In Celebration of National Happy Dog Day--Who Trained Who?
Somewhere in the realm of the last 10,000 years humans and dogs formed an unbreakable bond that accelerated both species to never before seen levels of evolution. There are many examples of mutualistic relationships in wild, but none quite as intricate as humans and dogs. Leaf cutter ants farm their own food by bringing fresh greens to a fungus they have been cultivating since ancient times. Their fungus eats these plants and then the ants eat the fungus. Bees, hummingbirds, butterflies among others gain food from the sweet nectar of flowers, and in the process bring pollen from one plant to another. These plants wouldn't be able to reproduce without their hungry messengers.
So what makes humans and dogs so special? First we are both large thinking mammals, who hunt in packs and use coordinated plans involving verbal and visual cues to orchestrate. Of course, these days we go to the grocery store and buy a steak for us and a bag of dog food for the pup. However, when this relationship first began, things were a little different.
Theories are that wolves and coyote-like creatures began to follow human tribes around, enticed by the potential to steal tasty morsels from us, since we were pretty effective hunters on our own and often had extra food. No one knows exactly how, but at some point a canine and a human exchanged food and established a bond. They realized they could benefit from working with one another. The dog could chase the prey that the human had smartly ambushed. The human could provide its eyes and strategic planning, and the dog could provide its nose, hearing, sharp teeth, and speed.
Once this complex relationship formed, selective breeding followed not too much after. Humans chose dogs with ideal traits and had them breed with their similar peers. This selective breeding shaped dogs to be human companions. The dogs that could best communicate with humans were chosen and bred. For 10,000 years this continued, and our evolutions became intertwined. Dogs became able to understand us, and we, understand them. They evolved eyebrows, distinct facial expressions, vocalizations, and the desire to be loved.
It is truly fascinating as we have altered the evolution of many creatures, but none as drastically and consistently as dogs. Then again I wonder, having dogs help hunt made things easier for us, but it also made things easier for them. Even today, we get frustrated that we must train our dogs, and I think maybe they are training us? We spend hundreds of dollars on veterinary care, food, leashes, toys, flea medicine, you name it. What does the dog do for us? Pee on the carpet? Maybe you should reconsider who is the real "Master."
Either way, we are lucky to have such wonderful furry creatures licking our faces. Happy Dog Day everyone!
Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.