When is a Wolf Not a Wolf?
When it’s a dog.
In today’s issue of Science, one of the most prestigious journals, various scholars—some good friends of mine—write about the origin of dogs. Dogs are very good at interacting with humans, highly trainable, amusing, loyal, and loving. Sometimes they are very beautiful and they take great joy in simple things. Of course, dogs are notoriously our best friend—and wolves are not. Wolves are in fact such a feared and hated enemy that humans have tried repeatedly to wipe the species out. Wolves are clever, large, ferocious, efficient, wild and deadly. They are also beautiful, good parents, amazing singers, and a symbol of wildness.
So how do you tell the difference?
We know by simple observation, genetic studies, and obvious resemblances that dogs are descended from wolves. They are a very special type of wolf that humans, over long periods of time, shaped to be companions, guardians, assistants, and something very much like family. Being a dog is a genetic issue and the great variety of dogs in the world show that humans have been able to select for many different traits – such fast running, ability to swim, an incredible sense of smell, size, color, and many other things. But all this took time and careful breeding, by humans that had no other example of what domestication could do. Dogs were the first—and some would argue, the best (though I would personally contend that cats and horses are quite as good)—domesticated animal ever.