Yesterday, I watched bits of Dogs and More Dogs, a PBS/NOVA program about the evolution of dogs. I was drifting in and out of sleep while dozing on the couch, but I did enjoy the show. It presented the two common theories of how dogs branched off from wolves as domesticated animals — the first theory focusing on how Stone Age humanoids actively bred for tamer wolves and the second focusing on how human settlements with concomitant waste sites selected for scavenging wolves who were less afraid of humans. Though I would throw my chips in with the latter theory, I like how the first theory, in some scientists’ accounts, also incorporates a bit about the origins of human language. In these accounts, the relationship between wolves and humans led to a need for verbal/vocal commands that helped develop human speech.

The other tidbit that was interesting was how dogs developed floppy ears, different fur colorings, and barking. As characteristics not seen in wolves, it doesn’t make sense that these traits could’ve been actively selected for in breeding programs. However, a Russian geneticist breeding tame foxes in Siberia discovered that after a few generations of such breeding, floppy ears, different-colored fur, and barking began appearing. This research suggested that some of these characteristics are correlated with a “tameness” gene — linked to the decreased production of adrenaline. Kinda cool.


  1. First of all: yay garbage dumps!

    When I’d heard about the fox breeding, it was presented as though the disposition to contact with humans was a neural pattern, which, it turned out, related to all kinds of things that didn’t seem specifically behavioral, like floppy ears. Apparently it’s also the case that individuals with certain genetic diseases will exhibit behaviors (prudery, for example) that are not present in their social environments, and so thought to be an effect of neural patterns and not learned behavior.

  2. Hmmm. Neural pattern, eh? This tv program presented the results of that research as being about genes that regulate hormone production. But maybe those genes/hormones also regulate neural pattern development? Either way, pretty cool. I want to be a geneticist. Except I don’t understand science too good. The idea of hereditary behavioral patterns is awesome in every sense of the word.

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