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Extract from Chapter 2 of The Greatest Show on Earth: The truth dogs reveal about evolution

Also see: Extract from Chapter 1

This is an Extract from Chapter Two of The Greatest Show on Earth, to be published in September.

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article6808173.ece

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We can turn to the example of dogs for some important lessons about natural selection. All breeds of dogs are domesticated wolves: not jackals, not coyotes and not foxes. But I need to qualify this in the light of a fascinating theory of the evolution of the dog, which has been most clearly articulated by the American zoologist Raymond Coppinger. The idea is that the evolution of the dog was not just a matter of artificial selection. It was at least as much a case of wolves adapting to the ways of Man by natural selection. Much of the initial domestication of the dog was selfdomestication, mediated by natural, not artificial, selection. Long before we got our hands on the chisels in the artificial selection toolbox, natural selection had already sculpted wolves into self-domesticated “village dogs’ without any human intervention.

Only later did humans adopt these village dogs and transmogrify them, separately and comprehensively, into the rainbow spectrum of breeds that today grace (if grace is the word) Crufts and similar pageants of canine achievement and beauty (if beauty is the word).

Coppinger points out that when domestic animals break free and go feral for many generations, they usually revert to something close to their wild ancestor. We might expect feral dogs, therefore, to become rather wolf-like. But this doesn’t happen. Instead, dogs left to go feral seem to become the ubiquitous “village dogs” — “pye-dogs” — that hang around human settlements all over the Third World. This encourages Coppinger’s belief that the dogs on which human breeders finally went to work were wolves no longer. They had already changed themselves into dogs: village dogs, pye-dogs, perhaps dingos.
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