Dog Food

Last night, I got delayed by some paperwork and was late for my dog’s daily walk. There’s nothing in writing – no contractual clauses or promissory notes or anything. But my dog knows, almost to a minute, when her walk is due. If I’m late, she’ll give me a grace period of about 15 minutes.

When my grace time was up last night, she positioned herself in front of where I was working, lowered her shoulders and stretched her head forward so she could look past the papers directly into my eyes. When I ignored her, her tail began to switch and her gaze went from pleading to accusatory. I knew what was coming next. Increasingly outraged, dog food-scented barks. One at a time, until I relented

“You’re lucky I don’t eat you,” I said, immediately regretting it. But I hadn’t come up with this gruesome thought on my own. I’d just read about a study published this week by geneticists at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, which had arrived at a startling and disturbing conclusion: wolves were originally tamed and domesticated into modern dogs in East Asia for …  food.

And here I thought it was because people couldn’t get enough of being bugged to throw a stick – over and over again.

The Swedish researchers have also deduced, based on the fact that the diversity of dog DNA decreases the further you get from China, that wild wolves were turned into dogs just once. After the initial domestication, the descendants of those first dogs spread rapidly through the rest of the world.

In other words, domestication of canines was so useful that every group coming in contact with the custom wanted to import it. Only — and this is where things get strange — as dogs spread, the use that initially made them so important virtually disappeared.

Somehow the dog went from prime rib and rump roast to watchdog and beloved companion.

Food for thought?

Food for thought?

I think I know why. Dogs, inherently social and clever creatures, learned that their human captors were wildly unpredictable. At times, they could be kind and even loving. At others, they would become, quite literally, butchers. Over untold generations, some dogs – those must likely to survive — developed a key skill by watching their masters, well, doggedly. They discovered that if they paid close attention to minute changes in a human’s face and eyes, a mood could be intuited. They could discern, for instance, the difference between a playful look and a hungry one.

Last year, British scientists published a study demonstrating that dogs are the only animals that do what humans do: study faces for clues to the emotions behind them.  Somewhere along the line, dogs also learned how to communicate emotion through their eyes.

This is what my dog was trying on me, with the expertise that only 14,000 years of practice can produce.

Those deep, imploring eyes gave me an insight: No doubt if cows had learned to gaze pleadingly into human eyes, we’d eat far less beef.

And then I obediently went to get her leash.

Speak Your Mind