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Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution Hardcover – May 27, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There are dog lovers, and then there are dog lovers. Behavioral scientists Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger have raised hundreds of dogs of various breeds, raced sled teams, and published professional and popular works on canine behavior. Dogs is their manifesto of canine evolution and treatment by humans, and it offers deep insight, provocative theories, and controversial ideas regarding our relationship with them. Though some of the material is most appropriate for readers with some zoological background, much of it is written for a general audience--one that cares about dogs not just for what they offer humans, but for their own sake.

Arguing that much of current thinking about dogs' evolutionary history is misguided, the authors share their own complex story of wolflike animals coevolving with permanent human settlements and only recently being subject to directed breeding and artificial selection. This is interesting enough, but they go on to take issue with the use and treatment of dogs, some of which they claim is bad for dog and human alike. Pure breeding, making companion animals of inappropriate breeds, and even some uses of disability assistance are assailed for neglecting genetic and other hardwired aspects of canine life. Surprisingly little is known for sure about dogs' lives and behavior, so the Coppingers' contribution is a welcome, if occasionally unsettling, eye-opener. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Too often books about pet species are larded with anthropomorphic sentimentality. Not so the current offering by Raymond (Fishing Dogs) and Lorna Coppinger (The World of Sled Dogs). This is a literate scientific treatise that has much to offer dog owners and readers with a general interest in animals. With 35 years of experience breeding different types of dogs, and a strong background in biology, this couple offers new insights into dog behavior and evolution. Contrary to the current evolutionary theory that dogs are the same species as wolves, the authors postulate a common (archaic) ancestor for domestic dogs and wolves. Building on the work of earlier ethologists, they assert that modern dogs and modern wolves are as distinct from each other as modern humans are from modern apes. Accordingly, they contend that the idea of using wolf pack protocols to alter the behavior of dogs as prescribed by some popular manuals is absurd. Additionally, the authors note that because of selective breeding for patterns of behavior, some dog breeds are unsuitable as pets (e.g., sled dogs such as huskies, hunting breeds such as bloodhounds). In the managed evolution of dogs, which has produced a remarkable range of working and hunting breeds, the writers perceive both environmental and genetic factors. Through these new perceptions regarding the mechanics and tenacity of inbred and enhanced behavioral traits, humans can better understand the primal biological motivations of their canine companions. Chock full of both scientific studies and personal experiences, this fast-paced, absorbing book deserves a wide audience. Photos and charts. (May)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (May 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684855305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684855301
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book blew me away with its insights and made me want to throw it across the room many times. It is simply the best evolutionary and biological look at dogs around, while at the same time is seriously marred by the authors' excursions out of science into a weird pseudo-ethical debate about "what's REALLY best for dogs."

As the owner of a young Great Pyrenees (now 20 months) brought home at 5-1/2 weeks as a pet out of a litter of working livestock guardian dogs, I was fascinated by the Coppingers' description of the "predatory sequence." I could suddenly understand the behaviors I'd observed at the dog park, the startling differences between my dog and the border collies there. The very idea that there are literally millions of the type of dog I own--a breed that seems unusual if not rare in the U.S.--out there in central Asia even today migrating with herds of sheep as they have done for millenia...this just gives me chills. As humans we like to tell ourselves stories about our breeds: how they developed, why they have this or that characteristic that was "bred into them" for some special purpose. And yet the story the Coppingers tell about the livestock guardian "breeds" rings so true in a historical, scientific and geographical context that it is awe-inspiring. All of this part of the book is well-argued and based on convincing evidence.

While I do agree that human breeding of dogs according to strict, but essentially fanciful, "breed-types" should be subject to serious ethical discussion, I wish the Coppingers had simply made their effective points about the underlying nature of breeds and left it at that.
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Format: Hardcover
The first half of the book was quite enjoyable and thought-provoking. The authors describe how dogs evolved from scavenger village dogs, rather than directly from wolves. They argue that dogs are a distinct and extraordinary creature, not an inferior subspecies of wolves, with behavioral traits that are different from and often surpassing wolves.
I found the second half of the book, however, to be a bit preachy, pessimistic, and overstated. One main premise seemed to be that keeping dogs as household pets (as opposed to working dogs) is a lose-lose situation for the dog and the owner. Humans lose because pet dogs take valuable resources, time and money, away from our species, resources we should be investing in our offspring. Pet dogs rarely give back to us in terms of affection or whatever enough to make up for what they take from us. Dogs lose because they are slaves to our every whim, often subjected to inadequate care and boredom, and purebreds are being bred for appearance at the expense of their own health and genetic vitality. The author lashed out at showdog breeders.
Point taken, but I think the authors overstated their case, throwing the baby out with the bath water. I don't believe dogs tap us out of resources to an unhealthy degree. If anything the huge dog industry (food, supplies, vet care...etc.) benefits our economy. I know many families who find great joy in owning a dog as a pet, and I think dogs add to a parent-child relationship rather than detract.
I also thought it quite hypocritcal, given the author's use of dogs for sled racing, when the author ripped on the use of dogs to assist people with special needs, such as people bound to a wheelchair. The author argued that it is unhealthy and unnatural for the dog, but that sled dog racing was somehow exempt from the criticism.
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Format: Hardcover
The Coppingers in "Dogs" try to say a few different things. The main topics are how wolves became selected as dogs, what this implies for their behavior and training, and the ethics of pure-breeding and using working dogs as pets. In these core topics, this book is generally well argued and supported in the main, but suffers from hiccups of poor reasoning. In one example, when arguing why bigger dogs are better for the transhumance, the authors state "to cover the distance with half the steps means a longer lasting dog." Well, the bigger dog also takes heavier steps and big dogs are notorious for structural problems. However, these hiccups are minor distractions.
The first core topic that dogs evolved first as scavengers of human waste dumps is interesting. While still largely a speculative hypothesis, this idea is shown fairly well in the book to be more reasonable than the idea that humans got a hold of enough wolves to domesticate them by selecting the tamest ones and tossing the others. This has implications for training in that essentially sedentary dogs foraging at a dump are not going to have wolf behaviors, particularly the widely assumed pack hierarchy.
Another major topic is the discussion on why working dogs, with strongly ingrained motor patterns of behavior, are not going to be well suited for living in a house - unless you like being herded by your border collie. This too is well done and promoting the option of a more "generic" dog as a better household companion will do much good. There is also a section on how assistance dogs suffer by being bred and developed in manners inconstant with what makes for a good working dog.
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