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.
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.
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”.
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
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.
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