How The Dog Became The Dog: From Wolves To Our Best Friends, by Mark Derr, read by David Colacci
In some ways this book is a bit of a cop-out. While the author does discuss the insights of genetic genealogy in determining the origins of dog domestication and discusses some very fierce opinions about the hostility towards wolves and the tendency of infanticizing dogs and then ahistorically viewing this as being the norm from the beginning in the domestication or socialization of the dog, sometimes this book feels more like a personal essay writ large or even a somewhat fictional account of the lengthy process by which various related populations of wolves became socialized with various groups of human beings to the mutual benefit of both. This is by no means a bad read (or listen) and it is definitely not a waste of time, but it is somewhat rambling and disorganized and very repetitive in the way that it deals with its chosen topic. Most of the time the author talks about various speculative matters of behaviors or scholarly debates about domestication and it is clear that the author is more interested in presenting his own opinion in light of various interpretations of research than in balanced reportage.
How did wolves become dogs? Can an appreciation of the mutual socialization that occurred between dogs and wolves that gave human beings certain emotional insights and living with others and that also provided a lot for dogs as well help us to treat wolves and dogs better in the world today? How do we come to a firm understanding of the prehistory of dogs and their socialization and domestication in the absence of firm understanding of various populations, the rarity of comparative studies of dogs from various places, and the interests of people to promote their own regions as being the origin of the dog and also the interests of people in preserving the illusions of pure breeding? What changes were necessary in the wolf to make it a dog? How long did dog-wolves exist in between the state of wolves and contemporary dogs? Was it wolves or mankind who taught the others about various hunting techniques? Where did contemporary breeds come from and what, if any, relationship do they have with historical and prehistorical types of dogs, whether big dogs for guarding and hunting, little dogs for show for elites, or middle-sized dogs for poaching and guarding for the common sorts of people? What insights to foxes and their domestication have for the understanding of how dogs were domesticated? These and other questions are explored here.
Those readers (or listeners) who approach this book with an interest in hearing what the author has to say about his speculations on the co-evolution of dog-wolves and dogs and human beings as well as the contemporary treatment of dogs and the harm that results from inbreeding to maximize profit for dog breeders will find a lot to get out of this book. The author’s interest in the cross-breeding of dogs and wolves and the conflict between the desires of breeders to maintain inbred lines of descent and the needs of various professions for competent dogs to handle various tasks related to service of the handicapped or performance of important duties in police work, for example, is very worthwhile. His wide-ranging search for studies about the genetic diversity of dogs and how dingoes are apparently related to early Middle Eastern dog-wolves is certainly very intriguing as well. And though there are a lot of speculations and various imaginings where the author tries to guess at what it would have been like for men and dog to live together, these speculations and fictional reconstructions of an imagined past will not be unwelcome to those readers who come to this book with a point of view similar to that of the author himself.