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How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends Hardcover – October 27, 2011
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"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 five books, including How the Dog Became the Dog, published by Overlook in 2011. His articles and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Natural History, Smithsonian. and many other publications. He lives in Miami Beach.
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Derr's work is well researched and grounded in peer reviewed anthropological and archeological writings that most lay persons would not otherwise be aware of. It would be a good read as an ebook; less scientifically inclined readers and non-archeologists could easily look up or 'wiki' unfamiliar terms.
This book may be overly challenging for readers seeking a simple story of canine evolution. From negative reviews, it's clear some readers were not looking for such an in depth work and were obviously frustrated. Derr targets readers with a deep curiosity about canine development, willing to read an academic level book.
Derr's central thesis, that canines first partnered with humans during our ice age hunter-gatherer days (Paleolithic) instead of our early agrarian period (Neolithic or Mesolithic) makes great sense. We are both hunting species and natural wanderers. By cooperating, we improved our mutual odds of survival. Also enjoyed life more.
His description of the ancient Russian burial site, with the human child's hand resting on the dog or wolf's skeleton, moved me deeply.
Derr contrasts 'domestication' of wolves against livestock such as cattle and sheep. Wolves largely self-domesticated, training humans to value them as much as we trained canines to value us. This keyholes with observations of anthropologists that affinity for canines is a positive attribute in the human gene pool; aversion to canines a negative, often associated with sociopaths.
As a German Shepherd Dog owner, I have no difficulty seeing the close association of dogs with wolves, especially northern working breeds. I especially liked Derr's point that only two species on this planet are highly social both within their species and toward another species: Canis lupus and Homo sapiens. Wolves, dogs and humans form packs or clans greater than extended families and also bond closely with a completely different species. As Derr says, "this is not typical primate behavior."
Derr strongly rebuts coercive training methods. He makes the case that had early humans treated dogs in the manner some aggressive trainers suggest, wolves never would have associated with us. Dogs do things that make them feel good, and thus respond far better to positive training methods. Wolves surely are the same.
Much of what Derr wrote on dog evolution is consistent with writings (1923) of Max von Stephanitz, 'father' of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD). Von Stephanitz was a soldier, not a scientist, but he applied what was then known of paleontology and anthropology to the evolution of dogs and arrived at very similar conclusions to Derr's.
Von Stephanitz's "dog of the Bronze Age" (direct ancestor to the GSD) fits in a general way with Derr's observations on European dogs. I would like to know Derr's opinion on the closeness of early GSD and wolves, and how far back he sees the GSD and Belgian Shepherd-Malinois line originating.
Derr and von Stephanitz have different opinions on selective dog breeding (line breeding) and I find value in each of their observations. Both advocate humane treatment, minimal kenneling and lots of love for our dogs.
Note: von Stephanitz's _The German Shepherd Dog In Word And Picture_ is now available as an ebook (epub format) or for kindle; affordable and well worth reading for an early 20th century view on GSD and working dogs in general. But don't buy it if you are looking for tight editing ;-)
I am not a high literati, just a simple guy who enjoys well reasoned applied science. So the negative reviews seemed a bit off target to me, especially the complaints about editing. Yes, the editing could have been tighter. But today we see typos and sloppy editing even in _The New York Times_. Young readers, growing up in the age of blogs and texting, really don't care. Perhaps this is a good thing; one no longer need be an artful writer to be published. Just have something useful to say. Content is king, not style. We older readers have to grip it up and live with it.
Overall this is a wonderful, readable and thoughtful book that any dog lover should enjoy. And learn a lot from.
Also the book would greatly benefit from some illustrations of all the prehistoric types of Canids being mentioned throughout the text. Much is left to imagination and throwing all the Latin names of different species and sub- species at the reader without informing him of their major characteristics is in my opinion pointless.