Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The First Genetic Engineering - How Dogs Became Man's Best Friend

I guess I figured that dogs evolved from wolves somehow, but not how I expected. They were more created by...human....intervention. If you're a dog lover you may already know about this, and if you're not, you might not care. But I like dogs and I didn't really know most of this. We watched this show earlier this week, I think it was on the National Geographic Channel, it was called 'And Man Created Dog'. Needless to say I thought it was fascinating.

They guesstimate that it started sometime around thirty thousand years ago. Wolves are pack animals and they are predators. But when people started coming along in groups, wolves would follow them around. They probably started out with the intention of hunting us (I can't remember), but they found that they could also scavenge from our leftovers. So, they started hanging around us more and more.

This became very valuable to us. Wolves obviously have far keener senses than we do, especially smell. So when other animals would get near the camp at night, the wolves knew long before us that a predator was in the area and they would howl and it would wake us up. So it was to our survival benefit to keep them around, albeit at a comfortable distance. So we didn't mind them scavenging our camps when we packed up to move on to follow, well, our own prey.

Somewhere, sometime, a brave man or woman (or child?), probably took in some abandoned wolf pups and raised them, and over time attracted more to find out if any others were safe to be around and feed. If they were safe, we kept them as our pets and fed them. If they demonstrated any threat to the group, especially the children, we would take them out and kill them. We then began the first genetic engineering ever, we mated together only the friendly wolves.

And generation after generation, we kept and mated together the wolves that were the most friendly and attentive to us, thereby getting offspring that were likely to have the same traits. We took care of them and they protected us by being our predator alert system. As time went on, we selectively mated only our friendly new pets and weeded out the not-so-friendly ones. Over time, this completely separated the gene pool between the wild wolves and the ever human-friendlier version, the new dog.

Back then, well until the past couple hundred years, dogs kept the wolf-like appearance, kind of a dog-wolf (there was a scientific name for it but I sure don't remember it). We were buddies. We made them into our buddies by our selective breeding of them. It has even gotten to the point that when we pet and care for a dog, we get the same hormonal release as when we play with and nurture children, to a far lesser degree I'm sure. But still, pretty amazing. And they have the same hormonal reaction toward us. So now we're not only bonded together in a practical way, but an emotional way as well.

One thing I really took away from the show is the responsibility we have toward dogs. We took them (as wolves) from their natural habitat and away from their predatory hunting nature, and made them dependent on us for food and care. We made them. They are no longer able to, or meant to, survive on their own in the wild. They don't hunt anymore (when they help us hunt they don't eat the prey). If left in the wild they are left to the only means they know to survive, scavenging human leftovers and hoping to get fed by humans. They can't survive without us. They have a strong survival instinct to please us. They are the only animal that actually is attentive toward us, looks us in the eye, and cares about us. We owe it to them to take care of them.

Ronald Arnott is a computer desktop application technician with a Masters Degree in Administration.

Visit his personal site at [http://www.ronsonlinewriting.com]

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