Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond Coppinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
We claim to love dogs, and yet we know so little about them. We long for their unconditional affection, but we are ignorant of their needs and our faults altogether. Moreover, we like to think dogs as wolves and believe it so. Since I am a kind of person who says hello to a dog I encounter in the streets, this book caught my eyes and mind to know more about dogs, a beautifully different organism worthy of our attention and care, and to find out how they got their way based upon scientific and cultural examinations of dogs.
This book, written principally by Raymond Coppinger, professor of biology at Hampshire College, a former sled dog racing champion, is unique among many other books about dogs I have read in terms of its scientific bases of anthropological and behavioral studies of canine familiaris, i.e., the dog. The most significant fact about this book is that the author forthwith and forthright argues that dogs are not direct descendants of canis lupus, the wolf. Furthermore, he counters Darwinian evolutionary theory based upon the three factors of anthropological evidence, behavioral ecology, and Belyaev’s tamed foxes.
To begin with, the author takes readers to to a village of Pemba, an island off the East African coast in the territory of Tanzania, where the inhabitants still live on a boundary between hunting-gathering of the Mesolithic period and agriculture of the Neolithic period. In Pemba, dogs exemplify village dogs with a prevalent display of the uniformity of shapes, sizes, and colors of the coat, all of which indicate isolated gene pool untainted by any other strain of dog that would introduce a variation in appearance. The Pemba village dogs have co-habituated with their human inhabitants by choosing a niche close to human existence as a place of steady supply of food, safety, and reproduction. This leads to a conclusion that they are the descendants of the first evolved domestic dogs from the Mesolithic period of human history.
First, people created a new niche called the village. Then some curious wolves came to the niche and gained access to a new food source. These wolves adapted to this new convenient niche are “genetically” predisposed to show less “flight” distance than those of their wild peers and become tameable. A Russian geneticist named Dmitri Belyaev’s long term experiment with the Russian Silver Foxes corroborates this domestication process: after 18 generations (36 years on our evolutionary clock), the foxes became naturally tamed and remarkably resembled dogs in appearance and temperament.
Moreover, Coppinger ardently disagrees to the wolf-turned-dog theory. Rather, dogs descended from a “wolf-like” species that became extinct is their paramount contention to the widely accepted opinion. In addition, dogs possess characteristics of neoteny by retaining wolfish juvenile shapes and features, such as round and short facial shape with floppy ears, and care-soliciting behaviors into adulthood. That is, by keeping the cute and lovable appearance of wolf puppies into adulthood, the behavioral developments of dogs still remain in perpetual juvenile stage, which makes themselves well adapted to the human inhibition and thus able to survive in their niches for their safe existence.
Dogs are one of the fewest animals who share our lives and require our tender attention and care for the reasons concerning the above and most of all, the feelings we get when we see the eyes of dogs that are so soulful and insightful. We need to take a close look at our canine fellow creatures in their true form based upon their biological needs and behavioral tendencies, to love them as they are, and treat them as a wonderful creature of nature that has been with us for so many years in our human history.
Don’t forget the little heartbeat when a dog is at our feet. Never forget that they are only dogs.