Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The title of this post refers not to my biothriller of the same name, but to an interesting article by Adam Gopnik in the August 8 NEW YORKER. Purporting to be a personal history of owning a dog for the first time, Gopnik's article ranges far afield to discuss the various theories of how humans domesticated dogs. The DNA evidence is clear: our pet dogs are descended from wolves. Bot how did they get from those fierce and sometimes dangerous beasts to my toy poodle, Cosette, shown here in all her cuddly domesticity?The competing theories are (1) we deliberately kidnapped wolf pups and trained them to useful work, (2) dogs hung around human garbage heaps, eating our refuse, and over time more or less domesticated themselves by self-selection for animals willing to follow us, until breeders took over. Theory #1 used to dominate, and then Theory #2 did, but now scientists say that there is a problem with Theory #2. The domestication appeared to happen about 10,000 years ago (unless it didn't, and there is some competing evidence for much earlier). 10,000 years ago humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. As they moved on from one area to the next, any wolves trailing along would have entered the territories of already established wolf packs, which would have challenged their right to be there. So now Theory #1 is back in the ascendancy. We did it, over time, and quite deliberately.

But, Gopnik also points out, in the modern era the tables have turned. Dogs use us. We cater to their needs, and most of them do not do very much work in return. Except for the odd sheep herder or K-9 pooch, our dogs are the winners in evolution, the successful domesticators of that other species that now works to ensure their survival.

Cosette would agree.

1 comment:

qiihoskeh said...

Wait, are you saying Cosette isn't fierce and sometimes dangerous?