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BLOG: New study finds dogs were domesticated twice

Allison M Cooper
York Dispatch

I find it fascinating to think about where dogs come from and how they have evolved. It occurs to me when we are training our puppy, Tug — and the expectations we have about how he should behave to basically accommodate us. To me, it's important to approach raising our dog — and his needs and behavior —  in terms of his evolution and domestication. It's fulfilling to work with Tug and train him (train us, really) so we can communicate, but there's something unsettling about asking him to conform to human nature at the expense of his own wild nature.

I'm caught off guard and endlessly amazed when flashes of wolf are present. I catch them in his strength and speed, when he really turns them on, they are quite phenomenal.

And that jaw. . . .

Choppers

But he's also a cuddly homebody, who likes to snooze on the couch and hang out with his human pack. He's a willing road trip sidekick, he'll ride shotgun or snooze in the back. He likes running around in New York City and swimming in the pool at doggie daycare.

These are the upsides to domestication, and for dogs who are integrated and truly a part of the family, it seems a perfectly enjoyable dog's life — if their body language is any indication.

Cuddles.

A new study released this week addresses the origins of our best friends and finds that there is a reason they fit into our lives so beautifully. According to a study by researchers at the University of Oxford, dogs have been domesticated twice.

Study Abstract:

The history of how wolves became our pampered pooches of today has remained controversial. Frantz et al. describe high-coverage sequencing of the genome of an Irish dog from the Bronze Age as well as ancient dog mitochondrial DNA sequences. Comparing ancient dogs to a modern worldwide panel of dogs shows an old, deep split between East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Thus, dogs were domesticated from two separate wolf populations on either side of the Old World. — University of Oxford

Scientists have wondered whether dogs first forged relationships with humans in Europe or Asia. The new study, based on the inner-ear bone from a 5,000-year-old dog, indicates the answer, the preliminary one, anyway, is both. The specimen was unearthed in Newgrange, on the east coast of Ireland.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

"Researchers sequenced this specimen’s entire nuclear genome—the first complete genome from an ancient dog to be published—and compared it to the nuclear DNA of 605 modern dogs from around the world. The team then created a family tree for the animals, which revealed a deep divide between European dogs (like the Newgrange canine and the golden retriever) and Asian dogs (like the shar pei and free-ranging village dogs from Tibet and Vietnam). 'I was like, ‘Holy s—' said project leader Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford. 'We never saw this split before because we didn’t have enough samples.'”

This study is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is  that it can help us understand and respect dogs' natures and origins. The York Dispatch has reported on so many cases of animal endangerment and abuse — and to my thinking, those acts occur because of the skewed notion that humans' have an ultimate superiority and animal lives have little or no value.

So this research reminds us that dogs' domestication is a gift to us, not to be taken for granted and not to be abused.