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Tag: adapt

How some dogs came to have floppy ears

It is generally accepted that most species, over time, adapt as the environment in which they live undergoes changes — to the point that their bodies physically alter.

Charles Darwin wrote about it 150 years ago, raising questions about why the once perky, upright ears of certain animals — namely wolves — had evolved to become, often, with domesticated dogs, floppy.

It was subsequently named “domestication syndrome” — the process by which domesticated mammals come to possess heritable traits not seen in their wild progenitors.

But why it happens is still theorized about.

My own theory (and bear in mind, it is coming from a former ape) is that, with dogs, once they started living with humans they no longer needed those alert and upright ears to detect threats; that, just maybe, they found what they more needed was a way to muffle human noise, as that species can be pretty damn loud. So, over time, their ears evolved from being pointy antenna-like sensors to sound-muffling flaps.

Basset hounds and bloodhounds, for example, clearly do not want to hear a single word we have to say.

How, then, would my theory explain the many breeds of dogs that still have pointy ears? Simple: Those are the ones who want to hear everything humans say, most likely because they don’t entirely trust us. (This also explains why cats still have pointy ears.)

As the video above shows, my theory is probably wrong.

It’s from the NPR science show Skunk Bear — which is very good at simplifying science for the increasing number of humans whose attention spans are shortening to the point they require cartoons to understand something.

Cartoons are especially helpful when the explanation involved includes words like “neural crest cells” and “postmigratory embryonic interactions”.

Basically, the latest thinking is that it is a deficiency of neural crest cells — which affect everything from adrenalin to ear cartilage — that is behind the change in appearance in domesticated species.

As Darwin noted, 150 years ago, numerous species with erect ears had become droopy eared after domestication, including “cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

All, with domestication, were experiencing a form of erectile dysfunction. Thanks, humans.

“The incapacity to erect the ears,” Darwin concluded, “is certainly in some manner the result of domestication.”

A century later, experiments in the Soviet Union proved Darwin was right on target.

Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyayev took 130 foxes from fur farms and started a breeding program. He started with the tamest foxes and then bred their offspring again and again, always choosing the tamest.

After a few dozen generations, Belyayev’s foxes were totally tame, and becoming more and more floppy eared.

More recent research points to those neural crest cells as the factor.

Does this mean your pointy-eared dog is less tame than its floppy-eared counterpart?

I wouldn’t read that much into it. But I’m often wrong. I’m only human. Perhaps someday another cartoon will come along to give us the answer.

(Photos: John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Why beagles will one day rule the world

The reason dogs are still around — and probably will still be when we’re not — is their uncanny ability to adapt.

Since wolves were first domesticated, becoming dogs, they’ve been on a continuous learning curve, learning how to live alongside man, and taking advantage of everything from his good nature to his furniture to his kitchen appliances.

Perhaps no breed is more adept at working these angles than beagles. They are master escape artists, wily hunters and accomplished problem solvers whose cuteness and charm trumps those occasions when they are — dare we say it — pains in the ass.

This one found a way to get chicken nuggets out of a toaster oven on the kitchen counter.

And his owner caught her in the act.

After Lucy came under suspicion for the disappearance of a roast that had been cooking in the oven, her owner set up a hidden camera. It caught Lucy as she nudged a chair next to the counter, jumped up on said counter, opened the toaster oven, removed some chicken nuggets, and enjoyed a snack.

 “A few weeks before she took a roast out of the oven that had been cooking for a few hours … So I set her up. I put some nuggets in the oven… Pressed record and left,” her owner, Rodd Scheinerman, said on his YouTube post. “This was 7 minutes into the video.”

We present this as proof positive that dogs just keep getting more clever while we humans … well, I’ll refrain from badmouthing an entire species.

But given Lucy’s kitchen skills, and the possibility she could be injured, we think her owner might want to consider limiting her access to the room when he’s not there and the oven is on, maybe with a dog-proof barricade.

A very dog-proof barricade.

Company for Christmas: Resolved

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It’s 2010 and I’m down to one dog.

The last of my holiday guests has been returned to her owners, leaving Ace and me on our own again. However tested we might have felt at times, I think we both agree it’s way too quiet now.

DSC07586I’d like to think that Ace and my guests gained something from the experience — that Darcy will remember to relieve herself outdoors; that Cheyenne will remember how Ace helped guide her to the park; that Lucas will never forget that I can bark louder — though not for as long — as him.

Maybe I taught them a thing or two, but they — as often happens when humans and dogs connect —  have taught me much more.

Hence, my New Year’s resolutions:

DSC07662Be more like Ace: Share. Allow new beings, after a good sniffing out, into my life. When others get on my nerves, just walk away. Don’t whine. Don’t get cranky. Take things in stride. Adjust.

Be more like Lucas: Speak up when circumstances so dictate, or maybe sometimes even when they don’t. Keep plodding along, despite any aches, pains or inconveniences. And, if there’s a particularly attractive mud puddle, do not hesitate, even if wearing white, to jump on in and splash around. Get dirty once in a while.

Be more like Cheyenne: When I bump my head, keep going — with quiet grace. Persevere. Don’t whine about the obstacles; find a way around them. Step lightly, but keep moving forward.

Be more like Darcy: Seize the day. Live in the moment (even though, at the moment, I’m quite sick of that phrase). Grab the bone. Fart loud and often. Explore. Stay excited — maybe not to the extent she does — but stay excited by life.

DSC07575Be more like Ace and Cheyenne: Be willing to help and be helped, to guide and be guided.

When you can cushion the blows somebody is taking, cushion them.

Don’t hesitate to hold somebody’s hand. Let others lean on me. Allow myself to lean on others. 

Be willing to adjust my gait, my habits and my routines for good purposes.

Trust.

Share the couch.

Share the bowl.

(To read all of the “Company for Christmas” series, click here.)

Must be my stop … Moscow’s subway dogs

Commuters in Moscow share the subway with stray dogs — and that’s just one of the ways dogs (and people) have adapted to the changing city.

Dogs were barred from Moscow’s metro in Soviet times, but now they are a common sight, curling up on empty seats, lounging in stations and — like the one in the video above — hopping on and off subway cars at their leisure.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent story on the phenomenon about a year ago. There’s also a website about the subway dogs — www.metrodog.ru.

“The behavior of stray dogs is like theater,” says Alexei Vereshchagin, one of several zoologists studying Moscow’s strays.

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