How Humans Have Molded Dogs

How Humans Have Molded Dogs

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One of the most fascinating explanations for how dogs morphed from wolves to working animals to pets is told in the DVD, “Dogs That Changed the World.”

This theory suggests that wolves that were less fearful and more willing to come closer to humans got more food from human garbage dumps — and thus survived.

An experiment with feral foxes in Russia during the 1950s showed that contact with humans — being petted and played with — genetically changed them.  Their coat patterns, behavior and barks all became more dog-like.

The evolution from feral wolf to friendly dog was so rapid, that an elderly person might believe the transformation was magical.  This may be why many ancient peoples believed that dogs were magical animals that provided protection and benefits from the powers of the universe.

Until Queen Victoria’s reign, dogs were working animals. They were bred for their abilities to hunt, guard, herd, get rid of rodents or pull carts.  In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the British occupied the Forbidden City. While most members of the imperial family fled, an elderly aunt remained behind.  She committed suicide and was found by the British surrounded by her five Pekingese dogs.

The dogs were removed before the palace was burned to the ground. Two were given to the Duchess of Wellington; two were given to the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Gordon; and one was given to Queen Victoria.  She named it Looty. Suddenly, a dog’s place was in the lap instead of the yard.

Wealthy folk, in search of ways to spend time, started kennel clubs and tracked dog breeding lines just as horse trainers did for race horses. Now dog were bred more for how they looked than what they could do.

It’s ironic that the Pekingese is one of the oldest breeds of dog, according to DNA analysis.  Scientists believe that they are one of the breeds that is the least genetically diverged from wolves.

People today all too often forget that the spunky little terrier they play tug with was bred to be a killer. We treat dogs like toys or babies and lose touch with the knowledge that under that soft fur is the heart and mind of a creature that once ran with the wolves.