Let's talk about taming, domestication and consequences

Domestication is not a result of successively carried out taming. A tamed animal was as a wild animal naturally (socialized/habituated) or conditionally (trained) susceptible to reduce its instinctive avoidance of human. Domestic animals were (as wild animals) evolutionary accommodated by inheriting predispositions toward humans in the natural way (interspecific cooperation) or by human intervention (selective breeding).

There is an article in the The New York Times science section[1] with Wolf Park puppies starring on some pics. I followed their growing-up process daily some time ago.[2] Two of five WP born ‘Twigglets’ were exchanged for a pair of wolf puppies from The Wolf Mountain Nature Center. They grew-up together and were released to the main enclosure the other day. In the 1970s, Ms. Goodmann worked with Erich Klinghammer, the founder of Wolf Park, to develop the 24/7 model for socializing wolf puppies, exposing them to humans and then also to other wolves, so they could relate to their own kind but accept the presence and attentions of humans, even intrusive ones like veterinarians. - the author of the article is reminding a part of the Wolf Park’s history. “You have to be with them 24/7. That means sleeping with them, feeding them every four hours on the bottle,” Dr. Lord said. Also, as Ms. Bouchard noted, “we don’t shower” in the early days, to let the pups get a clear sense of who they are smelling. - Dr. Kathryn Lord is an evolutionary biologist who is currently working with Dr. Elinor Karlsson’s team, on behaviour and genetic research studies of wolf/dog puppies. Jacinthe Bouchard is the Zoo Académie (Quebec, Canada) owner who has training domestic and wild animals, and now is helping in the lab.

domestic_animals_timeline Taming the wild, sources: D.E. MacHugh et al/Annu. Rev. Anim. Biosci. 2017; M. Germonpré et al/J. Archaeol. Sci. 2009

Both wolves and dogs split from a common ancestor around 15,000 years ago. Two subspecies of Canis Lupus emerged with only one of them abandoning wildlife by choosing the role of humans companion animal - Canis Lupus Familiaris, a domestic dog. Today dogs depend on humans, completely.
According to a theory by prof. Raymond Coppinger and his wife Lorna, the reason why the domestication process was initiated were humans who decided to change their nomadic lifestyle (hunting, collecting food) to a settled one (agriculture, cultivation) what was associated with leaving garbage. Some wolves - too weak to hunt, performing poorly in the hunt or just less scared of humans - progressively started to feed on that garbage, feeling safe close to human settlements and as a result giving birth to offspring (three canonical conditions fulfilled for species survival). It was probably a natural process where more and more fearless generations of pre-dogs cooperated with humans by cleaning areas off potential trash, danger warning (against intruders, other predators) and even being eaten if a famine period happened.

Wildlife, as a set of multiplicitous ecosystems, defines all of plants (flora) and most of animals (fauna) living there without human influence or just not affected by human activity (otherwise, a wild animal is avoiding a human even if it remains in its natural habitat). Wild animals are not restrained by their natural environment, not tamed and not domesticated. Every species existence proceeds in keeping with its nature and instinct. Gray wolf (Canis lupus) in its natural habitat (forest) is a typical example of wild predator. Living in family packs it hunts (food finding), stays safe (active protection (intraspecific competition) or passive risk avoidance (interspecific competition)) and reproduces (an offspring as a main goal). To sum up - it survives, where one of conditions to be fulfilled is avoiding a human. If an animal is able to not be scared of human presence in a relatively close distance, it means that taming should be possible. A tamed animal is a wild animal which previously adapted to humans in a natural way (socialization/habituation process) or by human intervention (animal training).
Domestication is not a result of successively carried out taming. A tamed animal was as a wild animal naturally (socialized/habituated) or conditionally (trained) susceptible to reduce its instinctive avoidance of human. Domestic animals were (as wild animals) evolutionary accommodated by inheriting predispositions toward humans in the natural way (interspecific cooperation) or by human intervention (selective breeding). “If you want a wolf, get a dog.” - L. David Mech says, a pioneering wolf biologist, senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. A dog (Canis [lupus] familiaris) seems to be the first domesticated animal. Its specific form of mutualism is (like in the case of livestock and other companion animals) engaged with the human who manages every survival condition - food, safety and even reproduction, if it’s not a free-ranging one, village dog for example.

You can train a wolf but you can’t tame it. Captive-born (same as wild-born, captive at the right moment) wolves - if they’re properly socialized before - tolerate familiar people (their caretakers, wolf keepers) as ‘harmless strangers’. Opposite to a dog, ‘tame’ wolf gives birth to wild offspring which is instinctively (genetically) scared of humans (as one of life-threatening species). In research laboratories wolf puppies are taken by researches when they’re 8-10 days, cared for by them, visited by parents and reunited with the rest of the wolf pack when they’re youngsters. That’s very important, because both wolves and dogs go through a critical period as puppies when they explore the world and learn who their friends and family are. With wolves, that time is thought to start at about two weeks, when the wolves are deaf and blind. Scent is everything. In dogs, it starts at about four weeks, when they can see, smell and hear. Dr. Lord thinks this shift in development, allowing dogs to use all their senses, might be key to their greater ability to connect with human beings. - the author of the mentioned article concludes.

It seems to be rather impossible to historically domesticate the wolf species (in the context of dog’s genesis) by taming - obligatory naturally, selective breeding is not the way to tame an animal but to domesticate it other way than natural. Coppingers’ theory remains the most supported although it was revised a bit by modern researches. Comparison between genome sequences belonging to Dingo, Basenji and Boxer (as a sample examined before) confirmed their very propinquity, but examined wolves were more related to one another than to whichever examined dog.[3] It suggests that both, a wolf and a dog, descend from the same ancestor which died off a long time ago.

canine_genome Copy number variation at amylase (AMY2B) locus, research: Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs, source: PLOS Genetics

60 years ago (the project is going till this day thanks to dr Ludmiła Trut) Russian geneticist Dmitry Konstantinovich Belyayev determined to perform an experiment - to recreate canine domestication process by selective breeding, using closely related to one another, captive-wild silver foxes. He tested young ones by trying to pet and hold them while they were fed treats, dividing them into three groups:

  • group 1 -> aiming for human contact;
  • group 2 -> tolerating human contact, not escaping;
  • group 3 -> not tolerating human contact, escaping, aggresive.
    Only first two groups were allowed to reproduce, until the first one was numerous enough:
  • there were 5% of ‘human friendly’ foxes in groups 1 and 2 at the beginning;
  • in the 20 generation there were 35% ‘human friendly’ foxes in group 1;
  • in the 40 generation there were 80% ‘human friendly’ foxes in group 1.

The result of the Bielyayev’s experiment weren’t only fox behaviour changes, fox appearance also changed - more and more of them had floppy ears or a curly tail, what characterizes dogs, not wild animals like foxes or wolves. Belyayev proved that by selective breeding, providing domestication process of wild animals is possible. Moreover, he pointed out that in pair with that process go ‘human-friendly’ appearance changes. Most domesticated mammals, including dogs, tend to have smaller bodies than their wild counterparts, with smaller skulls that have shorter, wider snouts and shorter, lower jaws. Those features make adult dogs look more puppylike than grown wolves do. That type of facial remodeling is part of the domestication syndrome, which also includes curly tails, floppy ears and other characteristics common among domesticated animals but not wild ones.[4] If historically human indeed decided to shorten the domestication process by selective breeding, fearful and aggressive pre-dogs were leaving human settlement, being chased away or just killed/hunted/eaten.

Dogs and wolves are genetically similar in 98% but it appears that a microscopic difference 2% seems to be extremely impacting. Both those species are so close to each other that can inbreed (making a fertile hybrid). Anyway, they are different in the rest of cases. Dogs are individuals focused on cooperation with humans (their caretakers, dog ‘owners’), wolves hunt in team living in family groups called wolf packs. Dogs evolved to avoid a conflict (using mostly body language, calming signals and vocalizing), wolves are territorial animals which can behave aggresively toward their companion (body language is enough) or potential intruders (body language, vozalizatio), then attack if it’s necessary (although they instinctively avoid humans). Finally, both dogs (easily) and wolves (not easily) can be trained to work with people, but it’s harder to get dogs to work with fellow dogs than wolves do.
Sarah Marshall-Pescini provided an experiment on wolves and dogs raised from puppies in the same environment, away from human influence. Tested animals were rewarded if they manipulated successively pulling the rope simultaneously. Wolves succeeded at 100 times during 416 attempts, dogs only 2 of 472.[5] By Sarah Marshall-Pescini it seems that as wolves were domesticated, their natural tendency to cooperate shifted from other animals to humans.[6]

Only exiguous percentage of counting 400 mln global dog population is living as pets close to humans, in home or on the farm. The rest are stray, feral or wild - descended from domesticated animals, but living independently.

  • Stray dogs were abandoned, socialized to humans before or are just wandering around people’s households and neighbourhoods free-ranging dogs. They’re fed by random people or feed on the garbage, but their reproduction is not controlled by humans like in the case of companion animals or pure breed dogs.
  • Feral dogs are formerly domesticated animals, running wild as an offspring of stray dogs. They live on peripheries of human settlement with little or without any contact or bonding with people, reverting to instinctive canine behaviour. Mostly they scavenge or try to hunt lonely, in pairs, rarely in temporary packs.
  • Wild dogs became wild animals by generations being born from feral dogs. They’re integrated into their local ecosystem (wildlife), usually as top predators which hunt using complete prey drive. A dingo (Canis [lupus] dingo) is true type of feral dog native to Australia and an exemplary typical wild dog as well which is also considered as domesticated wolf.

Results call those domestication hypotheses that suggest dogs evolved greater cooperative inclinations into question, and rather support the idea that dogs’ and wolves’ different social ecologies played a role in affecting their capacity for conspecific cooperation and communication. - Sarah Marshall-Pescini says. It means that humans used an adaptation tendency offered to them by pre-dogs to domesticate a species, the first susceptible large carnivore. A modern wolf and domestic dog are two separate (sub)species.

[1] Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild. /at The NY Times; Oct.13th, 2017/
[2] Wolf Park’s Blog /post archive/
[3] Genomes of modern dogs and wolves provide new insights on domestication(2014), by Science Daily.
[4] quote borrowed from DNA evidence is rewriting domestication origin stories /at Science News; Jul.8th, 2017; Vol. 191, No. 13/
[5] Importance of a species’ socioecology: Wolves outperform dogs in a conspecific cooperation task (2017), research by Sarah Marshall-Pescini, Jonas F.L.Schwarz, Inga Kostelnik, Zsófia Virányi, Friederike Range.
[6] quote borrowed from Why wolves are better team players than dogs /at Science Magazine; Oct.16th, 2017/
Why Dogs Can Be Tamed But Wolves Cannot /at Science; Jan.18th, 2013/
Interview with Dr. Lee Dugatkin about How to Tame a Fox - interview by Zazie Todd, PhD
not captioned photos/images:
(1) How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut, source: Lee Dugatkin
(2) source: Wolf Science Center (WSC), University of Vienna (Austria)