Dogs Rule

As with last week, I really enjoyed this reading and how earlier ideals of domestication are being applied to a specific species.  When looking at domestication as a whole and trying to define it as a whole it seems that nothing is definite so everything is up in the air.  Many theories can be created but perhaps one cannot put limits on something as boundless and lengthy as domestication.  This is to be expected especially when we see that the domestication of one species is hard enough to define as is the case with the dog.

In the beginning of this reading Derr discounts the theory that dogs came from self-taming scavenging wolves.  Later on he claims that it would not make sense for humans to take in a scavenging animal that they would undoubtedly have a negative attitude towards.  This claim really sparked my interest because it goes against many of the previous theories of self-domestication involving species like the cat and reindeer.  I think it is unfair to dismiss this theory because I gave a lot of credibility to the reading in “Animals as Domesticates” that discussed the compassion of humans and motherly tendencies as a cause for domestication.  Who is to say that a human could not feel pity or a connection with a wolf scavenging amongst scraps to make a living?  To me it seems completely probable that a human would start feeding such an animal better food and thus start a relationship with it.

In proposing this theory I show my support for the idea that humans have always had a connection with wolves and dogs.  But I worry that this is just a product of modern society which clearly holds dogs amongst the most revered of animals.  It is easy to accept the fact that this bond is what started our relationship with these four legged animals, but what if I were to question this ideal, not because I really do, but just out of caution and my curiosity of exploring the other side of an argument.  Why do we give wolves so much more credit in their role in domestication than other animals?  Is it because, as discussed in the reading, that the reasoning behind their domestication was not for meat but rather teamwork?  In Buliet’s book however, he makes the case that domesticated animals today that are used for meat were not originally domesticated for that, yet there is a clear difference in the domestication of wolves and these livestock.  Derr states too much effort would be needed to maintain dominance over a wolf and that humans were eager to join forces with animals.  Why would our ancestors be eager to join forces with their competitors and possibly even the predators that haunt their livestock?  These assumptions of the mutually beneficial relationship between wolves and humans almost seem to assume that they occurred before wolves had a chance to prey on herds of domesticated animals.  I am not saying that I do not support the idea that humans have and always will have many similarities and bonds with wolves and dogs but I just question how our current relationship with dogs may cloud our judgment on past relationships.

I was very curious about the discussion of the dog existing genetically before phenotypically.  Based on the assumption that wolves and humans shared many social characteristics it makes sense that the domestication genetically of the dog superseded the physical characteristics we come to expect.  I do not understand much about the relationship between phenotype and genotype but this reading made me wonder if one is possible without the other.  Specifically, could we have a tame dog today that looks like a wolf or is that not possible?  I guess what I’m wondering is can we specifically target tameness and have no side effects or is a tame, domesticated dog meant to have floppy ears?  This would make sense because as discussed in the reading these traits come from humans interfering in nature and causing animals that would normally not reproduce to reproduce.  So a tame wolf with floppy ears would survive under human control but can a tame wolf with perky ears exist?  It is hard for me to put my thoughts into a question but my query comes from personal experience.  I have two dogs, one has straight ears and one has floppy ear, one has short hair not obscuring vision while the other has long hair in her eyes.  My dog with perky ears and short hair is noticeably smarter than my other one and I guess I never considered their difference in intelligence as a result of these physical characteristics.

I have many more questions and topics regarding these two readings but as I am one of the leaders for this week I wanted to post them up later so we can discuss them as a class instead of me just discussing them on my blog.

4 Responses to “Dogs Rule”
  1. Alex Roberson 25 February 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Humans nonetheless show love an affection to dogs/wolves, mainly to larger mammals in general (says Bulliet). I know for a fact I do, I can hardly stand driving past a stray dog or watching any animal of the sort die. But you’re right, why are wolves the 100% starting ground for the domestication of dogs? Where did the cat originate? Did it come from a wild being in the forest that through domestication, changed genetically?

  2. Ben Midas 25 February 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    I think your idea that humans would have cared for garbage and waste eating wolves interesting because I am inclined to agree with you. I think that, for most of us, if we saw an animal eating garbage, we would probably at least feel bad for it, even if we didn’t actually do anything to help it. I do not think its such a leap to imagine that some humans may have felt bad for wolves they saw eating their garbage. Probably not every early human, but at least some. But, like you, I am also inclined to believe that this idea is probably the result of current cultural feelings towards present day dogs. Things may have been much different with early wolves, no matter how nurturing people are.

  3. Bill Libby 26 February 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I agree with the difficulty of defining domestication–it definitely seems to exist more as a continuum than a pendulum, if that makes any sense. It got me thinking. Of course, domestication is a concept that we invented to describe a phenomena. But that, to me, raises a critical question–how do we know when it’s done? Is it ever done?

    I also agree with you that one can’t underestimate our nurturing tendencies–I don’t know if I would write that feeling off as dog bias, so to speak. I think that there’s a lot to be said about the way we care for pets as though they were our children. My father believes that pets often take the place of children for people who either can’t or don’t have children of their own. If a pitiful, even tempered looking wolf was hungry and scavenging, maybe one of our ancestors would have picked it up.

  4. cmurri 26 February 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    I like your support that humans could easily take pity on a scavenging wolf. I’m reminded of a theory (and I forget the name – I’m still looking for it) that people are more attracted to animals with friendly, human-like faces, and a pitiful looking wolf would certainly fulfill those qualities. Imagine the effects of just one human-wolf relationship within a tribe/group of humans? It would certainly seem (as another blog alluded to) almost mythical, and I suspect that desire to interact more with such wolves would skyrocket.

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