J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 2-6-12
February 6, 2012
Good readers of the Fence Post know that, as a socratic rancher, I have tended to write serially about various species, from cattle to goats, snakes to donkeys.
I will now begin a series about man’s best friend, dogs.
Or, perhaps I might suggest that it is actually the other way around, that man is a dog’s best friend. That is to say, in this article I offer the theory that dogs domesticated humans.
Domestication is a nice way of describing the way in which one species puts another species to work for its benefit. In the case of certain species, such as goats, cattle and burros, it is fairly clear that humans saw these creatures in the wild and brought them into the human domain by capture or guile, followed by training and care.
It isn’t clear, however, that humans saw dogs in the wild and somehow seduced them into human culture. We do know that the modern dog is a descendant of the wolf. Today, worldwide, there are about 100,000 wolves in the wild, and well over 120 million dogs in American homes. It’s clear that those wolves who joined up with humans did quite a bit better.
The dog genome project offered some very convincing evidence that dogs saw humans as a species they could put to work for canine benefit. The dog’s primitive cognitive process asked these rhetorical questions: why dig a hole for a home and hunt for food when humans already have a home and food. Why worry about protection from predators when humans can provide safety.
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As the first phase of human domestication, the dog understood, on a deep instinctual level, that humans are sometimes lonely and need companionship, something which a dog could provide naturally, as a dog’s disposition is to lay around most of the time anyway. Perhaps some dogs proved useful in the hunt, chasing game to increase human chances of a good kill. Again, chasing is something dogs do for fun, so dogs had fun while humans did the hard part, namely the kill, a delegation of responsibility by dogs that showed their genious for human domestication.
Next, dogs understood that humans preferred companionship that did not talk back, so the dog had only to be there, looking hopeful and helpful, while actually just being there doing nothing. And finally, the dog understood that as a part of humans social interaction, entertaiment was important. If they were to surivive in the human culture, dogs had to be entertaining. Thus dogs learned to perform amusing expressions and tricks, things a dog could do with very little effort, especially if compared to the rigors of digging a burrow in the ground to live and raise their young, and having to hunt to kill.
What dogs did not expect was that humans would play around with the breeding of various mutant dogs, resulting in everything from poodles to wolf hounds, pugs to afghans. When dogs realized what humans were up to, they revolted, began to act up. This happened the first time, for example, a beagle saw a wolf hound and said, “What have they done to us?”