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Tag: domestication

Alpha — the “first” boy meets dog movie — hits theaters this month

It’s certainly not the first “boy and his dog” movie, but “Alpha,” coming out this month, is the oldest, at least in terms of the history it attempts to portray — that being 20,000 years ago when man and wolf first befriended.

It’s a tale from the ice age, billing itself as historical and an “incredible story of how mankind discovered man’s best friend.”

It takes place in Europe, 20,000 years ago.

Alpha-300x300While on his first hunt with his tribe, a young man is injured and left for dead. He awakens to find himself alone in the wilds.

Things get worse from there when he encounters a pack of wolves and fends them off, injuring one of the younger ones. He can’t bring himself to kill the wolf who, like him, has also been abandoned by his pack.

That proves to be a bumpy process, requiring more than a “here, boy,” or a tossed treat.

The two eventually bond, learning to rely on each other as they encounter dangers that include doing battle with prehistoric animals as they try to find their way home before winter arrives.

The movie was directed by Albert Hughes and features “X-Men: Apocalypse” star Kodi Smit-McPhee and Johannes Haukur Johannesson.

Illinois bones said to be earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in America

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Three dogs unearthed at two burial sites In Illinois decades ago are older than originally thought, and likely date to 10,000 years ago.

That makes them the earliest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Up until now, the nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

But radiocarbon dating of the Illinois dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Perri, who presented the paper April 13, said the bones also represent the earliest evidence of dogs being beloved by the humans they lived with.

The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves, Science News reported.

The buried bones also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, indicating that some dogs at least were held in high regard by ancient people in America.

Perri, of Durham University in England, said the absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried.

Some researchers have proposed that whoever made the first excursions into the Americas arrived on dog-powered sleds, but no ancient dog remains have been found in northwestern North America, where the earliest settlers crossing a land bridge from Asia would have entered the New World.

“As much as we want to believe that dogs initially pulled us into the New World, that may not have been the case,” Perri said.

Genetic evidence has suggested a second human migration from Asia to North America occurred around 11,500 years ago, with people trekking south through an ice-free corridor into the northern Great Plains. Those people likely brought dogs to the Americas, Perri said.

She and her colleagues studied three dogs excavated at two sites in west-central Illinois, one found in 1960, two others found in the 1970s.

(Photo: Society for American Archaeology)

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

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OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

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 dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

Earliest images of dogs show them leashed

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This is just so wrong.

It seems man’s earliest depictions of dogs — or at least what is being described as such — show them ON LEASHES!

I’m not saying scientists are wrong in their estimate that images carved into a sandstone cliff in Saudi Arabia are up to 8,000 years old (though they might be) — only that it would be a shame that society’s first depictions of dogs show them restrained and under human control.

leash signI’d prefer man’s historic first images of dog to be a roaming dog, a wild and feral dog, a freely frolicking dog, even a going-through-the-garbage dog — as opposed to an image that resembles our modern day leash law signs.

(Yes, I know I’m being naive — and that tying a rope around a wolf’s neck was probably, at some point, a necessity in their domestication. But part of me would like to picture that process as being accomplished with a bowl of food and a pat on the head.)

Science magazine reports the engravings depict hunters, armed with bows, accompanied by 13 dogs, two of them with lines running from their necks to the man’s waist:

“Those lines are probably leashes, suggesting that humans mastered the art of training and controlling dogs thousands of years earlier than previously thought.”

The engravings were found on a sandstone cliff in the Arabian Desert, and are estimated to date back more than 8,000 years.

Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany — in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage — has spent the last three years helping catalog the more than 1,400 rock art panels containing nearly 7,000 animals and humans at Shuwaymis and Jubbah.

The dogs depicted are medium-sized, with pricked up ears, short snouts, and curled tails — similar to today’s Canaan dog, a largely feral breed that roams the deserts of the Middle East

The researchers couldn’t directly date the images, and some caution the engravings may not be as old as they seem. To confirm the chronology, scientists will need to link the images to a well-dated archaeological site in the region.

Even if the art is more recent, the engravings are still believe the oldest depictions of leashes on record.

Until now, the earliest evidence for such restraints comes from a wall painting in Egypt dated to about 5500 years ago, says Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Perri was co-author of a report the team published last week in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

The Arabian hunters may have used leashes to keep valuable scent dogs close and protected or to train new dogs, she said. Leashing dogs to the hunter’s waist may have freed his hands for bow and arrow.

But Paul Tacon, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, says the lines in the engravings could be symbolic: “It could just be a depiction of a bond,” he said.

The history and science of dog comes to life in … Zounds! … a comic book!

hirschcoverThink “dogs and comics” and many canine characters comes to mind:

Marmaduke and Snoopy, Underdog and Scooby Doo, Pluto and Goofy –a plethora of cartoon pooches ranging in size, intellect, shape, and colors from blue (Huckleberry Hound) to red (Clifford).

Most of them did little more than provide laughs. Some of them actually passed along some life lessons and knowledge. But none — not even the professorial Mr. Peabody — has displayed the scholarly knowledge of this one.

Meet Rudy, and the man behind him, Andy Hirsch.

Hirsch, through cartoons, words and an energetic narrator modeled after his own dog, tells the story of how wolves transformed into domestic dogs, what’s behind their behaviors and how their relationship to man has evolved in “Dogs: From Predator to Protector“.

It’s the latest title in a graphic nonfiction series from Science Comics that examines science topics ranging from animals, to ecosystems, to technology.

Through Rudy, writer/illustrator Hirsch explores what led wolves to be transformed into the diverse shapes, sizes and breeds of dogs we know today — namely, man.

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“I think it all falls under the umbrella of humans having had a profound influence on dogs. They simply wouldn’t exist without us, especially any sorts of artificial breeds, so a good portion of the book is really about our methods of influence,” Hirsch told Live Science.

The comic-science book gets into the intricacies of doggie DNA and genetics, their exceptional senses, their sociability and their capacity for cross-species communication.

“Humans and dogs have an unmatched partnership all the way at the species level, and to me that means we have a responsibility to understand and care for them,” Hirsch says.

It’s the Texas author’s first nonfiction book, based on his own research, and advice from science consultants including Julie Hecht, a canine behavioral researcher and adjunct professor at Canisius College in New York.

Readers follow Rudy, and his bouncing ball, through a lively series of discussions dealing with the history and science behind how dogs live and behave.

“Maybe it’s something of a cheat to let a tennis ball bounce 25,000 years between panels, but that’s the magic of comics!” Hirsch said. “… The tennis ball was a good way to, well, bounce from one thing to the next. Rudy is our friendly narrator, and though he’s very knowledgeable, he still has the distractible nature of an average dog. That means the bouncing ball never fails to move his attention from one topic to the next.”

Hirsch2-banner“This isn’t a textbook, so when there’s the opportunity to present some facts through an entertaining narrative aside I let the story follow it.”

Rudy is modeled after Hirsch’s own dog Brisco, who he and his partner (all shown at left) adopted.

“Rudy was his first shelter name, and it’s a good fit for a comic book dog,” Hirsch said. “If you get a chance to draw a book full of dogs, of course you’re going to make yours the star.”