Friday, October 06, 2006

Dog Origins

This is in response to Darren's excellent post on dog origins that Reid comments on below-- you might read it first. Some commentors insist on the conventional " dog = wolf " formula Darren casts doubt upon, but I think the evidence is with Darren.

I have a friend named Vladimir Beregovoy, a retired Russian zoologist in Virginia, who has made a lifelong study of "primitive" breeds. He has even written a book on them: 'Primitive Breeds- Perfect Dogs'.(Here is a link to his book on laikas). He doesn’t speculate much on origins, but several things are clear. While they share a bunch of traits that seem superficially more 'wolflike' than more 'derived' breeds-- less obedient, more pack oriented, single annual estrous, more likely to howl and yodel than bark a lot, den- digging-- they still fall strongly on the dog rather than wolf side of the divide behaviorally, still have more neotenic skulls, up- curled tails, still watch humans for cues and want to please-- the whole suite of things Darren mentioned, and more. They do NOT revert to wolf but to pariah (or in the north 'laika' types with more coat-- quite naturally).*

Never mentioned in the 'dogs are wolves' view is the apparent antipathy between dog and wolf. Wolves invariably kill and eat dogs if they can. Coyotes will try to, (personal experience) until the dogs are large and can course and kill the coyote. I have seen the latter more than once. Matings in captivity have to be made carefully and work best with breeds that probably do have a few wolf genes, notably husky.

I have worked with wolves in a zoo, dogs, and primitive breeds. No question that the wolf is the behavioral outlier.

As we know, species hybrids are not that rare. Darren gave me examples recently, even of hybrids betwen genera-- also, are the saker and gyrfalcon one species or two?

That wolves are closer to dogs than coyotes is not in doubt-- coyotes originated in the New World, wolves in the old. Why does this invalidate the idea that dogs could be a separate (Old World) species more closely allied to wolves?

'Multiple origins' didn't cut it in humans and I predict won't in dogs. ALL have too many similarities. I do think that more derived dogs are more neotenic a la the Russian fox experiment (still going on I think).

Ray Coppinger knows a lot about behaviour-- brilliant there-- but I think much less about genetics and evolution.

The one point the first commenter made that was valid was that dogs did come to the New World with humans. But they didn't necessarily have to come with the FIRST, who might well have been west- coast marine hunters. They almost certainly came down the ice- free corridor with the humans who came 12,000 years ago. This timeline fits well with your scenario. (And of course these humans came from 'first- dog' Asia).

I don't think Christy Turner has published officially yet. He has a rather far- fetched theory that dogs protected humans from large hyenas, but he is an anthropologist, not a zoologist. Still, he recently found a 14,000 year- old dog tooth in the Altai.

Dogs aren't wolves.

* 'Oriental' sighthound breeds, like aboriginal Afghans, salukis, and my tazis, have the whole primitive suite of behaviors including single estrous. They form a natural clade from the Middle East to Mongolia and should probably be considered only one breed (if 'breed' has any validity whatsoever). They are virtually unrelated to such other coursing breeds as greyhounds, deerhounds etc which act much more'doggy'. Curiously, modern show selection etc-- probably for less feral behaviour-- has made the Kennel Club types more doggy, even changing their reproductive cycle to 'normal' dog two- heat. Mine still have only one-- thank God! Seven dogs are quite enough for now.


Anonymous said...


Could you give some information on that picture? Those are some interesting looking staghounds.

Steve Bodio said...

The one with the white blaze is the late Floyd Mansell's Blaze (Floyd is holding the coyote), one of the last of the 'Cunningham' strain of Texas wolfhounds. I think they resemble chortayas from Russia. The dark brindle rangy one is my old Riley, a cross of coldblood greyhound and Scottish deerhound. The white dog in the truck is Gates, a saluki- greyhound, also owned by Floyd.

For fans of Querencia- the- book: Betsy Huntington is buried with the pelt of that big coyote, and she snapped the photo.

Mark said...

Great post, Interesting what you say about show breeders developing a more doggy nature. My black and tan saluki bitch is very feral/different in her habits although she does cycle twice per year (unfortunately), my parti-coloured is more doggy but still not entirely so.

I personally prefer the more feral nature and can relate to it far more easily.

Anonymous said...

Estrus cycles are not the only ways that wolves and dogs differ.

Wolf biologists point out that a wolf will howl most evenings, and the howl is the primary vocalization used to sigal territory by wolf packs. A wolf will almost never bark. A dog, on the other hand, will almost never howl (except if there are rising and falling sounds like sirens or bad clarinet playing) and almost always bark.

Another way wolves and dogs differ is that in wolves the alpha pair (male and female) will both lift their legs to pee while all other animals will squat to pee. In dogs, females squat to pee no matter their dominance ranking in the pack, while males lift their leg to pee. Again, this from the wolf biologists -- I am not spending too mucb time hanging around wolf packs noting who is cocking their leg and who is not :)


Steve Bodio said...

Patrick-- interestingly, my dominant "primitive' tazi bitch generally raises her leg.

Mark said...

In our pack of seven, we have 4 bitches and all mark out their territory cocking their leg to mark tree stumps tufts of grass, etc., especially after the males in the pack and finish with much scratching and kicking of the ground in an assertive manner.
The lower ranked bitches tend to do so in quieter more timid fashion

Every Saluki I have had has be highly dominant within the pack and in defence of its pack. Also they (Salukis) seem recognise a difference between themselves and other dogs (Non Salukis), which is'nt so strange when you know how different the behave to normal doggy dogs.

I wonder if you have noticed this with your Tazi's Steve?

Steve Bodio said...

Yes, Mark-- the tazis are very different. As we also have two 'doggy dogs', a lurcher and a dachshund, it is easy to see the behavioral differences. The tazis 'talk' much more with each other.

Rascal said...


I have found my Scottish deerhounds howl in the night, even when in remote locals beyond the sound of civilization in the Scotlands Highlands.

Evidence having been found that these dogs have inhabited the far reaches of North Eastern Europe - (now Scotland) as long ago as 2,000 years.

They could have evolved from Wolf (the cold mountain canids) and Jackals traded by travelling tribes out of Africa in cross breeding up to 10,000 years past if not further back in time.

Deerhounds, ancient tho they are - certainly have adopted much of the temprement of their human associates from this area. Prone to peaceful association, clan/pack community sharing and contentment, intersperced with short bursts of extreme violence and success in their task.

Not simply ‘Doggy’ Dogs when in their natural and original human/hound location.

Anonymous said...

That stranger, still passing through...

Domestication over thousands of years can bring about a lot of change in behaviour. That's what breeds are, basically, modifications of favored behaviours, and physical characteristics.

These days, with studies into mitochondrial DNA, there really is no question that dogs descended from wolves. You must not have looked into that area of science yet, please do check it out, its very interesting:

"The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mtDNA sequence.

In comparrison, the gray wolf differs from its closest wild relative, the coyote, by about 4% of mitochondrial DNA sequence14. Therefore, the molecular genetic evidence does not support theories that domestic dogs arose from jackal ancestors..."

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for writting up this article/blog. It helped me understand a few things on my hybrid. I never knew that wolves who are not dominant squatted. I always wondered why mine kept low while Nicky, my eldest female peed with her leg a bit up.

Thanks alot!


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