Márta, et al. “Explaining dog wolf differences in utilizing human pointing gestures: selection for synergistic shifts in the development of some social skills.” PLoS One 4.8 (2009): e6584.

2.     One of the biggest differences between wolves and dogs is in eye contact. Wolves find direct gazing a threat. However, a recent study in Science suggests that during this time, both dogs and humans have a release of oxytocin (a frequent bonding hormone). – Lending credence to people’s assertions that their dogs are their “fur babies”.

Nagasawa, M., Mitsui, S., En, S., Ohtani, N., Ohta, M., Sakuma, Y., et al. (2015) Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Science 348: 333–336.

3.     Dogs with opportunities play with other dogs played with their owner as frequently as single dogs. – This suggests that there are different motivations being satisfied by human play versus other dogs. 

Rooney, N.J., Bradshaw, J.W.., and Robinson, I.H. (2000) A comparison of dog–dog and dog–human play behaviour. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 66: 235–248.

Although species naming conventions differ markedly with dogs considered separate or a subspecies of wolf, there is no question that behaviorally they are quite distinct.

Our love for dogs and their incredible success because of it has lead many to joke that “dogs are the most successful parasite of all”. However, as a former dog owner I feel I benefited from my interactions with my dog, and consider our relationship to have been a most profound mutualism.

Pleased to Make your Acquisition


I like you

Is it possible to buy you?

I can pay you top dollar

But remember that after…

I’ll own you!

And though you’re pricey-

I’ll treat you very nicely,

Forget that you charged me

(Provided that you’re tax free)

But if not that’s still K,

You’re worth it and I’ll still pay

Just give me the receipts-

Then we’ll be like tots sweet

You’ll be mine

I’ll be glad

The best buy

I’ve yet had

I’ll hug you

I’ll love you

Print cash sheets just of you!

What a random collision

Pleased to make your acquisition

For now friend

I must go

Keep your profits high

And debts low

By Meri