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New Research Sheds Light On the Evolution of Dogs 374

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-caveboy-and-his-dog dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The first dogs descended from wolves about 14,000 years ago but according to Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods humans didn't domesticate dogs — dogs sought out humans and domesticated us. Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them which raises the question: How was the wolf tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog? 'The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.' Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated. In a few generations, these friendly wolves became distinctive from their more aggressive relatives with splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. But the changes did not just affect their looks but their psychology. Protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures. 'As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it,' write Hare and Woods. 'But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives — chimpanzees and bonobos — can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. 'With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Finally when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply and once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as emergency food, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.' This is the secret to the genius of dogs: It's when dogs join forces with us that they become special," conclude Hare and Woods. 'Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.'"
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New Research Sheds Light On the Evolution of Dogs

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:08AM (#43066005)

    Evolution is not driven by a species' "desire" to do things.

    It's clear from the information in the summary that humans domesticated dogs via unnatural selection (we killed off the ones we didn't like), yet the first sentence implies the authors reached the opposite conclusion.

    Species do not make up their minds to evolve into X. It just happens. Don't try to make up reasons why the species wanted it that way.

  • by tbird81 (946205) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:14AM (#43066025)

    I thought it was presumed by anyone that humans didn't go out, capture wolves and then selectively breed them for friendliness.

    Isn't what the summary says exactly what people have always said?

  • by qbast (1265706) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:21AM (#43066047)
    There is no 'unnatural selection'. If we killed off the one we didn't like then we were just one more evolutionary pressure just like meteor strike or sudden climate change would be.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:24AM (#43066061)

    As is typical in summaries here, and the attention-seeking articles they come from, the content doesn't seem to be as radical as the sales pitch.

    Nothing in the summary suggests wolves domesticated humans. It doesn't suggest that they caused us to somehow adapt. It describes a peculiarity in some wolves that turned out to be advantageous, and snowballed into full scale domestication.

    Color me surprised.

  • by opusman (33143) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:38AM (#43066103) Homepage

    If there's a domesticated species taking advantage of humans my money's definitely on cats rather than dogs.

  • by dargaud (518470) <> on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:39AM (#43066107) Homepage

    "we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish"

    I like to give the example of birds. Which one is the most successful bird ? The most numerous on the planet. I'll give you a hint: it doesn't fly at all, it doesn't run fast and it's very good to eat. Still it's the most successful in terms of species: the chicken. Because it's good to eat, another specie (us) takes it everywhere and makes sure they reproduce in droves. Evolution works in funny ways...

  • by dave420 (699308) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:51AM (#43066127)
    "Survival of the fittest" should be read as "survival of the most fit-for-purpose". It has nothing to do with strength, ferocity, sharp teeth, etc.
  • by 3.5 stripes (578410) on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:51AM (#43066133)

    None of these problems are the dog's fault, they're just not trained or housebroken. My dog doesn't bark, chase, or shit in the house, and when he does outside, I always have bags to pick it up. You need to be annoyed with the masters, not the servants.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @06:55AM (#43066139)

    I see nothing wrong in the "old" thory - that humans kept some wolves that eventually evolved into dogs.

    Sure, humans have always been eager to eradicate competing/dangerous animals. But in doing so, they would come upon puppies now and then. And surely, some humans would find them cute. Then as now! It is then likely that someone tried to keep some puppies - if the times were good and there were food enough anyway. They could always kill them later, if they turned hostile.

    Bringing up young animals one finds in nature (possibly after killing/chasing off parent animals) is something humans attempt now and then. It is an interesting hobby. And it succeeds for several species. Taming birds is almost trivial - just be there (instead of the mother bird) when the eggs hatch. But birds is not that useful, beyond keeping them for food and more eggs.

    A tame wolf is valuable as soon as it grows up however. Even if it is a much rougher animal to handle than a modern dog. Any wolf expects to be in a pack - and will help its pack to survive. Using a wolf for hunting is doable - but it is tricky. Much more important is that the wolf will fight for you. When a wolf consider the local human village to be its pack, it will help fight off troublesome animals (even wild wolves). And it will help fight invading humans from other villages too. Puppies get useful within a year.

    So if you're bothered by invaders, you can add wolves to your army. Likewise if you're into conquest. Selective breeding can improve the animals a lot. But even the first generation, taken from a mother wolf, will be useful in stone-age warfare. Training can make them more useful, but even a wolf that merely grew up with you, will take your side in any fight. Which is also why some people today keep a large dog for protection.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @07:08AM (#43066177)

    Natural (adj) - in accordance with human nature
    Natural (adj) - illegitimate; born out of wedlock
    Natural (adj) - not artificially dyed or coloured

    Are you claiming that humans are inherently opposed to dogs, that dogs must be married before having puppies, and that all dogs have dyed hair? Or are you perhaps picking a single unrelated definition and suggesting that it is universally exhaustive?

  • by Evtim (1022085) on Monday March 04, 2013 @07:13AM (#43066193)

    I think I posted this once here for a different discussion. Imagine two villages - A and B. The people from A for whatever reason - genetics or behavior (or both) are afraid of wolves/dogs more than the people from village B. Village B over time domesticates few wolves and village A does not. Village B now has evolutionary advantage. fast forward - over time, people who cannot be "domesticated" by the wolves disappear just as wolves that cannot be domesticated by humans disappear.
    The process goes two ways. Usually we ascribe the "intention" to the human side only, because of the wide-spread fallacy that you need "intention" for the evolutionary process to happen...

  • by Sique (173459) on Monday March 04, 2013 @07:43AM (#43066283) Homepage
    Not only that, the key word here is "the fittest". And the fittest might be the strongest or the most, but it doesn't necessarily is. It just means the one who fits best its chosen ecological niche. If the niche prefers someone strong and dominant, then and only then "the fittest" means someone strong and dominant. But for instance, in a species, whose predators are in general much larger and stronger, being strong and dominant means just to stick out and be a prime target for the predators. An example are fish stock, which are heavily fished, and which now show a tendency to early maturation, higher reproduction rate and smaller sizes for grownups.

    Other cases are parasites and pests, where being too strong and too dominant might be killing of the own host prematurely and thus diminishing your chance to spread to other hosts in time. Many diseases were killing off people very soon, when they came first into a new population, but within time, grew more and more weak, like the Syphilis.

    For species which rely on cooperation and forming of close-knit groups, being strong and dominant might just mean that there is no group for you to fit in. Then you are the literal "lone wolf", prone to an early death and no chance to reproduce. For some lone wolfs, accepting a human group as ersatz wolfpack might be just have been the right way to survive.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday March 04, 2013 @07:43AM (#43066285) Homepage

    "but birds is not that useful, beyond keeping them for food and more eggs."

    Really? I need to let the people I know that have falcons and hunt with them that they are doing it wrong and should be eating them.

  • by qbast (1265706) on Monday March 04, 2013 @07:50AM (#43066307)
    Anonymous Coward: noun

    Idiot who thinks that making up definitions helps him win arguments.
  • by kurt555gs (309278) <> on Monday March 04, 2013 @08:13AM (#43066365) Homepage

    Puuuleeeese. It's like " No Child Left Behind " testing. Some one with a PhD designs a test to fetch a ball, and proves dogs are smarter than cats.

    I just was woken up to give the kitties their morning treats, then I changed their litter box, filled their water dish, was was still given the "look " because I prolly didn't do one of these things quickly enough. Then, I geld the door open for quite a while while one of the kitties sniffed and considered if going outside would be better than staying inside.

    Dogs smarter? Only someone that isn't familiar with cats would even think this.

    Dogs have owners.
    Cats have staff.

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Monday March 04, 2013 @08:17AM (#43066371)

    not really, stop thinking of us humans as special and start thinking of us as just another species within nature and you'll see that us killing off badgers or saving pandas is no different than any other external force on those species.

    Evolution = "shit happens, live with it" (those who can't, die off).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, 2013 @08:27AM (#43066409)

    yet oddly enough, a strong argument can be made that the only reason you exist today to make such a bold statement is because of religion.

    Keep in mind, most rules of sanitation we enjoy today can trace their roots back to religious practices, such as not participating in canablilsm (think of how many african cultures did this if you think it's just common sense), burying or burning the dead, not eating preditory animals, proper methods to butcher animals, etc. All these find their way back to religious practices.

    Or how about laying out ground rules for living within a society, like not banging your neighbors wife, and not stealing, yup, all that stuff is just stupid if you want to live peacefully in a society.

    People get too caught up in the supernatural portion of religion, and forget that the bulk of it is actually sound advise on how to live your life and get along within society. And yes, I'm aware that it's been used as a catalyst for wars, but come on, damn near everything has been used to start a war. Human kind likes to fight and is usually just looking for an excuse.

  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Monday March 04, 2013 @08:59AM (#43066515) Homepage Journal

    A lot of researchers overestimate the importance of their research. It's pretty common.

    Garbage piles though could be a common factor. They attracted wolves most likely, and our ancestors would have also observed edible plants sprouting from discarded seeds, which perhaps led to them thinking about deliberately planting some themselves.

    That's right, we owe thanks to garbage for helping spur the development of early civilization. Our culture is built on a foundation of garbage!

  • by dylsexia (1921540) on Monday March 04, 2013 @09:33AM (#43066699)

    Village B over time domesticates few wolves and village A does not. Village B now has evolutionary advantage.

    Yes, Village B has an evolutionary advantage, even though the people may not have evolved through the process. If someone from Village A were to visit Village B and see, first hand, the benefits of friendly wolves, then they'd take that idea back to their village, and you'd see a change in village A's attitude towards wolves that appear friendly. I.e., no human evolution need have taken place.

    However, this a textbook example of evolutionary selection of ideas, i.e., Dawkin's memes.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:00AM (#43066849)
    Not exactly. Garbage piles came after fixed settlements.
  • by oreaq (817314) on Monday March 04, 2013 @10:29AM (#43067245)

    Evolution is not about the chickens, it's about differential survival of competing genes. Factory farming is what makes the chicken's genes so successfull and the chicken's life miserable.

  • Re:primate dolts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday March 04, 2013 @11:03AM (#43067657)

    You can (quite seriously) include many humans in that as well. And on the other side of that coin, it's no surprise that many people relate to dogs a lot better than they do to other people.

    No. You can't include humans in that unless you are literally referring to people in comatose states or those with severe brain damage.

    The gestures they are referrring to are VERY BASIC gestures like 'Pointing in a direction, and understanding that the person is trying to direct your attention to something and not just randomly raising their limb in the air' or if you were looking at someone's face, and their eyes focused on something to the right of you, understanding that they might be looking AT something other than you rather than just spontaneously losing control of their facial muscles.

    That's the level of gestures they are referring to, and any human who can't interpret those gestures of expressions are very likely in a vegetative state.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp