I have not yet been asked to review the new film Alpha, which is a story about early dog domestication. I have not seen the film yet, but I do want to see it.
I do think we need to get beyond the Coppinger model for dog domestication, and I think there have been some serious attempts recently, but I’m not going to play around with that right now.
Instead, I’m going play around with some speculative domestication reverie. Forgive me my flights of fancy. I must play around a bit.
Let’s say that domestication didn’t involve wolves at all. Let’s say it happened with a very different canid.
And you really can’t get more different from wolves than bat-eared foxes are. Bat-eared foxes are odd little creatures. They are intensely social foxes that live almost entirely upon harvester termites. They do eat other things, and they have even been known to scavenge carrion. But most of what they eat is harvester termites.
Let’s say that somewhere in East Africa some 50,000 years ago, a wandering band of nomad came into the land, but found the whole countryside devoid of game. The only quadruped messing about the scene were several bands of bat-eared foxes.
And the hunters speared the foxes and ran them down and roasted their bodies on campfires and ate away at their manky fox flesh and hoped the spirits would bring forth a kudu or an impala from the bush.
So for many weeks, the people hunted the bat-eared foxes, and they choked down the fox meat.
But then the fox numbers dwindled, and the disgusting pains of hunger swept through the people. And the babies starved to death, and the children grew gaunt in the piercing sun.
And so the hunters set out on a big journey into the rising sun hoping that they would some place so wondrous as to have plentiful hoofed game.
One hunter, though, knew of a little trick that he’d learned from the hot days of fox chasing in the sun. He knew that the bat-eared foxes like to hang near the termite nests, and he knew that if he staked out one big termite nest, he’d eventually run into a fox.
For two hot days he sat in silence. But on the nightfall of that second day, he the hoary gray form of a bat-eared fox. It was a vixen, and she was all heavy with milk.
Her form was gaunt and tight, and he teats were all swollen with the milk. And the hunter felt pity for her, and so he could not cast his spear upon her.
He sat there watching as she picked up the termites and marveled her rapid mastication. Rare is the hunter who can avoid watching his quarry and empathizing with it. It is man’s ability to empathize with an animal that ultimately makes him great hunter. It is his ability enter into the animal’s mind and see its ways and its habits as the animal sees it.
But he still can kill it and kill it with skill. It’s just that every once in a while, the empathy subsumes the hunter, and he feels that odd profound kinship with the animal. It is a feeling I have felt so profoundly on my own hunts, and it is one that I know has made me pass up more than a few shots. And these are the feelings I do not wish to lose. If I do, I will be a monster, not a fully human hunter.
So the hunter sat and watched the vixen eating the termites, and he let her pass. He then followed her tracks through the arid country. He kept his distance back on the trail, hoping that he would not spook her.
He followed her out of nothing more than curiosity, and as he followed her, he noticed the cloven hoofs of a kudu. The fox and the kudu were following the same trail, so the hunter knew that if he tired of his little fox tracking, he might be able to get on a kudu trail and bring home some nice meat for the band.
As he followed the trail, the kudu sign grew fresher and fresher. And out of the bush, a young kudu materialized out of the heat waves. Both hunter and kudu were suprised to encounter each other, but the hunter knew to throw his spear. It hit home, and the kudu ran and ran. The hunter followed its blood trail, and then found the beast lying in its death throes.
He dispatched the kudu with a simple blow to the head, and it became meat in very short order.
The hunter covered his kill and began the journey back to where he had left his companions. He had dropped a kudu bull, and they would soon have food to eat.
But he had to make his way carefully home, for the stench of blood could bring in lions and hyenas. So he started homeward, when he sensed presence of another being staring at him.
When he turned to look for his stalker, he was shocked to find the vixen standing upon a little boulder. She was transfixed by him, and he was amazed by her.
He turned to walk away, and the bat-eared fox squall-barked. He turned to look in her direction. He waved a blessing at her, and then turned to walk again. The vixen squall-barked again, this time with frantic intent.
The hunter turned to look at the fox, but then another movement caught his eye, He turned his head to make his eyes register upon the form before him, and then he realized that a young male lion had come to stalk him. It had been trailing the wounded kudu, and now, it had come upon a bit of human flesh. All it had to do was lie in wait, and there would be a kill.
The hunter stood tall on his legs and reached for his spear. He had but one opportunity to make the lion fall as it began to charge, and he knew that he had to make it count. Otherwise, he would be lion’s meat.
He made his spear aim dead on the lion, and as the beast began its horrific charge, the hunter steeled his nerves and began his spear cast. It home just as the lion’s charge reached within ten feet of him. The arrow hit the lion lungs, and her ran off in terror to die the death of a mortally wounded beast.
But the hunter lived. And he owed his survival to the little squall-barks of the bat-eared vixen.
He just began to make his way home when he herd the sound of many hoof-beats. All around him were vast herd of zebra and wildebeest. And there were many kudu and impala flitting about.
In his journey following the bat-eared fox, he had accidentally stumbled onto some game rich country, and he had to bring his people here.
And he had to make them thank the fox.
And so these people survived a long bout of famine all thanks to their guardian spirit, a little bat-eared fox.
And so the legend was passed through all the people’s children and their children and their children’s children. And the people came to revere the fox, and bring the kits into their villages and make them their guardians and good luck talismans.
And soon there were whole populations of bat-eared fox that lived in villages and ate people food along with their normal insectivory.
And they followed the people out of Africa into Eurasia, where they diversified into so many forms.
And the bat-eared fox is found on every island and on every continent where people exist.
Some herd our chickens and ducks. Others keep malaria mosquitoes at bay, while others rat as proper terriers do in our present reality.
But in this reality, man’s best friend is the bat-eared fox, not the domesticated wolf. And wolves themselves never survived into the present era. It was too clunky and too churlish to fit into the world dominated by man, and it was fully extirpated from all the land.
And so I’ve laid out some silly reverie of speculative domestication. Forgive me my folly. I sometimes can’t help it.
Thanks to The Shihtzu Sisters for helping get the word out about our new condition-specific supplements for dogs. We were thrilled to see this adorable quartet of Halo ambassadors announce their love of our 100% WHOLE ingredient supplements to their Instagram fans.
“PSA: It’s true when they say that, “Dogs are people, too!” Humans aren’t the only ones that should be taking supplements to optimize their health and wellness, animals should be taking them too! For our breed, age, and needs, we take the Skin & Coat Support supplement, the Senior Dog Defense supplement, & MOST importantly the Joint & Hip Support supplement by @halopets! Check out our story for the direct link to these products or our Halo Highlight in our bio!” – Kai, Kona, Lily, & Dexter”
Thank you, Shitzu Sisters!
Learn more about Halo supplements and see which one is best for your dog.
?? “PSA: It’s true when they say that, “Dogs are people, too!” Humans aren’t the only ones that should be taking supplements to optimize their health and wellness, animals should be taking them too! For our breed, age, and needs, we take the Skin & Coat Support supplement, the Senior Dog Defense supplement, & MOST importantly the Joint & Hip Support supplement by @halopets! Check out our story for the direct link to these products or our Halo Highlight in our bio!” – Kai, Kona, Lily, & Dexter #dogsarepeopletoo #halopetsambassadors #shihtzusofinstagram #cockerspanielsofinstagram #halopets
Fire is terrifying for any family, but especially for a farming family who must worry about all of their farm animals. The family at Challans Partners’ Longcroft Farm is grateful that a fire only wrecked machinery and a barn recently, instead of people, calves, or a pregnant cow. The reason the fire didn’t harm any people or animals on the farm in Derbyshire, England? A Springer Spaniel named Ted.
According to the Burton Mail, Ted jumped into action and alerted his family about the fire by loudly barking when the flames flared up from an electrical fault. It was around one in the morning when Ken Colwell, the farm secretary, heard Ted barking. Ken’s wife, Ruth, then spotted the flames and immediately called emergency services.
Ken praised the fire responders, saying “The firefighters were extremely professional….They were absolutely first class.” Because Ted made Ken and Ruth aware of the fire so quickly, the firefighters were able to protect two barns full of cows for the night, including calves and a pregnant cow. The wind that night was blowing the fire toward the barn where the calves had been resting. The fire was fully contained and out by shortly after four in the morning – barely three hours after Ted started barking the alarm.
Ken was grateful for his neighbors and told reporters, “I would also like to praise some of our neighbors who were actively on site offering assistance and support. We cannot thank them enough for their support.”
Ken’s partner at the farm is his brother in law, John Challans. Ken noted, “John and his wife Fiona, as well as Ruth, were mainly concerned about the animals….That is a huge testament to the good heart they have got and that is not to be underrated.”
We love that the Challans and Colwells were more concerned with their animals than with buildings or machinery. Halo’s mission is to not only make great cat food and dog food that pets love, but to change the way farm animals are raised for the better. We’re conscious about how we source our ingredients. We work for changes in pursuit of a notion of animal husbandry that challenges the old, one-way view of animal management where animals are solely for our benefit.
We believe that we all need to take care of each other – people, animals, and planet. Every animal in our lives, not just cats and dogs, carries a halo above it. That halo shines brightest when nurtured in a genuine, heartfelt, two-way, human-animal bond. It’s obvious from the priorities of the Challans and Colwells that their halos are shining brightly, just like that of their hero dog Ted. We hope Ted is getting lots of praise and healthy treats to reward his quick thinking and alert barking.
Ceva Animal Health has sponsored this post and the upcoming party, but all opinions are my own. We all remember the stress of back to school time…and if we share our home with two-legged…
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This film appears to be a big-time rip off of Earnest Thompson Seton, and it’s obvious to me that he is a German shepherd and not a wolf. But this dog has all the same mannerisms as my dog, including the little playful “alligator snaps.”
What do dogs and cell phones have in common? Collar ID (I’ll be here all week, folks!) Send your grins and groans to Family-Minded.com
I’m starting a little summer series of “myth busters” about the way we misunderstand our dogs and cats, unwittingly applying human-type emotions and desires to animals, who are actually cut from a different piece of cloth than we are. I hope these will serve as little reminder “taps on the shoulder” to us that we should respect other species for who they are, both as different mammals from us, and also as individuals.
Myth #1 – Dogs enjoy sharing the way people do.
Some of us like to think that our dogs are happy to share with other dogs. Share our love and attention. Share their toys. Share their sleeping places. Share their hunting spots. Share the back of the car. Share the prime spot on the sofa. Even share their treats and dinner! Really!? We encourage sharing. We like to think that “share and share alike” is a positive quality that we can imbue in our dogs, even if they don’t come to us ready to embrace the concept. We expect dogs to share, we’re delighted when they seem to, and we even get annoyed if they don’t. (We’re a little unrealistic in believing that sharing is natural for people, too – but more on that below!)
It isn’t logical for dogs to share
Without specific scientific evidence close at hand, I’d have to say that it is rarely true that a dog willingly shares her valuable assets with another dog. Why would she? Where will that get her? “Survival of the fittest” is still at the root of it all, isn’t it? On a primal level, how would a dog survive as an individual – beginning with her littermates – if she always gave up her turn at the “milk bar” or the toy bin to those who wanted it more? That’s technically called the runt of the litter! What creature has an innate desire to wind up at the bottom of life’s totem pole…which in the cold, cruel world of the animal kingdom is sort of where “sharing” gets you!
Hang on! But I’ve seen dogs who share and take turns
Yes, I’ve seen those dogs, too. My own dogs! But it doesn’t happen naturally or without constant and firm intervention. I actually raise all my dogs to share – and most of them join the family at random times in their lives from Weimaraner rescues, so who knows what their backgrounds were? Sharing happens because I play refere: “You wait: it’s Wanda’s turn to lick that pot, you’re next,” or “Let Maisie get on the bed.”
An exception to the not-so-quick-to-share can be when dogs have grown up together and developed “an understanding.” Most likely this is is simply a hierarchy in which one dog has evolved as the “top dog” so both dogs proceed on the assumption that “what’s his is his, and what’s mine is his, too!” That can look like sharing.
Wait! Do people actually share freely with others?
If you think that dogs should share the way people do, you clearly haven’t seen the vocalizations or physical expressions of indignation that can be expressed by toddlers (or older) whose snack or toy is under siege from someone else. Not to mention grown adults trying to get online at a wedding buffet or get a seat on the subway!
When dogs have high value treats or food they really love it can create an even greater reason not to share (my girls adore their Halo food – the kibble, but also the canned Spot’s Stew – so I’m extra careful to feed them at a distance from each other since Wanda eats a whole lot faster than Maisie).
Real Life Vs. Wishful Thinking
Sharing is a concept that might look good on paper, but in a dog’s real life (or ours) it doesn’t come naturally. Teaching a dog to share requires negotiation, patience, persistence and even the offering of bribes or recompense by referees (like Halo’s Luv-a-Lots). For true harmony between dogs, you’re probably best off supporting the idea that each one gets his own stuff and his space is universally respected as his own.
Tracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.
Tracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.
Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.