Primitive Breeds of Domestic Dogs
by Bonnie Dalzell,MAWhen we refer to " primitive dogs" in these essays what we mean are those breeds which are thought to be little altered from the ancestral wolves in both body form and behavioral attributes. It is pretty obvious that the first changes that domestication had on wolves were behavioral, selecting for animals that accepted the presence of humans without continually challenging in a pecking order situation. In addition there would be stronge selection against predatory behavior towards human infants and children. Much of current speculation on the domestication of the dog is concerned with what the first steps in changing a wolf to a domestic animal may have been.
The primitive, non-spitz dogs physically are thirty to forty pound smooth coated dogs with tails that lack the tight curl of the spitz. In general they have erect ears, sometimes with a slight turn over at the tip. The Dingo, Carolina Dog and New Guinea Singing Dog are a sandy red to cinnamon color.
The Canaan dog is included in some lists as a primitive dog, here we discuss him among the herding group, he is often presented as a redomestication of the mid-east pariah dog. They have been extensively selected as a herding (drover's) dog and are also used in police work.
Simple changes in appearance such as tail carriage and coat color might be retained as soon as the mutations producing them appeared since humans are attracted to novelty. Another theory concerning changes of coat color with domestication is based on possibility that changes in coat color could be directly associated with changes in the nervous system associated with tameness. This seemingly unlikely correlation has a good basis in developmental biology because color is produced by cell lineages that are derived from the early differentiation of the central nervous system and many of the biochemical pathways that produce pigments are also involved in the production of neurotransmitters. Similarly embryonic factors that influence the migration of pigment bearing cells may also influence the migration of proto-neurons. Before this statement is taken as something to be extrapolated to humans a caution is necessary. The commonest change in markings seen in domestic mammals is the appearance of spotting (piebald), this is very rare in humans although it is often associated with sensory disability.
During the early stages of the process of domestication humans are more likely to have controlled breeding by elimination of undesired individuals from the breeding herd rather than by confining fertile females and only breeding them to selected males.
One of the still unanswered questions in the domestication of the dog is wether our modern dogs are derived from different episodes of domestication or only one episode. If there were mutiple episodes separated in time and space then some of the disparities we see in various perceptions of dog domestication could be due to workers studying animals that are descended, at least in part, from different founding populations.
Wolves themselves are fairly recent species, some paleontogists have put the differentiation of wolves from their coyote/jackal ancestors to be as late as thhe Pleistocene (the last million years).
When speaking of un-owned animals the term wild is used for animals that have never been subjected to human selection (that is, domesticated) while feral is used for animals that are currently living independently of human care but whose ancestors were domesticated. As an example, the free ranging mustangs of the American west are feral horses, not wild horses, since they are descended from domestic animals that escaped from their owners. Animals that are not actively domesticated by humans but that have become associated with human habitats and have even shown some adaptation to this association are called commensals. A good example is the Norway (brown) rat. Often the presence of these commensals is undesired and they are then called vermin.
Throughtout the equatorial and temperate regions of the world we see medium sized dogs that live in conjunction to human communities yet are not owned. Many writers such as Dr Lehr Brisbane have suggested that the dogs found throughout the middle east called "pariah" dogs are not actually domestic dogs that have returned to an ownerless state but are actually dogs that were never really owned, that is they are not feral but commensals.
This theory would have the village scavenger dog be strongly selected to supress active predatory behavior towards domestic animals and humans, large and small, as an adaptation for being allowed to scavenge the wastes of a human settlement. Such dogs would be expected to come into existance with the founding of agricultural settlements. The ecological niche would not be as well developed for them with nomadic herding people. Throughout much of the world, with developement, these dogs are vanishing (this is an observation was pointed out to me by John Burchard, a mammalogist who has worked in the middle east) so we may never be able to properly study them and their relationships with village culture. Two factors come in to play here. (1) They are often victums of public health based campaigns to get rid of such vermin. (2) Their unique gene pool is being changed by cross breediing with domestic dogs introduced into the area. One the domestic dog genes are introduced, a lot of the pariah dog adjustments are lost and the hybrids can become dangerous to children and domestic animals which then triggers another round of strategy 1.
Some attempt is being made by fanciers to maintain these as unique and now domesticated breeds. The Carolina Dog, and the Canaan Dog are some examples.
The Dingo and the closely related New Guinae Singing Dog are even more primitive dogs. At times Dingos are treated as pets and hunting partners by the aborigines but at other times they are ignored and obtain their own living. Unfortunately Dingos now have had some European domestic dog genes brought into their population since European settlement of the Australian continent. Attempts are currently being made to rear New Guinea Singing Dogs as domestic pets in addition to maintaining them in zoos.
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