Anyone who has had a dog – I was fortunate to share life and house with a wonderful bird dog for almost seventeen years – knows that Man’s Best Friend sometimes engages in some unsavory habits. Eating garbage, for example.
Now, it seems, there are those learned men who believe that it was indeed this habit that led to the dog arising from the wolf. Excerpt:
Anyone who owns a dog knows that it will rummage around in the kitchen bin looking for food, given half a chance.
But this annoying behaviour may have a more profound undercurrent than we realise, according to scientists.
A new study of dog genetics reveals numerous genes involved in starch metabolism, compared with wolves.
No-one knows precisely when or how our ancestors became so intimately connected with dogs, but the archaeological evidence indicates it was many thousands of years ago.
One suggestion is that the modern mutt emerged from ancient hunter-gatherers’ use of wolves as hunting companions or guards.
But another opinion holds that domestication started with wolves that stole our food leftovers and eventually came to live permanently around humans as a result.
“This second hypothesis says that when we settled down, and in conjunction with the development of agriculture, we produced waste dumps around our settlements; and suddenly there was this new food resource, a new niche, for wolves to make use of, and the wolf that was best able to make use of it became the ancestor of the dog,” explained Erik Axelsson from Uppsala University.
“So, we think our findings fit well with this theory that the dog evolved on the waste dump,” he told BBC News.
Mankind has a plethora of domesticated animals, but nowhere in that constellation of beasts is another animal quite like the domestic mutt. With one exception other than the dog, all domestic animals serve to fulfill Mankind’s needs in one way or another; for food, for bearing loads. But in the case of the dog, the relationship is one of mutual benefit; only the dog seems to associate with humans by choice. Only the dog seems to prefer the company of humans to a life in the wild.
Dogs and people go together, hand and glove. Some years back, when presented with the old truism “you can’t buy love,” I heard an apt reply: “You’ve never had a puppy.”
The exception mentioned above? The cat. That relationship is different; an association that favors the cat. It is easy to imagine the beginnings of the domestication of both species: The progenitors of dogs living off Man’s refuse, eventually following hunting parties to feed on offal, and even using their superior senses to aid men in finding game – mush as hunting dogs do even today. Cats, on the other hand, moved in for their own purposes; early human campsites, with the concomitant trash heaps, no doubt attracted all manner of vermin. Cats found the vermin easy prey: Humans found that when cats were around, vermin were diminished, and so encouraged the cats.
I was fortunate to have a dog in a million. An English Springer Spaniel of the field strain, Gypsy was a veteran pursuer of pheasants, grouse, quail and even rabbits. Her failings were few: A love for hunting and eating mice, and an abject refusal to touch waterfowl, result of an incident from her puppyhood that saw a tough old drake mallard stabbing his bill into her eye. She was gentle with small children, even when she grew old and arthritic. A good dog is a prize indeed.
One day I’d like to have another good bird dog. For now, it’s not possible. The traveling life leaves no time for a puppy, and the training and keep of a gun dog takes up much more time than a pet.
Perhaps in a few more years.