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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Julie A M

Some thoughts:

1. In every article I've read on dog behavior, there seems to be an underlying assumption that domesticating animals is an intentional act. Do we know that to be true, or are we imputing intention where, perhaps, none existed?

2. I was taught in my college biology class, some thirty years ago, that dogs, wolves and coyotes prove the fragility of species boundaries. Dogs can interbreed with both coyotes and wolves, which cannot interbreed with each other. Is this still considered true?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that wolves have hunted dogs for food, an odd behavior for a species not generally cannibalistic. Personal evidence (from my own dog) suggests that dogs know that wolves are not dogs, and fear them. None of this is proof of anything, of course...just cause for wondering.

3. Do we have any reason to believe that dogs did not separate from wolves before humans arrived? That is, did humans arrive in Asia to find a smallish, highly social subspecies, already well separated from the gray wolf? I remember one documentary (on PBS, I think) referring to an "Asian wolf." which, as I remember the drawings, looked suspiciously like a dingo, or maybe a Carolina dog. In fact, all three of those suggest what Ernest Thompson Seton called a "yaller dog," which (to him) was a sort of atavistic creature that would occur if enough dog breeds were mixed together.

4. Humans have a deep, apparently innate fear of many dangerous animals other than dogs. Why? Did dogs, perhaps, domesticate humans, perhaps by protecting the camps of the humans who liked dogs? Obviously I'm not suggesting that dogs had any plans to do so, but could the consequence of years of self-interest possibly be better humans (if you're a dog)?
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BLOGGER: Most speculation about domesticating dogs that I'm familiar with imagines something like wolves that hang around settlement dumps. The ones that slowly become domesticated are the ones that don't run off right away when people show up, not because they are aggressive but because they are less afraid. Over time you could have a junkyard dog that you could work with.

The idea that dogs somehow domesticated themselves before humans showed up is an interesting one, but requires some kind of an argument. It seems that cats probably did domesticate themselves, moving into homes to hunt other forms of vermin and making themselves tolerable by keeping out of the way and not hunting the baby.

Paul Strand

Karen Pryor, credited as the first person to train and document creative behavior in dolphins, described the difference between training dogs and wolves this way: "compared to dogs, wolves are grown-ups. He (the wolf she was training at Wolf Park at Purdue University) was not asking for help, head down, forehead wrinkled, as a dog might: 'Is this right? What do you want?' Instead, head high, gaze level, he was assessing me, like a poker player: 'Are you in or out?' Judging that I was in, he made his move; and we both won." (p. 6 of Reaching the Animal Mind, 2009).

Her point, similar to that of the blogger, is that wolves are cooperative but not in the same way as dogs.

I recommend her new book, "Reaching the Animal Mind", for anyone interested in what we know about animal behavior and cognition through our efforts to train them.

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