Science Snippet: Man’s Best Friend

Dogs and man have evolved together over thousands of years and yet scientists still wonder about the relationship between man and dog. For more than a decade a group of Russian scientists studied wild foxes to determine how long it might take for these foxes to become domesticated, or tame. By selecting the less aggressive foxes in each generation and interbreeding them it was discovered that after many generations foxes were born that had physical and behavioral characteristics associated with tame modern dogs. Such foxes ran to greet the experimenter when he or she approached the cage; these animals also sought contact with humans and greeted them with tail wagging, whining, whimpering and licking, much as our domesticated dogs do today. Rather than foxes, gray wolves presumably became domesticated to serve as guard dogs and companions. Other than helping keep the campsite clean (grabbing discarded morsels of food, eating feces) and participating in hunts, recent evidence suggests 9-10,000 years ago Arctic hunter/gatherers actually bred dogs to pull sleds for use during hunts of big game, including polar bears, which were common in the area. These ancient people managed to kill their prey with spears and cunning. Archaeologists discovered many dog bones as well as remnants of wooden sleds in sites dated to 15,000 years ago. The research team made careful measurements of the bones to distinguish between dog, wolf and Siberian Huskies. Sled dogs typically are not huge and weigh 46-55 lbs. The smaller size helps prevent overheating in the Arctic, which is common in large sled dogs. Since the remains of wooden sleds were found alongside the dog bones, the authors guessed the sleds were pulled by dogs, perhaps carrying butchered polar bears back to the campsite, for bear meat was a major food source for the Paleoindians in this part of Russia. (Scientific American, May issue. p. 69; Science, 2017, June 2, p. 896)

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