recent years it’s been suggested that dogs are not predators at all, just scavengers. If
so then how do we answer the simple question that almost every dog
asks: “Why does my puppy shake his head around when he has a toy in his
mouth?” or “Why does he chase leaves when the wind blows, or run
after anything that moves and try to bite it?”
The answer is
that dogs really are predators at heart, and the heart of the puppy is
the clearest window into that truth. Think about it: a puppy
is attracted to everything in the world through his teeth. He seems
utterly driven to grab, bite, nibble, mouth, and chew everything he
can. Do cats do that? Pet gerbils, ferrets? Nope, just dogs.
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true that wolves are generalists. They don’t just hunt,
they’ll also scavenge if necessary. So it’s not much of a stretch to think that it was only one aspect of the wolf’s nature
that created the dog/human. But I think instead of wolves being attracted to us through
our garbage, we were attracted to each other because we were both group predators. After all, we're social animals, they're social
animals. I think it’s a pretty good bet that we identified with them on
some level. The history and lore of many native peoples tell us that
that this is so. Even
today most dog owners form strong feelings of identification with their dogs.
another element to this, by the way, which is that in most predator
families the young animals are kicked out of the group once they reach
adolescence; they’re not allowed to stick around with mommy once they’re big enough to take care of themselves. But wolf offspring don’t go out on their own until they’re
at least 2 years old. If we look at the way wolves continue to nurture
and take care of their young, we have to wonder why this is. What is
the adaptive purpose, if any for this difference? It’s dangerous for most predators to try to live together; they have a tendency to attack one another. And what was the actual mechanism for the evolution of this continued nurturing behavior in wolf families?
I think the answer is simple: oxytocin, the nurturing hormone. I think it’s
quite probable that at some point in time wolf pups kept producing this
nonopeptide long after cougar and jaguar cubs did. This hormone, which
also acts as a pheromone, is said to create feelings of trust and even
love in others. And if our human ancestors were in an environmental
niche where they had close contact with wolves, they would’ve
been affected by it as well, which would also explain why we became so
attracted to wolves intitially, and invited then into our campfires, etc.
So my theory
is that in some long ago ecological niche, before humans thought
themselves superior and separate from other animals, we were probably
sharing a habitat somewhere with a group of wolves, whose young came
equipped with strong doses of oxtytocin. This would’ve made us feel trusting of them, plus it would’ve given us an
opportunity to observe the way they hunted together. If we were still
struggling with the idea of how to create weapons to assist us in our
need to hunt, and saw how wolves managed to kill large prey without
weapons, and we saw how successful they were at preying on the kind of
big animal with lots of meat on its bones that made our mouths water
(think Homer Simpson: “Mmmm, venison...”), which was also the kind of
animal we would have been hesitant to hunt on our own for fear of being
knocked senseless by its hooves or gored by its horns, and if we were
hungry, and out hunting rabbits one day, and saw how successful these
wolves were at killing something that could feed our families for a week, there might’ve been a pre-historic light bulb or thought balloon that popped over our heads saying, “Oh, so that’s how you do it. You work as a team!”
might have even taken us a few generations of letting the wolves do the
work and then scavenging from their kill site. If so then the
human/wolf dynamic as proposed by the current “dogs as scavengers
theory,” would be totally reversed. We may have very well let the
wolves do the killing, and even let them have the organ meat; we just
wanted to scavenge that fresh, juicy muscle tissue (“Mmmm, juicy muscle tissue...”). Another possibility is that we might’ve even helped with
the hunt. Being taller, with long arms what we could wave around in the
air, we could’ve been very usefull at scaring the prey animals into
running, one thing that’s sometimes difficult for wolves to accomplish.
So we could’ve very well assisted them, rather than what was proposed in the old theory, that we taught them to hunt for us.
But if the symbiotic relationship started because oxytocin made us
trust them, which enabled us to we recognize that they had superior
hunting skills and were primarily interested in organ meats, well, once
they were through eating, we would’ve politely scared them off so we
could take the rest. And they probably wouldn’t have minded too much.
After all, that’s how symbiotic relationships operate.
my theory is that we didn’t domesticate wolves, they domesticated us.
(Though it was probably a two-way street, I like putting it the way I
have because of how my own dog, Freddie, had such a domesticating
influence on my life.)