- 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 (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,004,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution Hardcover – May 27, 2001
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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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As an example. the Coppinger's provide themselves, in their argument for the natural selection of the dog around early human settlement, an obvious straw man as a counterpoint. They say the opposing view is that the training of wolves to be tamer led to the domestication of the dog. I have never heard this. An accurate counterpoint to natural selection would be the artificial selection of more docile wolves among early human settlements. The result of this methodology can be seen in Belyaev's silver foxes, and so dog-like traits arise in foxes selected only for docility. Yet the Coppingers stubbornly insist that their opposition can only be claiming that dogs were domesticated by training, rather than selection. Strange.
To be fair, personally I believe it more likely that dogs arose from natural selection around human populations as well. However, neither discovery nor science will be fostered by these kinds of misleading arguments.
The book is interesting, if you can bear it and parse out which information is likely to be grounded and which is not. I do not personally fall into that category. That said, the authors do show an immense love of dogs.
Ethology is a branch of biology that studies animal behavior. It emphasizes evolutionary principles in behavior, often identifying continuity and change in patterns from studying closely related species. It also emphasizes studying the behavior in the natural context or setting. (Comparative psychology, by contrast, had grown to primarily favor the laboratory method and setting -- until the revolution of ethology and Eckhard Hess's work shook it up.)
This book is a work for the serious student of canine behavior but written in a style that's readable by anyone with an interest in a scientific approach to and understanding of dogs. It greatly expands (and makes far more readable) the material in the Coppinger & Schneider chapter in "The Domestic Dog", James Serpell (Ed.) published six years earlier, but it also extends it into other areas.
Its most important thesis is that dogs probably derived from wolf-like animals which hung around mesolithic villages and were scavengers, quite similar to "village dogs" in many parts of the world. They were not wolves, captured as puppies and then tamed. Wolves do NOT ever become tame or trainable. I found their argument on these point to be extremely convincing.
The serious student of dogs will also find their ethological observations and comparisons of dogs valuable.
Despite its great worth and contribution, the book is not without some petty flaws.
I'd have liked more discussion on how the sequence of actions, like beads on a string, of orient/ eye-stalk/ chase/ grab-bite/ kill-bite/ dissect/ consume becomes fragmented so that some elements disappear while others remain. And how the differences arise for different dog "types". As ethologists, they know that there are many different behavior sequences in a species of which the predatory game killing pattern is only one. What about various social behaviors? Play behavior? Reproductive behavior? Adult attitude toward puppies?
I became frustrated at the authors' lapses in consideration for their readers in their word usage, "transhumance" being one example. They used it several times before it was ever defined. It means the shepherds or drovers making seasonal migrations with their flocks in the Mediterranean region. Either explain it sooner or, even better, use terms familiar to English speaking readers. (On a websearch for "transhumance," the first 30 hits were all French except one, translated into English, from a Swedish university.
The authors' descriptions of genetic processes are neither models of exposition or of clarity. E.g., I think once a claim was made that a behavior cannot be genetically controlled because there are alleles at the same locus. (An allele is a gene's partner at the same locus on the companion chromosome.) In a single gene model, one can, for example, have a dominant or recessive gene as an allele. That makes it not genetic? The reader interested in genetics should not look to this book for understanding. Use a basic college biology text.
Another example is discussing how experience "shapes" the developing neurological "wiring". But "shape" then becomes so often used as a noun, and such a big deal is made about it altering the shape of the brain, that I found myself writing in the margin, "Are they reintroducing phrenology??!!" (Phrenology was the pseudo-science popular in the early 1800s; it purported that the abilities, characters, and deficits of a person could be ascertained from the bumps and valleys on the skull since the skull would reflect the underlying volume of the brain.) Basic introductory tests in psychology will cover this relation between early experience and brain function far more clearly.
The authors rile some sacred cows, possibly deliberately, perhaps to provoke discussion (and maybe controversy and publicity?).
They take aim at restricting the gene pool in AKC registered breeds. This gradually develops more genetic abnormalities and health problems -- eyes, hips, skin conditions, etc. Also, they
suggest that AKC breed clubs, by presenting a picture of the ideal dog with little or no behavioral measures of excellence, inevitably tend to accentuate some characteristics more and more. This leads working dogs to lose their superior abilities in some areas and become unhealthy caricatures of their ancestors. The bulldog, with continual respiratory problems and unable to breed on its own, is given as an extreme example. This is a worthwhile topic to discuss, IMO.
They also question whether people are dogs' best friends or are dogs being used as robots or slaves. While they raise some interesting questions in this area they give no answers. (I found myself wondering, would they include or exclude themselves -- and their history of dog ownership and use -- from such an indictment?) But also a worthwhile topic for discussion.