"Dogs that Changed the World"


Bring a dog home to live with you, and eventually you'll probably say, "What did we ever do without her?!" It can be a huge and sometimes challenging lifestyle change, but, if you're lucky like us, it's rewarding in ways you couldn't have imagined.

The history of dogs with humans is similar. It's hard to imagine people without domestic dogs; they've become a deeply rooted part of many cultures. Surprisingly, that this deep connection between dogs and humans may have happened only recently on the evolutionary scale. "Dogs That Changed the World" pulls the pieces of that story together.

Part 1, "The Rise of the Dog", presented current thinking about the earliest dogs. The story most of us heard was that humans captured wild wolf puppies and tamed them. Prof. Ray Coppinger explained that there's a big flaw in that story. Hint: do you think Mesolithic man spent a lot of time bottle feeding baby wolves?

Evidence shows that dog domestication began about the same time as humans began living in settlements. Settlements mean garbage dumps, and garbage dumps mean opportunity for an easy meal to scavenge. The scavenging wolves who had a shorter "flight distance" -- the distance a human could approach without causing them to flee -- held an evolutionary advantage: more food with less energy expenditure.

The show had fascinating footage of an evolutionary experiment that I first read about in Animals in Translation. In the experiments started in the 1950's, Dmitry K. Belyaev began breeding foxes by selecting them solely on the basis of tameness. He made startling discoveries about other genetic traits that these foxes developed over just a few generations.

My understanding of genetics was challenged by the show. It described how scientists have found that modern dogs are probably all descended from one group of dogs in Asia, because the genetic record shows more diversity in this region. I didn't understand why more genetic diversity would point to an origin. I think it may have to do with successful traits being reproduced, and unsuccessful ones dropping out, but I'm not sure. I was also curious why only wolves domesticated themselves via the garbage dump. Shouldn't sea gulls and raccoons also be domesticated by now?!

Part 2, "Dogs By Design", was an interesting look at modern breeding, and some of the more unusual relationships we're developing with dogs today. It's amazing how so many dog breeds have developed in such a remarkably short time. It's also a little disturbing how unintended consequences are often the result. (The comment that Shar- pei's are a genetic mess, even though they're wonderful dogs, hit home; our dog Laika is probably part Shar-pei, and she's had some of the immune system problems that are common to the breed.)

Beyond the science, the show had lots of interesting animations of anatomical differences in dogs, and footage of unusual dogs, including the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Mexican Hairless Dog (or Xoloitzcuintli). Laika really perked up for the footage of wolves howling. Alas, even though we joined in ourselves, we still weren't able to get her to howl. It's a long way from rummaging around the Mesolithic garbage dumps to being snuggled on our recliner!

What did we ever do without them?!


My three German Shepperds howl just like the wolfs, shown on the show! They even look like them when they do it?

I have read Ray and Lorna Coppinger's book and found this program to be an excellent compilation of footage, interviews, and narrations. This challenging idea of dog evolution and behavior was presented in a way that should lead us to ask more questions and learn more about the world about us - not just dogs.
We may not fully understand our dogs, but they sure seem to understand what we're all about!

I am really interested in the tracing of the mitochondrial DNA.
It looks like special wolves in Asia were much more easily tamed than the present wild wolves of the world. I can hardly wait for part 2.

Grandma used to tell me to be careful around red cats because they are mean and aggressive. She would've found the segment about Dr Belyaev's serendipitous discovery so fascinating! I wonder if other similar experiments have taken place, with birds, fish or insects.

This seems to me to be an interesting project to try on North American wolves. If Belyaev could achieve such extensive results in 10 years with foxes, it would seem, at first blush, that some interesting results could probably be achieved with our wolves. It would be a far more interesting undertaking than focusing on life on Mars among others.

I am 100% disabled, I got Jager, my GSD to be a companion and shutzhund. All on his own he began mitigating my disabilities.

Every dog I've owned made me a better man in one way or another.

If these programs are available on discs or CDs, I would gladly purchase them for a fellow dog lover that is very interested in dogs and, in fact has her own kennel and keeps it filled.

I found the program to be interesting; most of the info was new to me; but some of it had already been shown to me by my dogs-I've had dogs my entire life(and that's a long time!)I/my family could not live without the companionship/fun/love of our dogs. I have never selected a pure breed puppy because there are so many mixed breeds; also have never had a male puppy-have adopted/became owner of them though;I always get the female puppies neutered ASAP to slow down the starvation/population explosion-(starvation is an extremely unpleasant way to die!) Dogs rule!

This was a fascinating program, but I found some of the assumptions to be questionable, based on personal experience. I grew up on the Amazon, and spent quite a bit of time with various Indian tribes.

These tribes are in many ways still the equivalent of Stone Age settlements. One common factor is that there is very little waste, and therefore no communal garbage dumps. I have never seen scavengers in any of the tribes I have visited. It is not until the settlements are "modernized" that you begin to see dumps. In addition, because many of the tribes are semi-nomadic, they do not spend enough time at each site for garbage to accumulate enough to attract a steady stream of scavengers.

The other assumption that was made was that wolves could not be tamed because it would require getting them within a very short time of their being born. Again, speaking from personal experience, in every tribe I visited, the natives made pets of every species of wildlife that was native to the area. This included jaguars, tapirs, deer, monkeys, snakes, and birds. The same held true for small Brasilian villages. The animals were not "house pets" in the sense we think about with dogs and cats, but live a semi-tame lifestyle in which they roam at will.

What happens with these tribes of hunters is that soon or later they kill a mother with young babies, or find the young babies while looking for game. They do not kill the babies, but take them home and raise them as pets. The animals become semi-domesticated and usually come and go at will.

In any settlement there are dozens of different animals, but if there are more than one of a species, then they can breed. Or they breed with "wild" neighbors.

My suspicion is that this is what happened with wolves. I do not believe that the change did not happen until such times as villages became settled enough to have large enough dumps to attract scavengers on a regular basis.

I think it much more likely that wolf pups were found and semi-domesticated at many sites at around the same time. From that point things could progress quickly as was shown in the program.

Bob Wright

The video for NATURE "Dogs That Changed the World" will be available for purchase.

Please visit the following website for more information.

A very well done program on canines and their place in human evolution and society.
For all the praise lauded upon the dog and its various breeds, why are animal rights groups lobbying for their obliteration through legislation? There is no question that irresponsible dog ownership exists, and there are current laws which can rein in those offenders, if enforced; but current State legislation passed, and proposals before State assemblies at the present, seek to eradicate responsible dog breeding by passing legislation making hobby dog breeders criminals. I just don't understand the logic.

The first pekinese I owned use to come running whenever I howled at him. The pekinese I have now would chase rabbits in the yard all day if I let him. It's amazing how a breed of dog so far removed from the wolf still somehow has a little wolf left in him.

I was watching the show with my yellow lab, Tawney. She had fallen asleep at the point in the show when they talk about a dog being able to hear something 4 miles away. As the Doberman's on the show were alerted to a noise we could not hear on TV, my dog jumped up out of her sleep and stared at the TV and growled.
Did anyone else experience this with their dogs?

It is a fascinating show. I was glued to the TV and cannot wait for next Sunday for the second part.
I have a GSD that is constantly mistaken for a wolf or a hybrid. In the 19th century GSD were mixed with wolves from time to time to potect them against distemper.
In Czechoslovakia they experimented with wolf-GSD hybrids called Czek wolf-dogs but the hybrids remaind very shy and not suitable as domesticated animals.

For more information on the Inuit Sled Dog, please go to

My wife and I also were glued to the TV during this program. We don't have a dog (or cat) because allergies became severe while having each--though we kept the cats a lot longer cause it's easier to travel with them.

I was fascinated by the theory of how dogs evolved from wolves. I realize there are other possibilities within evolutionary possibilities; but this did seem plausible.

I, too, am looking forward to next week's show.

I have 2 dogs and I love them to death. It was really cool to see how they came too be and I can't wait 'till the second part tonight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What a terrific series. I love dogs , but now live where we have a cat, Lulabelle, and I have to tell you about her. I have been diabetic for about 10 years. Lulabelle came to us at about a year old. She soon could tell when I would have a low sugar coming, usually while I was asleep. She checks my breath and, if my sugar is low, she gently pats me on the forehead. If I do not respond, she wakes up my wife and "stares" at her until she gets me up. All this she simply taught herself. She is about eight years old now and truly is one of God's angels.

The program about dogs was fascinating. However the last discussion was about a child who suffered from seizures from "type I Diabetes". It seems to me that this child was having hypoglycemic attacks, the opposite of diabetes mellitus. It is possible that in a child with type I Diabetes, the dose of insulin given might lead to dangerous hypoglycemia and this would indeed be life saving if it could be easily detected. Could you comment on this matter?

Wonderful show, I love dogs! However, I would like clarification on one point: did the as a Victorian boom in dog-breeding come about as a result of the admiration for the Pekingnese after they were captured and brought to Europe from China?

And the segment about the life-saving German Shephard was also great (it's fascinating to read the comment above about the life-saving cat as well--She sounds just adorable!) How about a show on cats soon? I'd love to learn about how tigers got domesticated into cats...

Thanks for a great program!

It makes sense to me that present day dogs domesticated themselves from wolves, as per the program Part 1. Farley Mowat's accounts in his book "Never Cry Wolf", indicated that wolves co-habitated (albeit not in touching proximity) with him in the Arctic. I have heard that there are few accounts of wolves ever attacking humans. It is conceivable to me that they are predisposed to join our "pack" and allow a human to become the Alpha animal. I especially liked all the puppies...

I was not impressed. The "one dump" theory is rather simplistic. The whole program was a bit too clean and well scrubbed.

The dog was not the first "domesticated creature", that honor belongs to our very distant ancestors.

I'm watching Part 2 now and while it's fascinating, I am rather unhappy that they seemed to conflate aggressive dogs with the huge number of dogs who end up in shelters. The #1 reason dogs are turned in to the shelters in my city is "Owner moving" followed by "Landlord" and "No time". Most of them are NOT aggressive!

As to the question on genetic diversity, I have heard the same about human populations. Humans are thought to have originated in Africa and there is greater genetic diversity there than in the rest of the world.

I believe the thinking is, out of a rather varied original population in one part of the world, a smaller and less genetically diverse population migrated out of the area and spread through the rest of the world. I'm not sure if this is the case with dogs but I can imagine how it might happen.

I missed part 1 of "Dogs that Changed the World", much to my sorrow. Does any one know whether there are plans to rebroadcast these programs?
By Carol
British Columbia

I enjoyed both programs, though I can't imagine why there were no chow chows or Pembroke Welsh corgis (who comprise my own little pack). Half-jokingly, I have often said that dogs domesticated us humans, not the other way 'round. I do wonder, as one very articulate writer noted, if traveling hunter-gatherers really had significant garbage dumps.

I thought this show was very informative. I have a Jack Russel and learned a lot about his behavior and why he does the things he does from watching the show. He has a toy box full of squeaky toys and he will go over and dig his way to the bottom and when he finally comes up with the binky he wants he will just stand there and shake it like crazy. I now know why he does this. I hope there will be more with this show.

This was a very informative show. But could you please post the 800# on the pbs web site again, so we have the opportunity to purchase the DVD of the series. thank you.

I share my life with a Schipperke. She is now 2 years old, and the energizer dog. She thinks she is as big as my neighbor's redbone hound, and they have played together since they were 6 month old puppies. She is the second purebred dog I've had. Most of the rest just sort of arrived. My grandfather, with whom we lived, was a vet, and people would drop off unwanted dogs, or someone would bring in a perfectoly good dog to be destroyed. Pop would never put a healthy dog to sleep, but would find it a home. Usually at our house. Some of the dogs we had were true characters! I've always had both dogs and cats, and most of them will play together. My current senior cat, age 4, thinks she is much too dignified to wrestle with the junior cat, age 3, and the dog, age 2. Actually, she's just too fat and lazy! How wonderful that we have these animals with which to share our lives.

I was watching part I again, and I have to admit, it raised more questions than it answered. For example, wolf packs generally have a dominant alpha pair which is the mating pair of the pack. How would this pairing produce the tamer wolves that "domesticated" themselves? I also found the fox experiment interesting, but I thought evolution had to do with new genetic material being produced. What the experiment suggests is that genetic traits inherent to the foxes were being brought out, similar to the selective breeding done by those who create new types of dogs. The experiment didn't prove natural selection, but instead the artificial selection that even Darwin mentions in the first few chapters of his "Origin of Species."

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