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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

A Dog Blog

Now for some more wholesome content. Dogs or “Canis lupus familiaris.” The lovable and fluffy creatures that humans decided to domesticate over 14 000 years ago! Dogs were then bred to fill several roles, and some of them are more surprising than others. Like Yorkshire Terriers (Yorkies) were used to catch rats, Rottweilers were used to drive cattle and pull carts for butchers, Labradors were used to help fishermen with hauling and fetching nets to name a few. All of this selective breeding was done with intention. Still, we are now more aware of what the consequences of intensive breeding entail.

A common issue among most “purer” bred dogs include problems with their hips and elbows. Additional issues such as diabetes, allergies, epilepsy, and more could also be worsened by inbreeding. But how did we even get from a wolf to a pug? And how can we say that a Great Dane and a Chihuahua are the same species?

It turns out that humans were really good at choosing desirable traits and running with them until they found a breed that fit the job description. A researcher, Belyaev, tried to recreate the domestication process to prove that selecting a behavior leads to physiological changes as well. He bred silver foxes for “tameness” and showed that this led to changes in coat colour, floppy ears, and curved nails. These are traits we see in domesticated species. Other traits also changed in the foxes, tamer foxes opened their eyes several days earlier, and their fear response kicked in later than the wilder foxes. This is really cool because it tells us how we manipulated different aspects of dogs to get a wide variety of breeds we see today.

Even if you are not a dog person, you can’t deny the special relationship between humans and dogs. In fact, the ability of dogs to understand humans is rather unique. As an example, if a person points or moves their eyes towards an object (like a ball or dog treat), the dog is likely to go and investigate. We might take this for granted, but even chimps do not have this skill! So next time you take your dog for a walk, play fetch or teach it new tricks, think about the fantastic relationship between dogs and humans!

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