Razboinichya Rover

ResearchBlogging.orgIn 1975, a well preserved “dog-like” skull was found in the Razboinichya Cave (in the Altai Mountains in Siberia).  Because this skull was so well preserved, it provided opportunities for study between this animal, dogs, and wolves.

A wolf skull, dissimilar to the skull found in Siberia.

This cave was a home to many other archeological finds. There were bones from numerous other mammals, from reptiles, amphibians, and fish.  About 71, 290 mammalian bones and fragments were uncovered and removed from this site. The “dog like” skull was found among the bones of foxes, cave hyenas, and gray wolves.

But what exactly was this skull?

After extensive analysis, the pooch in the cave was found to be most similar to fully domesticated dogs from Greenland that existed 1000 years ago.  The Razboinichya Rover was unlike wolves, both modern and ancient.

They look at the skull shape, the arrangement of the teeth, and so forth.  The short and relatively broad snout and the tight teeth, both indicate that this animal is more dog than wolf.  The only slight anonamly is that the teeth of the Razboinichya canid is inconsistent with the Greenland domesticated dog.  In all other measurements, this canid is a dead-ringer. Continue reading


The Iconic Australian Dingo

My non-Australian readers may not know about the Aussie icon, the Dingo (Canis lupus).  The dingo is the only large carnivore on mainland Australia, and it is unique as it is also a placental mammal (while most mammals in Australia are marsupials).

Headshot of an Australian Dingo

Headshot of an Australian Dingo - photo courtsey of Flickr (username: 0ystercatcher).

Aboriginal people inhabited Australia before the invasion by European settlers.  It is believed that dingoes entered the Australian environment by trading between aboriginal people and visiting Asian ships.  Though they are not strictly a ‘native’ Australian animal, they are practically and are the principal predator on mainland Australia.

While a lot of texts describe dingoes as ‘wild animals’, it seems that the relationship between dingoes and aboriginal people was (and still is) a bit more complex.  Dingoes provided companionship, like a dog, to aboriginal people, but also hunted and fended for themselves in packs.  It seems dingoes took the best of both worlds – the domesticated tameness of a dog but the ability to hunt, and the independence, of their distant wolf ancestors.

To me, the Australian dingo makes for interesting study for anyone interested in dogs.  It seems like the dingo has almost taken reverse domestication – they were imported from Asian countries (approximately 5,000 years ago) as domesticated, but then ‘went wild’ and hunted in Australia.  While Coppinger and others talk about wolves becoming dogs, it seems that dogs will then became dingoes again when given the opportunity (at least in Australia).

Screen grab from the ABC Radio National website.

Screen grab from the ABC Radio National website.

The reason I’m writing about the dingo today is after being reminded about their significance from the ABC Radio National ‘Bush Telegraph’ program’s recent segment called Iconic Animals – The Dingo.  For anyone who has an hour free, you are sure to enjoy this program.

This radio program talks about how the dingo entered Australia (briefly), before going into dingo vocalisations, colouring, and conservation.  Conservation is a tricky issue – with many farmers being legally able to shoot, trap, bait, and otherwise exterminate dingoes (as they appear to be ‘wild dogs’, and, fundamentally, are wild dogs), while they are also threatened as they are breeding with domesticated dogs to make dingo-dog hybrids. That is, pure dingoes are under threat of extinction (though pure populations do exist).  The program looks also at how connected indigenous (aboriginal) people of Australia are to the dingo, in that they believe that dingoes and humans are family.

It’s a broad program, looking at many different issues, but certainly interesting – and I’m sure would be especially interesting to my international readers who have not heard of the dingo before.

Click here to read about the program and listen.


McGreevy’s Thoughts on Dog Breeding

This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


Throughout Paul McGreevy’s two day seminar, he expressed a number of opinions regarding dog breeding. Being a dog breeder myself, I anticipate I paid particular heed to his comments.  I find that, in the current climate of dog rescue and puppy farms, dog breeders are constantly under scrutiny and, in general, I find myself a little defensive to conversations surrounding dog breeding.

However, McGreevy had some very interesting and thought-provoking ideas surrounding dog breeding, and he presented them in a very amenable way.  That is: McGreevy didn’t breeder bash!  He approached matters surround breeding dogs in a matter-of-fact way.  Indeed, he spent more time blaming the system of dog breeding (i.e. breeding purebred dogs to a standard) for the problems in dogs today than critiquing breeders themselves.  Fundamentally, McGreevy believes that the system for breeding dogs need to change in order to emphasise the health and temperament of dogs, and not their physical appearances.


Bitch with puppy

Couldn’t resist including a photo of my current singleton litter.  See here border terrier mum with her 2 day old puppy.

Domestication and dog breeds

Domestication and selective breeding have changed dogs from their wolf ancestors.  For example, dog skulls have changed a great deal from the skull of a wolf, and there is also much variation between dog breeds.  Not surprisingly, the brains of dogs have changed too, with a wolf brain weighing three times as much as a dog brain.  Considering that the dog’s brain is part of its central nverous system, it is reasonable to assume that there may be implications for the dog’s entire nervous system.  McGreevy said, “We are only just beginning to learn what we’ve done.”

One thing is for sure: We don’t have a wolf in our lounge room.

In times gone by, breeding dogs were selected on the ability to perform tasks, such as herding, retrieving, carting, or any other purpose.  These days, selection is mostly based on conformation, and emphasis is being place on ‘beauty’ traits such as coat and colouration instead of structure.  McGreevy believes that this current system ineffective, as 150 years of breeding dogs ‘to standard’ has resulted in a host of inherited disorders.  Considering this, McGreevy believes that the dog breeding system needs to change.


Current dog breeding practices are cruel

McGreevy asserted that inherited disorders are a form of cruelty.  He also put forward that, considering that the main reason dogs are euthanised in shelters is due to their temperament, breeding for good temperaments is imperative.  Neither of these traits are overly considered in the current breeding system.

McGreevy believes that breed standards often are in contradiction to animal welfare.  He used the British Bulldog as an example.  He criticised the standard for asking for a head that is “the larger the better”, while at the same time calling for a narrow pelvis – an obvious problem for the whelping abilities of the breed.  Furthermore some of the points in the standard are actually unhealthy (for example, loose skin in Shar Pei has been found to correlate with joint problems, and the skull shape of a dog influences its vision).  In McGreevy’s opinion, dog breed standards have been written in a manner that is sometimes contradictory to dog well being.


Continue reading


Belyaev’s Fox Experiment – Index

After frequently finding myself encountering references to Belyaev’s fox experiment in a number of dog-related texts, I felt the need to investigate his experiment more thoroughly.  This has resulted in a lot of reading, but a lot of new found knowledge.  From this reading, I hope to have a better understanding of the connection dog-authors are trying to make between dogs and the fox experiment. I hope it also proves useful for my readers.

Part I – Introduction
A summary of the work of Belaev in his ongoing experiment with foxes.

Part II – Changes
Description of the changes observed in Belyaev’s fox experiment.

Part III – Answers
Possible reasons for the changes seen in the foxes in Belyaev’s experiment.

Part IV – Dogs?
Why does the Belyaev fox experiment matter to dogs?

I hope this series has been of interest, as I thoroughly enjoyed researching.  I did cut out some bits and pieces, so please feel free to comment if you feel I haven’t answered a burning question for you! Additionally, if you would like in text referencing, I can provide such.

References: Continue reading


Belyaev’s Fox Experiment – Dogs? – Part IV

This post is part of the series on Belyaev’s fox experiments.
(index | part I | part II | part III | part IV )

You may have read my previous three posts, which have explained details of Belyaev’s fox experiment.  And you may have wondered the relevance of studying foxes on a blog about dogs.

Obviously, foxes are not dogs. They’re not even wolves. However, they aren’t far off it.  Regions of fox chromosomes correspond with those of the dog (to be specific, fox chromosome 1 seems to indicate a fusion between chromosomes 1, 33 and 12 as we see today in the dog).  That means that we should not disregard this research because it is a different species.

Chiefly, this study can be used to examine the process of dog domestication. Because domestication and associated variability seemingly occurred relatively quickly, there have been doubts that Darwinian theories are applicable. However, this study shows that significant changes can be seen in a brief period of time and generations. Coppinger (in his book Dogs) uses this study to show how quickly a significant change can take place – in the foxes here, significant morphological and physiological changes were seen in just 8-10 generations. This all occurred with just one selection pressure – selecting for ‘tameness’.

Dogs are very different to wolves.

This is surprising on a surface level, but when considering the causes of these changes it is not so remarkable.  Indeed, these changes have been seem occur in a similar way in terms of wolf’s domestication to dogs.  For example, dogs play as adults while wolves do not, and dogs carry many other juvenile-wolf characteristics.  Furthermore, dog puppies respond to human cues like fox domesticated pups and indeed are ‘dog like’ in many behavioural ways.  It is likely that the causes of the foxes changes are also the reason the wolf is the dog we know today.

On a larger scale, this research shows that we can select for nature.  Consider that these dogs were never trained, but were selected on their genetic amicability to humans.  This is a loud message on how we should be selecting dogs to breed from.

I hope this series has been of interest, as I thoroughly enjoyed researching.  I did cut out some bits and pieces, so please feel free to comment if you feel I haven’t answered a burning question for you! Additionally, if you would like in text referencing, I can provide such.

References: Continue reading