Hungry Like the Wolf

I’m puppy-sitting today, watching my parents’ ten-week-old rat terrier while they’re working and attending various doctors’ appointments.  I pray that the day I go to the doctor and various specialists as frequently as my parents do is still decades away.

Dogs are interesting critters.  It’s kind of amazing that our ancient ancestors domesticated wolves and bred them to hunt on behalf of humans, instead of merely hunting humans.  It’s even more interesting how breeding for selective traits led to various breeds.  There’s a whole art and science to animal husbandry that is fascinating.

The rat terrier, for instance, is the result of various combinations of terriers (for hunting), greyhounds (for speed), and chihuahuas (for compactness—the rat terriers had to be small enough to get into rat holes).  According to my dad, who has become something of an authority on the breed since getting the puppy, rat terriers used to be very common in the United States—most farmers had one or two to help kill pests.  Theodore Roosevelt kept one named Scamp around the White House to kill mice (although Scamp may have been a different variation of terrier).

Of course, the question that interests me is thus:  if we domesticated dogs once, couldn’t we do it again from their cousins, wolves?  Naturally, there’s no need to do it again—it was surely a long process—but doing so would help us to understand how difficult domestication was, and why our ancient ancestors thought it was worth the effort.

Tech magazine Gizmodo ran a piece three years ago that poses that question.  Specifically, the article asks (in its title) “What Happens to Wolves When They’re Raised Like Dogs?”  The article notes that wolves are not dogs, as they are quite separate species at this point, thanks to 15,000 years of breeding.  But here is an interesting paragraph from the piece:

New research published today in Royal Society Open Science shows that wolf puppies, when raised by humans, display signs of both attachment and affection towards their owners, and that these feelings last into adulthood. The study also shows that extensively socialized wolves are relatively comfortable around human strangers, though they sometimes exhibit a bit of fear. These findings hint at behaviors that may have led their four-legged ancestors to seek out and find comfort among humans, leading to the emergence of those super-cuddly, face-licking furballs known as dogs.

Of course, there are many differences.  Dogs are pack animals.  Dogs kept as pets have a human pack, with (ideally) a human pack leader (misbehaving dogs seem to be the result of dominance struggles—the human has not clearly asserted himself as the dominant leader of the pack).  Wolves hunt in packs, too, but can also be solitary creatures.  According to the Gizmodo piece, wolf cubs are often left alone while the pack hunts, so they grow up with “an almost cat-like self-sufficiency.”  Your dog, on the other hand, depends on you for its survival.

Wolves do, however, display some of the traits that we know and love in dogs.  Wolf pups can be socialized to humans, and will even lick humans’ faces (although I would not want a wolf that close).  Wolf pups with regular human visitors would greet their “foster parents” happily.

Naturally, wolves are wolves—not dogs.  Don’t go out and adopt one.  I’ve heard (anecdotally) stories of people raising half-wolves, and apparently their energy levels are insatiable—even running a dozen miles a day won’t tucker them out.  I can barely run twenty feet without breaking a sweat and panting (in the apocalypse, I’d be wolf or zombie food for sure).

Still, these kinds of experiments are fascinating, and help us learn more about how our ancestors subdued Creation and used it, in its Fallen state, to improve their lives (and, presumably, the lives of the wolves-turned-dogs).

Another point:  you’re the descendant of the people who defeated wolves—and all manner of other nasty predators—or managed to tame them.  The guy who died hunting the wolf before he could have children doesn’t have any descendants today.

I think about that sometimes, living in my cossetted, doughy life.  We owe it to our ancestors—the wolf tamers, the wolf slayers—to live our lives to the fullest.

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