Sunday, September 12, 2010

PBS Nature: Dogs that Changed the World: How wolves domesticated themselves and became dogs

PBS Nature has a two-part series “Dogs that Changed the World,” the first part of which aired Sunday Sept. 12, link here.

What probably happened to create the dog was that, in eastern Asia 15000 years ago, the wolf domesticated itself. As wolves hung around human settlements, the animals with the shorter flight distance did better and reproduced, and became more like dogs. Tameness has to do with adrenaline and that correlates to other characteristics, making the dog a separate species (partially). The show demonstrated that foxes can be bred for tameness, and tend to develop other characteristics as they are. In a similar manner, small domestic cats probably domesticated themselves. Carnivores that “behaved well” around man and made themselves useful got fed. Much of this comes from the work of Raymond Coppinger at Hampshire University in Massachusetts.

Some parts of the show demonstrated how indispensable dogs are in some cultures, as in New Guinea. In the steep mountains of Englannd’s Lake District, dogs can deal with the terrain and respond to subtle commands from the shepherd, regarding just the last step in a chase (not to kill).

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