Social Cognition in Dogs, or How did Fido get so smart?. This you know:
Domesticated dogs seem to have an uncanny ability to understand human communicative gestures. If you point to something the dog zeroes in on the object or location you're pointing to (whether it's a toy, or food, or to get his in-need-of-a-bath butt off your damn bed and back onto his damn bed). Put another way, if your attention is on something, or if your attention is directed to somewhere, dogs seem to be able to turn their attention onto that thing or location as well.
Amazingly, dogs seem to be better at this than primates (including our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees) and better than their nearest cousins, wild wolves.
But there are two explanations for how/why dogs are better than primates at this task:
And so it was that biological anthropologist Brian Hare, director of the of Duke University Canine Cognition Center wondered: did dogs get so smart because of direct selection for this ability during the domestication of dogs, or did this apparent intelligence evolve, in a sense, by accident, because of selection against fear and aggression?
I didn't even consider that it would be anything except for direct selection. In any case, read the whole post for a run-down of the paper, but here's the blogger's conclusion:
So, these results appear to support the correlated by-product hypothesis, and not the selection for communication hypothesis. It suggests that the evolution of social cognitive abilities in domesticated dogs mirrors that process observed in the experimentally domesticated silver foxes, and that it was a by-product of selection against fear and aggression. To really really get at this question, a study of wolves should be conducted as well.
More broadly, the social intelligence hypothesis (which is another way of framing the selection for communication hypothesis) asserts that primate (and human) intelligence was driven by the need to predict and manipulate the behavior of others, by reading subtle cues in their behavior. These findings suggest that human intelligence may have evolved, instead, as a by-product of selection against fear of and aggression towards others.
So it was a happy accident.
Dogs can not only look where you point, they can learn to look where you look. I found this out when I had a Doberman pinscher. Walking through the woods, I could see over brush he couldn't see through. When I'd react to something, he'd rear up and look at where I was looking. He was using me to spot wild animals for him, usually white tails, but the occasional badger or woodchuck. (He was on a leash strapped to my arms, so no worry. He loved seeing wildlife.)
That is interesting. Fortunately the article is open access.
"These findings suggest that human intelligence may have evolved, instead, as a by-product of selection against fear of and aggression towards others."
Which, I'm guessing, as an informed (hopefully) layperson, is co-related to selection for cooperation? Which is tough if fear of others is a significant factor.
I wonder if Chimpanzees bred for tameness over as many generations as those Russian foxes would develop anything interesting.
"To really really get at this question, a study of wolves should be conducted as well."
"I wonder if Chimpanzees bred for tameness over as many generations as those Russian foxes would develop anything interesting."
I am sure that both experiments would prove quite interesting. As human society becomes richer and overcomes our current climate change, resource depletion, and other difficulties, I expect that there will be a 'careful domestication' of quite a few species....
Wolves would probably be a 'redomestication' of dogs...but the experiment could be made more interesting by doing the selection with wild wolves.
In the case of chimpanzees (or gorillas...) it could become quite interesting if after several generations of selecting for mellowness the 'uplift' project starts _also_ selecting for intelligence and communication skills.
Grizzly bears would make an interesting domesticate.
Keil's question regarding selection for tameness in chimps is one that has interested me for some time. In comparison with the Siberian fox-farm experiment, it's interesting to note that while tameness was the factor being selected, the resulting offspring developed other observable traits that point suggest features we associate with dogs and their presumed juvenile wolf developement; floppy ears, curly tails, pigmentation effects and even barking.
I've also seen videos of researchers conducting some of these intelligence tests contrasting how dogs seem to understand that where their human companions point is where they should direct their attention, whereas wolves don't do this. I wonder if this behavior might be something wolves have as juveniles but loose when they enter adult phase. It would seem that for young wolves who are learning from adult wolves that might be a valuable capability and they might only need that when they're in their young learning phase and loose it when their roles as adult are established or fixed at which time their focus is solely on status within their packs rather than trying to learn from their parents.
Obviously if one astute biologist can select silver foxes for non-aggression and eventually succeed in creating a tame, family friendly fox, another can select non-aggressive African zebras, breed them for a dozen generations, and create a fine riding and hauling zebra. Of course, selecting for non-aggressiveness may create unexpected secondary physical characteristics i.e. a 'checkerboard hide', but wouldn't looking like a Checker Taxi be appropriate?
My dogs seem to be able to understand almost everything we say and do. It is hard work to keep anything secret from them. For example, if I am packing for a trip, I have to carry things a bit at a time (in a deliberately casual manner, as if I was taking out garbage or something) into the garage, and pack the suitcases in there where they can't see me. We have brought them with us on a lot of trips, and if they see suitcases they would get all excited and assume they were going on the trip.
They get very excited about going for walks and car rides. If I were to ask my husband "when shall we take the dogs out" they would start jumping around and barking and acting crazy in anticipation, and we would have to go right then. So instead I say "when shall we go.. ahem", but they have figured that out too. In fact, if it is mid day on a weekend, they know they are probably going to get a walk and they watch us like hawks. Any time I talk to or even just make eye contact with my husband they are alert, and looking back and forth between us, trying to figure out what will happen next. You don't have to do anything obvious like rattle a leash. It is almost as if they can read minds.
A Chimpanzee breeding program was performed in the 80's-90's, although, but they didn't select for any traits, the only purpose was to breed test animals in captivity.
And with animal rights progress, this happened;
"1995 - A moratorium on the breeding of federally-owned chimpanzees was put in place by National Institutes of Health, due to a "surplus" of chimpanzees after the realization that the chimpanzee is a poor model for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)."
Obviously if one astute biologist can select silver foxes for non-aggression and eventually succeed in creating a tame, family friendly fox, another can select non-aggressive African zebras, breed them for a dozen generations, and create a fine riding and hauling zebra.
As part of the thesis of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond asserted that one reason for the success of Eurasia compared to Africa is that Eurasia had the great good luck of having many large animal species that turned out to be suitable for domestication, while Africa had few or none. (Remember his famous comment about how history might have been different if Zulus had been able to ride rhinoceroses?) One example of this that he gave was the Zebra, which he claimed was fundamentally just too mean to be domesticated.
I thought of this when, a couple of years ago, I attended a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Some of the acts had zebras performing along with horses in the ring. Since I had internalized Diamond's argument at this point, I found this kind of startling! I paid close attention to the performance, and noticed that the more complicated maneuvers seemed to be reserved for the horses, while the zebras went through somewhat simpler paces. Nevertheless, the zebras were clearly well trained and controlled. It makes me wonder just how difficult the domestication of zebras in Africa really would have been, and if anyone there had ever even thought to make a serious effort.
Dogs aren't generally smarter than wolves, just socially smarter, while humans are generally smarter than chimps.
One of my dogs has a dry, flaky nose, and sometimes I put ointment on it, which she hates. She always gets anxious when sees my eyes focusing on her nose. She doesn't mind me looking at her face in a general way, or looking into her eyes. But as soon as I focus on her nose, she will get upset, try to escape, growl, etc.
Dogs are a parasitic species bred to be emotional prosthetics for humans.
Elands tame easily. I think Diamond's argument about domestication in Africa is plain wrong: likely true in Australia, though.
On elands and bison, by the time the domestication experiments were tried, oxen were scarcely used any more as draft animals, and as meat animals they couldn't compete economically with cattle which had been bred for slaughter for centuries. The failure of those experiments means nothing.
I loved GG&S, but I took it as a grabbag of interesting facts and arguments. His global arguments weren't convincing, though it was certainly stimulating. He resembles his mentor, McNeill, in this respect. There's a midpoint somewhere, but academic historians have ended to be too cautious rather than too bold, so Diamond has had a good effect. "Big History" (Craig Benjamin, David Christian) now seems to be a trend.
I'm rambling, I guess, but the time has come for a history of the oxcart to go along with the histories of the domesticated camel and horse, iron, salt, cod, etc. The early Indo-Europeans relied on oxcarts, and oxcarts were a factor in the American west into the second half og the 19th century, and in underdeveloped areas even today. They're geared down compared to horses and are more functional on bad or non-existent roads.
The mule, an infertile hybrid between a donkey and a horse was a highly valued work animal pre 1900 back to ancient times. Where the story gets wierd and worth investigating is that the mule was always the product of a male donkey and female horse, the reverse the product of a female donkey and male horse was called a hinny and considered a worthless work animal. Now it makes sense that a mule could be larger than a hinny because its mother was so much larger. It also makes sense that the hinny could be rarer than the mule for biological and mating behavior reasons. But all kinds of physical and behavior attributes reliably change depending on who is the mother and who is the father. A hinny always nieghs like a horse while a mule always brays like a donkey. I could go on at length on what I believe to be fertile territory for futher research but then I'd be hyjacking the thread. Mind you the experts on these seperate behaviors are from the 19th century and earlier. George Washington was one of the first promoters of mules while he said a hinny was vicious beast that would wait twenty years to exact it's revenge.