|COMING TO THE FIRE||
A Wolf in Dog's Clothing...
Even after hundreds of years of selective breeding, it would be hard if not impossible to produce a chimpanzee who could live with humans and have anything like such a good relationship as we have with our dogs.
– primatologist Jane Goodall
Wherever we've gone, our dogs came along. Sometimes, they got there ahead of us.
On Nov. 3, 1957, the Soviet Union astonished the world when it announced that a little street dog named Laika had become the first cosmonaut in orbit. Sadly, Laika never made it home, losing her life to the cause of manned space exploration.
Dogs were the first animals to trade their wild existence for our care, protection and pet food bowls. And while that arrangement hasn’t been great for every dog (Laika, for one), it’s been a pretty good deal for dogs as a whole.
As a measure of dogs’ success as a species, consider this: gray wolves, the dog’s closest living relatives, number about 180,000 in the wild. But there are half a billion dogs living among us humans.
Nowadays, gray wolves inhabit but a small part of their historic range, which once included nearly the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere. But go to the most remote tribal village in the Amazon, visit a community of reindeer herders above the Arctic Circle, or stroll through New York’s Central Park on a Sunday and you’ll surely be greeted by panting, barking, slobbering dogs.
Ourselves and our dogs share the largest variety of habitats of any species on earth’s landmass, from tropical rainforests to arctic tundra and every place in between on every continent except the Antarctic. And even in that inhospitable and largely unihabited place, the first person to reach the South Pole, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, could not have done so without sled dogs.
Dogs were there for the start of civilization, and could very well have been a driving force in our own cultural evolution. They provided a survival advantage by warning their humans of predators or unfriendly neighbors, alerting them to prey animals, and even serving as a dinner entrée during hard times.
And in turn, we were a civilizing force too. Were it not for humans, Canis lupus, the wolf, would never have made the transition to Canis familiaris, the family dog.
So, what is it that sets dogs apart from their fang-toothed forbears? What has made dogs such an amazing biological success story? The answer is simple: it’s us. The dog’s ability to live among us, to gain our affection and work for our approval have been the keys to its extraordinary good fortune. These qualities are more than mere coincidence. They’re a survival strategy coded in the dogs’ DNA, passed down and refined over 10,000 or more years of evolution alongside humans. We call that strategy “domestication.”