Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOVA Home Find out what's coming up on air Listing of previous NOVA Web sites NOVA's history Subscribe to the NOVA bulletin Lesson plans and more for teachers NOVA RSS feeds Tell us what you think Program transcripts Buy NOVA videos or DVDs Watch NOVA programs online Answers to frequently asked questions

TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: February 3, 2004


Dogs and More Dogs homepage

Where do dogs in all their amazing diversity come from? Tradition says that thousands of years ago someone tamed a wolf pup, thus creating the first of our best friends. But many scientists disagree. On "Dogs and More Dogs," NOVA goes to the dogs—and to leading researchers—to find out the truth.

Narrated by John Lithgow, the program ranges from a wolf research facility in rural Indiana to the Westminster Dog Show in New York's Madison Square Garden. NOVA makes a fascinating detour to the city dump in Tijuana, Mexico, where viewers get surprising insight into the origin and evolutionary strategy of our canine companions.

The program also investigates dog genetic diseases—how they reflect misguided breeding practices and, surprisingly, what they tell us about our own genetic disorders. Along the way, viewers will learn about the biological mechanisms behind floppy ears, curved tails, spotted coats, short legs, long snouts, and the countless other traits that make dogs so doggone different.

Dog evolution is simpler than most people think, contends Raymond Coppinger, professor of biology at Hampshire College and coauthor of Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. Coppinger is convinced that, contrary to the traditional theory that humans actively domesticated wolves, wolves themselves chose domestication because of the easy pickings in Stone Age refuse dumps, where those animals that weren't scared off by people had a better chance of finding food and surviving.

"Any one wolf that's a little tamer than the other, who can stay there longer, gets more food," Coppinger says. "He's the one that's going to win that evolutionary battle." It's natural selection in action, he notes, adding that "the idea that Stone Age people could tame and then train and then domesticate a wolf is just ludicrous."

Coppinger also thinks it's unlikely that early humans consciously bred dogs for ear shape, coat color, and other traits. Suggestively, these characteristics appear naturally in foxes, a cousin of wolves and dogs, as their hormone levels change with increasing tameness. Coppinger further postulates that typical dog behaviors such as tracking, pointing, retrieving, and herding are aspects of a wolf's unvarying hunting routine that have been isolated in a dog's genes.

Also participating in the program are James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; Elaine Johnston, president of the Empire Saluki Club of New York; and geneticist Robert Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles, who authored a controversial study of canine DNA in which he suggested that dogs are far more ancient than previously thought.

Another researcher in the show is geneticist Mike Levine of the University of California at Berkeley, who is filmed at home with his first dog ever, Taxi, acquired after intense family pressure. "There is one cool thing about dogs," he says with a scientist's appreciation for his new best friend. "It's all the varieties—different shapes, different sizes, different colors. It's an extreme example of evolutionary diversification."

Back to top

Actor John Lithgow, seen here with his blue merle Australian shepherd, narrates NOVA's "Dogs and More Dogs."




Dogs and More Dogs
A Potpourri of Pooches

A Potpourri
of Pooches

How come dogs come in so many shapes and sizes?

The Truth About Dogs

The Truth About Dogs
Author Stephen Budiansky explains why dogs have flourished.

Working Dogs

Working Dogs
The tasks dogs perform are remarkably diverse.

Dogs Around the World

Dogs Around
the World

Match 14 dogs to the environment they were bred for.



Program Transcript

Program Credits



Send Feedback Image Credits
   
NOVA Home Find out what's coming up on air Listing of previous NOVA Web sites NOVA's history Subscribe to the NOVA bulletin Lesson plans and more for teachers NOVA RSS feeds Tell us what you think Program transcripts Buy NOVA videos or DVDs Watch NOVA programs online Answers to frequently asked questions

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site