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How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends Hardcover – October 27, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover; 1 edition (October 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590207000
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590207000
  • ASIN: 1590207009
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In his latest book, renowned author and dog expert, Mark Derr, shows that one can be scientifically rigorous and still write a highly engaging and accessible account of how the dog became the dog. Derr shows how shared sociability and curiosity drew wolves and humans together resulting in a close and enduring relationship of mutual utility. If you have to decide which dog book to read among the many that are available, this clearly is the one to choose because of its scientific accuracy and easy-to-read style."
(--Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals)

"Mark Derr has produced a remarkable narrative on the origin of the domestic dog. Using the latest findings from such varied fields as genomic research, archaeology, comparative anatomy, and paleontology, Derr is able to piece together what is the most likely narrative for the story of how the dog became the first domesticated animal. His findings clearly show that widely held assumptions about the supposed integral role of neoteny in the domestication process are likely erroneous. Such findings are likely to be controversial, but Derr has compiled so much evidence that one will think twice before repeating the line that dogs are nothing more than juvenilized wolves. Because of this book looks at domestic dog origins from so many different perspectives, it may be the most important book written on the subject since Konrad Lorenz wrote Man Meets Dog in 1949. This book will fascinate anyone who has ever loved a dog."
(--Scottie Westfall, author of the Retrieverman blog)

"Derr's research spans the globe and considers mythology and literature alongside more scientific evidence as he explores the stories of Romulus and Remus and of Odysseus and his dog, Argus."
(--Sacramento News and Reviews


"Derr's richly detailed, well-sourced research, however, offers a full plate of choices and razor-sharp analysis to help you connect the dots while not undermining the authenticity of the big picture."
(--Seattle Kennel Club


About the Author

Mark Derr is the author of Dog's Best Friend and A Dog's History of America. As an expert on the subject of dogs, he has appeared regularly on The Charlie Rose Show, and in documentaries for A&E and The Discovery Channel. He writes regularly for Atlantic Monthly, Natural History, Smithsonian and The New York Times. He lives in Miami Beach, Florida.

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Customer Reviews

In all, the book strikes me sloppily researched and poorly documented.
J. Libourel
It could have been an wasy to read narrative but instead was a confusing jumble of facts.
Derr may be a scientific journalist, but he shows no talent here for marshaling evidence.
Mick McAllister

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Behan on November 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If one wants to understand the nature of dogs, this is a must read. First of all, beware critical reviews that fail to address the specifics of the argument Derr is making, which he backs up with the latest science woven into a logical train of speculation, the connective tissue in any theory, and which is clearly delineated as such. These critics use a vague complaint in lieu of critical argument. Expect a lot of resistance to Derr's thesis due to the current state of political correctness in dogdom which is trying to write the wolf out of the domestic dog's makeup, most especially to counteract the media phenomenon of Cesar Milan. (Ironically several years ago Mark Derr wrote an Op Ed piece in the NY Times entitled: "Pack of Lies" rebutting Milan's approach.) This is straight science by an accomplished scientific journalist and if you're willing to consider a fuller as well as the latest findings on how the dog became the dog, this book should sit right next to Coppinger's "Dogs" in your library. And then let them have at it in your mind.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Spot on November 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...I think not.

The concept is fascinating, but the writing mostly poor. And there is blatant lack of editing. Some sentences are unintelligible even after several tries. The books is almost painful to read as each page seems to have some kind of error ranging from the obvious (e.g. "146,000 to 123 years ago") to awkward wording.

I did read the whole thing although parts of it were repetitious. I feel like he went thru the same ice age 20 times. But still, there is a very interesting premise that dogs and humans co-evolved and it certainly is a new idea. I look forward to more research in this area.

The description of how dramatically different dogs' lives are now vs. even a few hundred years ago, especially in the first world, is quite enlightening. I had never thought about how we now control every aspect of the dogs' existence whereas before they were much more independent (and still are in poorer countries).
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By J. Libourel on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a disappointing book. (I had eagerly anticipated it.) It starts out by discussing the tracks of a boy and a wolf or "dogwolf" found in association in the famous Chauvet Cave. The author sets much store on this supposed association. He completely disregards the possibilities mentioned in Werner Herzog's recent documentary on the cave that wolf might have been stalking the boy...or that the tracks were made thousands of years apart.

I am not a trained paleontologist or paleoanthropologist, so I do not feel fully qualified to critique the major hypothesis of his book--that dogs arose from a very ancient hunting partnership between wolves and humans or even pre-humans. However, when I find numerous errors of fact in things I do know about, I tend to be distrustful of an author's assertions about matters where I can't claim expertise. For instance, on page 68 among the animals mentioned as part of the massive dying off of megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene, he includes the aurochs. In point of fact, the aurochs made it through that period just fine. Some were tamed by our Neolithic ancestors to become our domestic cattle. In their wild form, they were familiar to the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans (they were favorites of the Roman arena) and only became extinct in A.D. 1627. On the same page, the author evinces an old-fashioned prejudice against hyenas. In point of fact, hyenas can be very tame and affectionate if raised from cubs and can do almost anything a dog can as well or better. Although author Derr states, "There is no evidence that any human group tried to befriend them," in fact the ancient Egyptians did try domesticating them. The hyena's downfall as a human partner is their enormous appetite--they simply eat too much.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By PamandJana on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am not surprised that this book has both strongly positive and strongly negative reviews. There is a lot of information in this book, much of it firmly backed up with the latest scientific research, but I have to agree with the reviewers who questioned the editing: the book is poorly organized and the same facts, anecdotes, and theories appear over and over again. Having been a student of Mark Derr's in a graduate-level class on the history of dog breeds, I know that he has a lot of knowledge but is often disorganized in presenting it. This is why authors have editors; the editors did not come through here.

What I like most about Mark Derr's presentation of the history of the dog's evolution is that he juxtaposes the various theories and points out where they overlap, where they contradict, and where they must obviously be incorrect. He does say that the theories are only scientists' best guesses based on the archaeological and anthropological evidence available at the time they were generated -- so the critics who question the scientific / factual basis of the book are, I think, just being petty.

I also enjoy Derr's attempts to look at domestication from the dog/wolf's viewpoint. As humans, we tend to look at things in the way that is most beneficial or complimentary to humans, but anyone who's spent time with dogs knows that dogs are just as good at (or better at) "training" humans to behave in ways that benefit them as humans are at training dogs. Derr points out that domestication was a choice made by both parties and that benefits both -- a partnership view of the human-dog relationship that seems more fair and honest than only looking at what humans can and do gain from living and working with the dog.
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