Tag Archives: Dogs

How Dogs Won The World

Years ago I proposed a theory (not anywhere in print, just in seminars and talks) that went roughly like this. Humans hunt. Dogs hunt. Prey animals get hunted. Each species (or set of species) has a number of characteristics such as the ability to stalk, track, kill, run away, form herds, etc. Now imagine a landscape with humans, wolves, and game animals all carrying out these behaviors, facilitated with various physical traits. Then, go back to the drawing board and redesign the system.

The hunting abilities of humans and dogs, the tendency of game animals to herd up or take other actions to avoid predation, etc., if disassembled and reassembled with the same actors playing somewhat different roles, give you a sheep herder, a protecting breed of dogs (like the Great Pyrenees or other mastiff type breeds), a herding dog (like a border collie) and a bunch of sheep, cattle, or goats.

Even human hunting with dogs (not herding domesticated animals) involves a reorganization of tasks and abilities, all present in non-dog-owning human ancestors and wolves (dog ancestors), but where the game are, as far as we know, unchanged. Human hunters documented in the ethnographic record, all around the world, had or have dogs, and those dogs are essential for many hunting types. The Efe Pygmies, with whom I lived in the Congo for a time, use dogs in their group hunting, where they spook animals into view for killing by archers, or drive them into nets that slow the game down long enough to be killed. The Efe actually get a lot of their game by ambush hunting, where a solitary man waits in a tree for a game animal to visit a nearby food source. He shoots the animal from the tree with an arrow. But, even then, the dog plays a role, because the wounded animal runs away. The trick to successful ambush hunting is to do it fairly near camp so you can call for help when an animal is wounded. Someone sends out a dog, and the dog runs the animal to ground. And so forth.

Scientist and science writer Pat Shipman has proposed another important element that addresses a key question in human evolution. Neanderthals, who were pretty much human like we are in most respect, and our own subspecies (or species, of you like) coexisted, but the Neanderthals were probably better adapted to the cooler European and West Asian environment they lived in. But, humans outcompeted them, or at least, replaced them, in this region very quickly once they arrived. Shipman suggests that it was the emerging dog-human association, with humans domesticating wolves, that allowed this to work. Most remarkably, and either very insightfully or totally fancifully (depending on where the data eventually lead), Shipman suggests that is was the unique human ability to communicate with their gaze that allowed this to happen, or at least, facilitated the human-dog relationship to make it really work. We don’t know if Neanderthals had this ability or not, but humans do and are unique among primates. We have whites around our Irises, which allow others to see what we are looking at, looking for, and looking like. We can and do communicate quite effectively, and by the way generally viscerally and honestly, with our glance. This, Shipman proposes, could have been the key bit of glue (or lubricant?) that made the human-dog cooperation happen, or at least, rise to a remarkable level.

The Invaders: How humans and their dogs drove Neanderthals to extinction, by Pat Shipman, outlines this theory. But that is only part of this new book. Shipman also provides a totally up to date and extremely readable, and enjoyable, overview of Neanderthal and contemporary modern human evolution. Shipman incorporates the vast evidence from archaeology, physical anthropology, and genetics to do so, and her book may be the best current source for all of this.

This is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it. Shipman also wrote “The Animal Connection,” “The Evolution of Racism,” “The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins,” and several other excellent books on human evolution and other topics. Shipman, prior to becoming mainly a science writer, pioneered work in the science of Taphonomy, developing methods for analyzing marks on bones recovered from archaeological and paleontologic sites, such as those marks that may have been left by early hominins using stone tools to butcher animals.

Seriously, go read The Invaders: How humans and their dogs drove Neanderthals to extinction.

Can Dogs Transmit Ebola? And, should Excalibur be put down? they put down Excalibur.

UPDATE: They killed the dog.

UPDATE: I’m adding this here because it is my current post on Ebola. Thomas Eric Duncan, the person who became symptomatic with Ebola in Dallas, had died at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital (according to news alerts).

A nurse’s assistant in Spain caring for Spanish nationals returned with Ebola from West Africa contracted the disease, gaining the dubious distinction of being the first person to be infected with Ebola outside of that disease’s normal range in West Africa, Central Africa and western East Africa. There is speculation that she contracted the disease by contacting the outside surfaces of her own protective gear, which is exactly what I’ve speculated to be a likely cause of infection in health care workers. This is not certain, however.

Members of her family and others, including additional health care workers, are in quarantine. There is evidence that the hospital procedures were inadequate to keep a lid on Ebola in this context, and nurse’s unions and others are protesting and demanding change.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government has claimed that there is “scientific evidence” that dogs can transmit Ebola, so Excalibur, the nurse’s family dog, will be euthanized and incinerated. People have gone to the streets to safe the dog.

So, can dogs get, or transmit if they get it, Ebola? Short answer: Yes, and probably not. Here’s my thinking on this, and some information.

1) Pick a random species, or to make it easier, pick a random mammal, and test to see if it can transmit a disease known in humans. It is unlikely to be the case because diseases are to some degree adapted to exist in certain hosts, and host vary, well, by species. So it seems unlikely.

2) On the other hand, Ebola seems to be able to infect a very wide range of mammals. Ebola resides in multiple species of fruit bats (though maybe not uniformly or equally well). A range of mammals seen to be suitable intermediates between fruit bats and humans. The mammals known to be able to harbor Ebola are diverse. It isn’t like only primates can be infected. So, it seems quite possible.

3) On the third hand, I’ve never heard of dogs being addressed as an issue in the current crisis in West Africa or during prior outbreaks. One would think that if dogs were a concern this would have been mentioned by someone some time.

4) On the fourth hand, dogs in Central Africa are less likely to be house dogs, hanging around with the family on the couch, and more likely to be working dogs that spend all their time outdoors. A Spanish family pet may have hung around on the sick bed with an ill individual. I don’t know about dogs in West African cities. By the way, you have to go look to see what the story with dogs there is, and it may within that context. I’ve noticed that westerners tend to have a rather monolithic view of how humans “elsewhere” (especially the “third world”) relate to their dogs, based on a concept we hold of them, not based on actual knowledge. How dogs fit in with humans from place to place and time to time varies.

5) I’ve read a good amount of the peer reviewed literature on Ebola and I can not recall anything about dogs.

5) But … A quick check of Google Scholar did come up with one study. From the abstract:

During the 2001–2002 outbreak in Gabon, we observed that several dogs were highly exposed to Ebola virus by eating infected dead animals. To examine whether these animals became infected with Ebola virus, we sampled 439 dogs and screened them by Ebola virus–specific immunoglobulin (Ig) G assay, antigen detection, and viral polymerase chain reaction amplification. Seven (8.9%) of 79 samples from the 2 main towns, 15 (15.2%) of 14 the 99 samples from Mekambo, and 40 (25.2%) of 159 samples from villages in the Ebola virus–epidemic area had detectable Ebola virus–IgG, compared to only 2 (2%) of 102 samples from France. Among dogs from villages with both infected animal carcasses and human cases, seroprevalence was 31.8%. A significant positive direct association existed between seroprevalence and the distances to the Ebola virus–epidemic area. This study suggests that dogs can be infected by Ebola virus and that the putative infection is asymptomatic.

I’ve not looked further at the literature. This study suggests, unsurprisingly (see point 2 above) that dogs can harbor the virus. However, they don’t seem to be symptomatic. Therefore, spread from a dog seems unlikely. I would think the dog could be kenneled for a few weeks, rather than being put down.

Killing Street Dogs in Sochi: Why is this a concern now?

It should have been a concern the day after Sochi won its bid for the Winter Olympic Games several years ago.

It is reported that authorities or private contractors are taking the street dogs off the streets in Sochi, in preparation for the Olympics, which start tonight. A friend of mine was living in Athens for the weeks before the Summer Olympics there, and she told me that authorities did the same, and that included summary executions, of the dogs, where they were found.

This has sparked outrage, of course.

I do have to wonder why the decision is made to remove these dogs, and in thinking about this, an obvious question emerges: Why are these dogs there to begin with? That, of course, raises another question: Why are there almost no street dogs in the United States?

When I was a kid dogs that needed to do their business were let out the front door as often as the back. Your dog would run around on the streets for a while and then return. It was not uncommon for a dog to hang out on the front porch, if it was shady (in the summer) or a warm spot (in the winter). If you saw a dog on a leash it was usually a puppy being trained to heel. Also, puppies did not know how to not run in front of cars or, for that matter, find their way home. So, unless you had an older dog in the household that could teach the little yelpers how to be a dog, human owners would take on this task.

In fact, if you saw an adult dog on a leash, chances are that one was a biter, or in some other way, badly behaved.

Then leash laws started to pop up in various communities, and spread, and now they seem to be everywhere. Dogs still run free-ish in rural areas. There may be enclaves in the United States where town dogs run free. Let me know if you know of any. I imagine such enclaves to be in more remote areas, more common in the South. Or Alaska.

If people’s dogs can run free, then now and then a dog can liberate itself entirely from human bondage and become a street dog, or in rural areas, what is clumsily referred to as a “wild dog.” Also, people let dogs go or dropped them off in remote areas when they were done with them, and free-running dogs would, of course, reproduce. In this way populations of wild dogs, city-dogs, and the in-between junk yard dogs became a thing.

I shall disabuse you now of a notion that may come to mind but that I think is false. This is the idea that in a state of tradition or nature (neither term works well), in pre-Western or pre-First World societies, dogs ran wild like they do in many cities around the world today. In traditional societies, dogs do not necessarily run wild. Well, they run around in the wild, but they are owned and curated by the humans and controlled. The wild city dog is a thing of cities or larger villages, a post-agriculture, post-peasant society thing, generally of recent centuries. Street dogs are not part of our Enviornment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (or we’d probably be immune to rabies!). This is based on ethnographic information and my own personal observation living in various “traditional” societies. It may look like the dogs are running around like Sochian or Athenian street dogs, but they are not.

Neutering and spaying and leash laws, together, have transformed the American dog into a different beast and we don’t really have street dogs any more. This is true for many “First World” places, but I do not assume this to be a qualifying characteristic of First Worldness. There are probably plenty of First Worldy places that have street dogs in the cities. And, of course, in the US there are wild dogs in the woods in may areas.

So why are they taking the dogs off the street in Sochi, and why did they do that in Athens, and why will they presumably do it in Rio?

Perhaps it is this. The Olympics is a First World phenomenon. You clean up your city and the nearby country side to be real nice for all the people to come and participate in the games as athlete or watcher. You remove some ramshackle neighborhoods and route traffic around others. You clean up the downtowns and pretty up the inter-urban routes. You fix the transit system or even install a new one. And you remove the dogs. And cats, much of this applies to cats too.

This means irony happens. The outcry, justified of course, over mass rounding up and extermination of innocent canines is itself a bit of a First World thing. And the rounding up and extermination itself is a product of First World sensibility conflicting with the rest of the world which is, indubitably, mostly not First World.

I think people involved in the outcry should realize this. Even though you would personally not agree to this, the cleanup is being done on your behalf. By no means does this justify the killing. But it does mean that your complains are tainted. There is probably not much you can do about the dogs in Sochi at this point, but Rio is two years away. If you want the officials there to not round up the dogs and put most of them down, this would be a good time to start working on that. Complaining about it after it starts will actually not help the dogs even a little.

But what would you do? I suppose one possibility would be to change the culture in Rio so that dogs are routinely spayed or neutered. I suppose you could agitate to get Rio to leave the dogs alone and let this particular Third World Thing alone during the pre-Olympic cleanup. Perhaps a combination of the two.

When you do that, of course, you will run smack into a different problem. You will be spending valuable first world resourses and demaning others to do the same to save the dogs, right before the wide sad eyes of starving children living in rags on the same streets. Or, at least, it is going to seem that way. Perhaps getting international funding to hire sad-eyed starving children to work with officials to manage the dog problem would be a good way to go. Perhaps something like that would start to change the culture of human-dog interaction in that particular city. Whatever solution is attempted, however, will have to be done at a massive scale. Rio is whopping big. In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to have started something like this in Sochi the day after the decision was made to have the Olympics there. That would be more of a bite size project. Also, it is probably, simply, too late for Rio. Two years is not enough time.

Pyeong Chang 2018?