Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, top dogs in the world of sports will soon team together for a fashion show that proves that compassion never goes out of style. Celebrating its fifth year,…
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On Friday, I posted a picture of a dog who went to fetch a ball and came back with a potato. Which got me to thinking – what weird things has your dog brought you? Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
One of the most annoying things about “dog people” is the constant jockeying for the prize of the “most ancient breed of dog.” If you watch Westminster on television, I would say a third of the breeds are described as “ancient.”
Most of them aren’t that old, and even if they do resemble ancient forms of domestic dog, the modern day representative often has very little genetic connection to them.
So it was with jaundiced eyes when I saw the latest headline that “The world’s rarest and most ancient dog was discovered in the wild.” The headline is clickbait, of course, because most people don’t have a clue about what was actually found.
Some camera traps caught images of a type of dingo called the “New Guinea Highland Dog,” which is a new name for the “New Guinea Singing Dog.” It is a dingo that lives a semi-feral existence in the highlands of New Guinea. Note that I said “semi-feral,” because different indigenous groups in New Guinea have used these dogs and their descendants for hunting. It lives in the wild, but it can be tamed.
Genetically, these animals are not vastly different from Australian dingoes, which lived in much the same way. They could breed in the wild, but indigenous people used them to hunt things like tree kangaroos.
These dogs exist where there are no wolves and are found in cultures that are mostly involved in hunter-gatherer societies. These animals might give us a window into how hunter-gatherer people in the Paleolithic may have related toward wolves and perhaps give us an insight onto how domestication may have occurred.
But the problem with these dogs is that there are fantastical claims about them. When someone says this is “the most ancient breed of dog” one needs to understand something. The most complete genetic studies we have on dogs have revealed that this type of thinking is quite flawed. One of the big problems is that no domestic dog is more closely related to wolves than any other. The only exception are dogs that have actual modern wolf ancestry.
Dogs are derived from an extinct population of wolves, and yes, a recent genome comparison study says we have to call this ancestor “a wolf” if we are to adhere to cladistic classification. The reason is that dogs split off from Eurasian wolves at about the same time Eurasian wolves split from North American wolves.
Dingoes are commonly used in genetic studies about dogs and wolves. When compared to a large number of samples of different breeds and different wolves, they almost always group with East Asian domestic dogs, as this dingo did with a Chinese street dog.
Another study, which found initially reported dogs originating the Middle East (but has since been retracted in light of more recent evidence), also found that dingoes fit with East Asian domestic dogs.
So the animal that was found in the New Guinea Highlands is a dingo, and a dingo is an East Asian domestic dog that has gone feral.
Now, about the question of this dog being “the most ancient.”
One of the problems with saying a breed is the most ancient, as I pointed out before, is that no breed of dog is more close to modern wolves than any other, and the other major problem with saying a breed is ancient using genetic studies is that many of these so-called “ancient breeds” are actually just populations of domestic dog that have been isolated from the main swarm of dogs. This gives a “breed-like” isolation that confers upon it some antiquity that really doesn’t exist.
Thus, we really can’t say that a breed is the “most ancient,” even with genetic studies.
What I think is more interesting in regard to dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs is that they represent a different permutation of domestication than the bulk of domestic dogs.
Domestication is a cultural process as well as biological. The vast majority of dogs in the world today are street and village dogs, which are very easily tamed if captured at the right age. This is the permutation of dog domestication that arose after the Neolithic Revolution, and it is still the rule when dealing with societies that have not engaged in extensive selective breeding for working characteristics in domestic dogs. We also have a permutation in which free-roaming and freely breeding livestock guardian dogs accompany herds across grazing lands. Any dogs that show aggression towards stock are driven off or killed. Another permutation, which is older than either of these two, are the people who actually rely upon their dogs as hunters. Here, I am thinking of the laikas of Russia, which are used to bay up boar and moose and tree gamebirds and furbearers in much the same way the Jōmon relied upon their hunting dogs for survival.
The Western permutation of dog domestication has been to breed many specialized dog breeds and types. We’ve selected for much higher levels of biddability in some of our dogs. We’ve bred out quite a bit of aggression and predatory behavior. We’ve accentuated certain predatory behaviors, like pointing and retrieving, and we’ve produced dogs that look you right in the eye for approval.
Western dogs have been removed very much from wolves, and from our perspective, it looks like the dogs of different cultures are more ancient than our own. But that’s from our perspective. Our own Eurocentric perspective.
For example, the indigenous people of the Americas were very much involved in producing specialized dog breeds. The Salish bred their own wool dogs. The Tahltan bear dog actually was used to hunt bears, even though it was quite small. The hairless trait that exists in most hairless dogs actually originated in Pre-Columbian Mexico.
The truth is people all over the world have produced dog breeds and types that are distinct. The various forms of dingo that exist in Australasia are exactly the sort of dogs that would occur in hunter-gatherer societies that were not engaged in the selective breeding of working animals. Instead, they are societies that relied upon feral dogs to provide their own hunting dogs, which often reverted back to the feral existence once they hit breeding age.
This is not the permutation of Western dog domestication at all, and because it resembles the ancient way man may have related to wolves, a lot gets read into these dogs.
These dogs aren’t more or less ancient than any other dog on the planet, but they are dogs that give us a glimpse of what might have been.
That is the amazing story.
But, of course, dog people can’t leave an amazing story to be told on its own, so claims about these dogs are made that simply aren’t backed up by serious inquiry and scholarship.
Unfortunately, we’re always going to be dealing with these sorts of clickbait stories about ancient feral dogs, but that’s not what the genetic studies are revealing. And it is quite sad that we’re still dealing with the erroneous Canis hallstromi classification for the New Guinea dingo, as well as its attendant “dogs are not wolves” hypothesis, which has been as thoroughly debunked as the “birds are not dinosaurs” hypothesis.
So it is interesting that the New Guinea dingo still roams in the Highlands, but I wish peole would be very careful of clickbait canid taxonomy.
It may vary state to state but overall, they are non-discriminatory.
BAD RAP Blog
We all know that fiber is important to maintain regularity–and that goes for our dogs, too. Maintaining the correct level of fiber helps ward off not only diarrhea and constipation but the…
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Imagine being the size of a chihuahua amongst all those legs… it must be like living in the Land of the Giants!
My routine was off today. I got distracted with work and emails and life, and before I knew it, it was 11 am. I like to walk Brody in the morning while it’s still cool out, so we rarely find ourselves out in the midday sun where it gets really hot, really fast.
I debated whether I should still go. Brody solemnly sat on my shoes and breathed on me until I decided that the decision wasn’t really up to me- this was a dog who wanted some air. He gets so excited when he sees the leash, like he’s at the gates of Disneyland for the first time, each and every time we go for a walk.
Knowing it was warm, we kept to the grass and the streets with bigger shade canopies. I detoured from my usual route, because a field to the right had erupted into a carpet of yellow blooms and I couldn’t resist the obligatory photo op:
Color is so rare in our brown, drought parched part of the world. It really was lovely.
Having veered off course, we continued down the alternate street, one we rarely explore, and that is when I encountered Peaches. Peaches was an older English bulldog, cruising around the cul-de-sac without a care in the world and not a person in sight.
If you know bulldogs, you know two things they like to do: overheat and die. While this heat and direct sunlight can be slightly uncomfortable for us, it can be killer for dogs like Peaches, so I plunked down on the sidewalk and tried to call her owner, whose number (but not address) was listed on the tag. No answer.
With no other good alternative, I grabbed Brody’s leash in one hand and Peaches’ collar in the other and squat-walked up and down the street until we found someone who was home (yay quad workout). “Peaches!” he said. “That’s my neighbor’s dog.”
I learned something else about bulldogs today, namely that when one senses a grand adventure is winding to a close, they can run like the dickens. I am ashamed to admit I came close to being outrun by a geriatric bulldog today, but Brody broke wide and herded her back into the driveway, where we managed to get her back into the shady courtyard. My neighbor assured me he could get her in from there, and Brody and I continued on our way.
I spent a lot of time wondering how much of our lives are random and how many little details just fall into place. There is a good likelihood that had we not walked by, Peaches would have gotten bored and wandered back home on her own. She might have suffered in the heat. All I know is that now I can be sure she won’t.
At the end of the day I think we are defined more by the sum of our little actions more than the grand overall thread of what the world sees. It’s what happens each day when we follow a small errant thread and tuck it back into place, whether it’s the smush faced dog running around in the midday sun or the elderly person needing help bringing their groceries in. The world moves just as much through a million tiny earthquakes as it does the one Big Shake. And sometimes, just a bit, it’s nice to think that the universe puts us right where we’re needed the most.