Dogs are necessary when man is sufficient

By Razib Khan | December 18, 2011 10:17 pm

Wolf-to-dog transition had little to do with humans, ancient skull suggests. I think the headline here is deceptive. This is the important part:

A Canadian researcher who specializes in the biology of ancient dogs co-authored one of the most significant studies of the year in canine science: a paper detailing the world’s earliest evidence of an animal in transition from wild wolf to domesticated dog.

The “extraordinary preservation” of the creature’s 33,000-year-old skull — found in a cave in southern Siberia — has helped show that dog domestication “was, in most cases, entirely natural” and not really a “human accomplishment,” says B.C. evolutionary biologist Susan Crockford.

She was part of a six-member team of researchers from Russia, Britain, the U.S. and the Netherlands that turned the clock back on wolf-dog transformations by thousands of years and showed that the phenomenon probably happened many times in many places around the globe.

I am leaning toward this direction, because I suspect that hominins were themselves moving in an “inevitable” direction after a few initial contingent stages. The co-evolution between social canids and primates is I think not a random chance event. To some extent I think “man’s best friend” was a necessary outcome of evolutionary forces. Barring the total extermination of one lineage or the other, some sort of cooperative relationship is I suspect something that will naturally reoccur. Dogs are not simply a specific derived lineage of wolves, they’re an ecological niche created by the existence of hominins with social complexity. Humans may not have domesticated wolves per se, but human societies are the ecological niche which a certain subset of wolves naturally adapt themselves to. And, I believe humans are pre-adapted to tolerate, accept, and even extol, the presence of philo-anthropic canids. In some ways they may be a preview for what is to come with intelligent social robots, which will draw upon the same cognitive reflexes.

Image credit: Wikipedia

MORE ABOUT: Dog Evolution, Dogs
  • Rob

    Surely the genetic evidence is pointing towards a single domestication event (see

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  • dave chamberlin

    The article goes on to say “some researchers have presented genetic evidence that all dog lineages emerged from a domestication event in ancient China though other studies point to dog origins in the middle east.” But this new theory makes the most sense to me. If a domesticated animal emerged from one location in one domestication event than the genetic diversity would be low and it would be far more difficult to breed them to all shapes and sizes as has happened with dogs.

  • Rob

    Fair point about the ease of gaining diversity by having multiple domestications, but multiple domestications would leave clear imprints in the genetics, for example multiple sources for X chromosomes and multiple sources for Y chromosomes, which have not been reported. We also don’t have a good control for what happens if you take a single domestication event and carefully save any mutants that arise for the next 33,000 years. I think the multiple domestication option requires a little more genetic backup before we can start talking about (certain) primates and canids being predisposed to end up together.

  • Mustapha Mond

    “If a domesticated animal emerged from one location in one domestication event than the genetic diversity would be low and it would be far more difficult to breed them to all shapes and sizes as has happened with dogs.”

    Only if the grey wolf itself had wide genetic diversity.

  • Kirk

    We leave such amazingly delicious sh*t laying around outside the cave door. Ummm, sh*t.

  • Razib Khan

    Surely the genetic evidence is pointing towards a single domestication event (see

    don’t trust the latest genetic evidence. there have been multiple iterations of “dogs-were-domesticated-once-in-place-X.” that tells you that our understanding and coverage of the dog genome isn’t up to the same snuff as with humans. if the geneticists can’t agree, that means that you should downgrade your confidence on the latest article you read. additionally, would anyone believe in neanderthal admixture without the reference neanderthal genome? there were several decades of inferences from pop gen studies based on genotypic data in moderns which “refuted” it. finally, i suspect most “dog” lineages went extinct. just like most hominin lineages. like this one.

  • RafeK

    Over at the author has been arguing for a model were groups of wolves and humans lived commensally for significant period of time before wolves and dogs fully separated at the advent of agriculture and sedentism. This seems like the best model right now to fit the fossil evidence showing canids with dog like features prior to evidence of lineage separation genetically between wolves and dogs. It seems there were probably many incipient domestication events across the shared wolf human range. Many of those populations might have just blended back into the wolf population, while the middle eastern and chinese domesticates might have demographically swamped out much of what was left as they expanded demographically along the same lines as they human populations they were attached too.

    I would be a bit cautious about the argument of inevitability though because wolves are not the only gregarious, pack hunting canid to share human ranges. Why is it that wolves were domesticated, possibly ubiquitously, but golden jackals, dholes, African wild dogs, and black back jackals were not domesticated?

    Also I think that if you were paying attention to what was going on with hybridization in non human animals especially in 2000 it was hard to accept the strict out of africa model and geneticists like Alan templeton were warning that there were other ways to intrepret the data.

  • RafeK

    In my previous post it should say especially in canids in 2000. Not especially in 2000 there was nothing specially about that year.

  • Tom Bri

    For an amusing take on this, try ‘Lost and Found’, by Alan Dean Foster.
    Re #6 Kirk’s comment, I lived in a peasant village a couple of years. Human sh*t was a regular component of both dog and pig diets. We did NOT let dogs lick our hands.

  • dave chamberlin

    Do not be suprised to see a major adaption from the american coyote in this century to a much larger size so that it can successfully prey on the extreme over population of deer west of the Rocky Mountains. It will take just a small infusion of wolf genes to make this genetically possible (already happening on the east coast) and then the deer preditor niche will be rapidly filled. I am not predicting that this will absolutely happen but I think it quite probable. Coyotes adapt quite well to living in densely populated areas while wolfs and mountain lions do not. If coywolves fill this now vacant preditory niche it may serve as an example both of evolution at work and the extreme flexibility of canids because of genetic diversity.

  • dave chamberlin

    correction, I meant east of the Rocky Mountains


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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