The Universal Dog - Part 3
Click for Part 1 of The Universal Dog Series
Engrossing, scientifically accurate easy-read on the evolution of canine genetics through trait-specific service to mankind around the globe.
In my judging trips I have seen dogs of the same body type in six continents, some relatively untouched by foreign influence. In Parts 1 and 2 (links below) we gave an introduction to how human action (trade, travel, purpose-breeding) tends toward dog breed differences, while natural homogenization of type (sans human interference) occurs when dogs are feral for many generations — left to make their own decisions..
Domestication of the dog, Canis familiaris, came about in the Mesolithic period — roughly from 9000 to 3500 B.C. Sometime in the middle of that period, the feral dog became a companion of man in Europe, but likely thousands of years earlier in the area between the Mediterranean and what is now eastern Iran.
In this time period, Homo sapiens had long replaced humanoid predecessors, and the keeping of sheep and goats by these people of limited nomadic range probably dates back to early Mesolithic in the more temperate near-East area. The first job of these canines was to help in the care of those food animals.
It is a common error many people in the U.S. and northern Europe make, to assume our dogs descended from the Arctic wolf. The fact is that, excepting some influence in Malamutes, Huskies and similar wolfish far-northern breeds, our present canine is much more related to what is often referred to as “the Indian wolf” (India, not Amerindian).
These dogs were more scavengers than primary hunters, at least after human population had become a big factor in their environment.
From the islands of Korea to New Guinea and Japan, most of present canine ancestry is related to the wolf of “the sub-continent” (from Persia/Iran through India) rather than the more independent Arctic variety.
Over those many years since the first symbiotic relationships of the south-Asian wolf, there was growing predominance (in human camps) of confined, controlled, compliant breeds. Those have changed in body, color, markings, and character, which effect of domestication has been well studied. In the descent of modern dog from (mostly) the subcontinent canine, this domestic companion has acquired the colors, ear carriage, sizes, trainability, and other characteristics we take for granted.
Here are several effects of humans taking the dog into our world of houses, collars, fences, ropes, and commands: In dogs, as generally in most species, size is reduced. Of course, selective breeding can reverse this and give us Irish Wolfhounds and Saint Bernards, but (as in other species) Nature takes advantage of domestication and typically makes most C. familiaris smaller than its wild relatives. Exceptions also include horses, birds, and pigs.
Domestication also has greatly increased variety as compared to the ancestral canids. From the wild wolfish, mostly-sable color of most of the early German Shepherd Dogs, we have added (by allowing and preferring) the black-and-tan that has almost completely taken over the breed, at least in the beauty-show world. The wild color in horses has largely disappeared, with the only exception I know of being the Mongolian wild horse (photo-right). Mutations (sudden changes) are rare in nature except for a very few such as Lycaon pictus, the hyena.
Genetic “accidents” such as dwarfed legs and/or twisted or spiral tails vary widely in the domesticated dog; they would have made such animals in the wild less able to survive or be acceptable breeding partners.
Skull changes from the wild canine to modern dogs are very obvious. The same shortening of foreface has naturally occurred in the evolution of Homo sapiens, pigs, and other domesticated species, although purposed breeding can and does select for longer muzzles. Size and shape of horns are likewise modified from the wild state.
The number of bones in the tail may be increased (or decreased) by selection. I have even seen this in my own lifetime, with many GSD tails having more vertebrae and, combined with the unfortunate tendency of American breeders to change the torso (length-to-height) ratios and stretch the body and hind legs, they often tend to have a floor-sweeping carriage. I remember when most GSD tails were just a little more like those of the Malinois. Of course, some breeds such as the Australian Cattle Dog have retained the shorter tail inherited from the Dingo and other ancestors.
As a species, the Universal Dog that became the domestic canine is remarkably diverse in genetic modifications. This tendency has been magnified by man’s desire to see variety for the sake of fancy more than need or economics.
Most utilitarian species, such as cattle, would bankrupt us if we intentionally bred for variety of size, shape, or color. Haircoat of dogs is likewise genetically molded according to whim more than climate.
Other changes coming from domestication include vision, scenting, brain size, blood, gonads, and length of digestive tract. There are many body-structure changes from the wild, such as neotany (persistence of juvenile characteristics).
The Universal Dog is as remarkably unique as it is distinctly different.
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