Mariam Motamedi Fraser
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Dogs’ species story

Chapter 2 addresses dogs’ species story. This is the story of ‘how dogs became dogs’ as it is understood, discussed and debated in the fields of genetics, archaeology, behavioural ecology and canine science. One of the most significant elements of this story concerns the relation between dog speciation and dog domestication: did dogs become dogs before they were domesticated, or by way of domestication? This chapter is an interrogation of how proof of dog speciation/domestication is established, what evidence exists to support it, and what role dogs themselves play in disrupting it. In all, the aim of the chapter is to illustrate that dogs’ species story is told with unwarranted confidence. But it is also to demonstrate, importantly, that it is a story that wields substantial power, authority and influence. The chapter is bookended by two interrelated topics that are important to Dog Politics as a whole: time, and the relations between species and ‘race’. It begins with a discussion of why Darwin’s presentation of his theory of evolution by natural selection to his Victorian public, which greatly relied on dogs, lends itself to such ongoing confusion with regard to evolutionary time, and ends by illustrating how easily, if not how inevitably, species and ‘race’ can come to be conflated, when the different temporal scales of biological speciation and political racialisation are not available to distinguish them.

An international team of scientists has just identified what they believe is the world’s first known dog, which was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and subsisted on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer.

(NBC Science 2008: para. 1)

Let me begin this chapter with the ‘dog-is-wolf’ thesis, which is one variant of dogs’ species story. I will return to this variant in more detail, and to several others, below. For now, I want simply to gesture to how significant are the implications, for dogs, of a story such as this, which will shape how dogs are understood and also, therefore, how they are trained and treated.

The anthrozoologist John Bradshaw writes: ‘[o]‌bservations of captive wolf packs have led not only to mistaken assessments of wolf behaviour, but also to fundamental misunderstandings about the structure of wolf families themselves, misunderstandings that have warped the popular conception of dogs as well’ (Bradshaw 2012: 24). Bradshaw is referring here to how descriptions of breeding pairs of wolves as ‘alpha males’ and ‘alpha females’ have led to the misconception that wolves live in strictly hierarchical packs and how, in fidelity to this tale of wolf pack ‘mentality’, owners have been encouraged to ‘impress their own “alpha” status on their dog’ (Bradshaw 2012: 24). In other words, as well as being a misdescription of wolves, who live peaceably in family groups when not being held captive (Mech 1999, 2000), the dog-is-wolf story has given rise to the notion that dogs must be dominated because otherwise they themselves will attempt to become the ‘leader’ of the human household/pack (Charles et al. 2021).

Colonel Konrad Most (1878–1954), who trained dogs for the German police and military from 1906 onwards (but also trained working and sporting dogs toward the end of his life), occupies much of his reader’s time, in his classic book Training Dogs: A Manual (2001 [1955]), with descriptions of how to use a switch on a dog. For Most, it is because the dog is a pack animal that he or she can be trained to live with humans at all: ‘[e]‌ver since the dog lived in a state of nature, as a wild animal of wolf type in packs, the pack instinct, or sociable impulse, has dwelt within him … A dog’s dependence on man is the expression of his pack instinct’ (Most 2001 [1955]: 72). And it is on account of this also that he justifies ‘training’ a dog into complete submission:

As in a pack of dogs, the order of hierarchy in a man and dog combination can only be established by physical force, that is, by an actual struggle, in which the man is instantly victorious. Such a result can only be brought about by convincing the dog of the absolute physical superiority of the man.(Most 2001 [1955]: 35)

Most is just one in a long history of animal trainers, which includes Barbara Woodhouse and Cesar Millan, who have encouraged owners to believe that a good relationship with their dog is characterised by the dog’s total surrender.1 Sophia Yin, a veterinarian, applied animal behaviourist, and pioneer of techniques designed to handle dogs without stress, offers this interpretation of Millan on film, grooming a small dog while simultaneously rhapsodising about the benefits of being the pack leader:

It’s man against a Miniature Poodle–Maltese mix as the popular trainer, Cesar Millan, pits his skill against a curly-haired, football-sized dog that hates being groomed. He brushes the dog’s face and head as the dog stands, seemingly willingly, except for the subtle twitch of his upper lip. ‘That’s the beauty of becoming a pack leader’, says Millan. ‘Because anything they used to dislike, they learn to like, because they have no choice’. The owner looks on, her face lit with the joy of what she sees as a miracle before her eyes … But then, as Millan stops to adjust the leash, the dog explodes with the emotion his earlier lip curl had warned lay below. He screams and bares his teeth – holding his mouth wide open like a shield studded with sharp white stones. The puffy white alligator flails his head and bites the fingers of Millan’s right hand … [then] mouth agape in a tense threat, and feet up and clawing in full defense fight-mode – bites Millan again.(Yin 2009: 17)

Although contemporary canine ethologist Alexandra Horowitz does not mention trainers such as Millan by name, it is likely that their controversial training techniques are uppermost in her mind when she redescribes ‘family’ dogs as members not of a pack, but of a gang (Horowitz 2012: 60–61). That is, as members of a group who are defined by their various, potentially intimate, associations with each other, and not by hierarchy.

I start with the dog-is-wolf variant of dogs’ species story because it is an especially clear illustration and dramatisation of the material implications, for dogs today, of apparently neutral accounts of biological speciation that are said to have unfolded anywhere between 135,000 and 11,000 years ago (maybe). I will address the consequences of this story in other chapters. In this chapter, my concern is with the story itself. Like nearly every other variant of dogs’ species story, the dog-is-wolf thesis is underpinned by a single, distinguishing feature, which is that the becoming of the species ‘dog’ is fundamentally inseparable from humans. This does not mean that the relationship between dogs and humans is one of co-becoming, however, because, across most scientific disciplines, dogs’ species story does not pertain to both dogs and humans at the species level. While scientists concede that dogs may have put some ‘cultural’ pressure on humans, may even have ‘civilised’ them (that is, enabled them to become ‘civilised’), for the most part the becoming of dogs as a species, in dogs’ species story, leaves Homo sapiens untouched and intact.2 As I will illustrate in Chapter 4 especially, this renders the ‘relationality’ of the dog–human configuration somewhat peculiar, for it appears to characterise only one side of the dyad – the dogs’ side. While some humans might feel a deep dog–human connection (be it emotional, affective, biochemical or whatever), this is not a requirement of being a human. That connection, however, according to dogs’ species story, is a requirement of being a dog. This makes dogs’ relationality, at the species level, curiously unrelational.

Broadly speaking, dogs’ species story (in nearly all its variants) is based on three interconnected claims: first, that dogs are the original domesticates (their domestication precedes the agricultural revolution); second, that the speciation of dogs is connected to, if not synonymous with, their domestication; third, that the parallel evolution of dogs and humans places dogs in a unique relation to humans. Canis familiaris. Named by Carl Linnaeus in the first volume of the tenth edition of Systema naturae (1758) and originating from the Latin familia, meaning household. Dogs are of the human household. This chapter explores these claims as they are recounted in contemporary genetics, archaeology, ecology and other science disciplines. While some of this recounting is said by scientists to be ‘controversial’, to my mind it is so only in the details. The broad thrust of the story is consistent across disciplines. This chapter explores this story and asks what evidence exists for it.

As a first step toward this analysis, I begin with the role that dogs are understood to have played in enabling Charles Darwin to articulate his theory of evolution by natural selection both to himself and to his Victorian public. Darwin’s representation of his theory, and especially his representation of the two conceptions of time that inform it, contributed to the vexed linguistic, conceptual and political inheritance that he bequeathed to future evolutionary researchers. I will address this troubled legacy – especially as it relates to the issue of variability – in much greater detail in Chapter 6. I introduce it here in anticipation of that, but also because it provides a broad frame for much of the discussion that follows in this chapter.

Dogs and Darwin

In Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery, and the Quest for Human Origins, authors Adrian Desmond and James Moore (2009) pay particular attention to how Darwin’s relationships with dogs shaped his thinking on evolution. ‘Hounds were Darwin’s forte’, they write (Desmond and Moore 2009: 309); ‘[d]‌ogs … were [for Darwin] a microcosm of nature’ (258). It should come as no surprise that dogs were Darwin’s forte, for Darwin was born into a class, a country and a century in which dogs had accrued considerable emotional, social, cultural, symbolic and commercial value. Although, in England, ‘the maintenance of idle animals’, as Harriet Ritvo puts it – i.e. pet keeping – had originally been the privilege of courtiers and wealthy religious orders (Ritvo 1987: 85), by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was ‘a normal feature of the middle-class household, especially in towns’ (Thomas 1984: 110). Of the many kinds of animals who were kept ‘close to human society’ (Thomas 1984: 100) – including horses, hawks, cats, monkeys, tortoises, otters, rabbits, squirrels and cage-birds (and on farms, lambs, hares, mice, hedgehogs, bats and toads) (Thomas 1984: 100–112) – dogs were ‘the most favoured’ (Thomas 1984: 101; Ritvo 1987: 20). By 1800, ‘there were probably more than a million dogs in England, compared to a human population of about eight million, and the number of dogs grew steadily well into Darwin’s youth’ (Feller 2009: 267). The first dog show in 1859 and the foundation of the Kennel Club in 1873 institutionalised and further intensified what could be described as a national obsession with breeding (Ritvo 1987; Worboys et al. 2018), which, historian Harriet Ritvo writes, had long constituted both ‘a metonymic attempt at [class] assimilation’ (Ritvo 1987: 87) and an opportunity to police class boundaries (e.g. Ritvo 1987: 83–84).

Darwin, by his own admission, had a ‘passion’ for dogs (Darwin in Darwin 2009: 30), and he grew up in families – the Darwins and the Wedgwoods – who supported this passion. His correspondence indicates that the families took pride in and celebrated their animals (Townshend 2009: 19) and spent much time describing and reflecting on their dogs’ characters, emotions and behaviours (Feller 2009: 267; Townshend 2009: 16–28). Shela, Spark, Czar, Sappho, Fan, Dash, Pincher, Nina, Bob, Bran, Quiz, Tartar, Pepper and Butterton: these were ‘Darwin’s dogs’ (Townshend 2009), some owned, some purloined, some shared, some adopted. Also there was Polly, a Fox Terrier, who was Darwin’s final dog, and his most beloved (Darwin 2009: 113). Unnamed here are the dogs whose hearts Darwin stole from others – ‘I was an adept’, he writes, ‘in robbing their love from their masters’ (Darwin in Darwin 2009: 30) – and the dogs who on lived on ‘Barker Street’, as Darwin dubbed it, of whom, as a child, he was afraid (Townshend 2009: 18). Unnamed finally is the puppy whom Darwin beat ‘as a very little boy … simply from enjoying the sense of power … [T]‌his act lay heavily on my conscience’ (Darwin in Darwin 2009: 30).

Despite Darwin’s affection for dogs in general, it was arguably his contact with the dog culture of the Shropshire gentry in particular, with ‘its lifelong passion for gundogs, show cattle, and fancy breeds’ (Desmond and Moore 2009: 304), that enabled him to make the imaginative leap that would define one of his most significant contributions to science: inheritance by natural selection.3 Having ‘question[ed] whether these very diverse forms [of domesticated animals] may have arisen from fewer ancestors … it was a logical step for Darwin to apply this reasoning to wild animals and to ask whether they too might share a common ancestor’ (Van Grouw 2018: 23).4 In their proliferation of numerous different dog breeds, and in their cultivation of the technologies of artificial selection – in their discussions of breeding standards, bloodlines and ‘perfect’ breeds, and in the keeping of pedigree stock books (Townshend 2009: 31–32) – these dog fanciers provided Darwin with visible material evidence of a principle that, because of the relatively slow pace of evolutionary divergence in wild animals, would otherwise be invisible to the human eye (or invisible to the human imagination). ‘Although the creation of new breeds of domesticated animal might seem superficial compared with the lofty science of speciation’, Katrina van Grouw writes, ‘it nevertheless shows how easily an animal lineage can be split into multiple isolated forms’ (Van Grouw 2018: 49). Artificial selection, Desmond and Moore claim, was for Darwin ‘the missing link between natural selection and the beau idéal mechanism’; ‘artificial selection in the kennel was the counterpart of natural selection in the wild’ (Desmond and Moore 2009: 304, emphasis in the original).5 Artificial selection, in short, was a metaphor for natural selection.6

Van Grouw argues that Darwin’s anecdotal accounts of dogs contributed to making the ‘terrifying, godless abyss’ (Van Grouw 2018: 56) that was the theory of evolution more palatable to the middle-class dog-owning amateur and expert scientists of the day (see also Knoll 1997). True to their name, Canis familiaris made the theory of evolution feel more ‘familiar’ and ‘homely’, in part because dogs were familiar, and in part because the familiarity of dogs served as a counterpoint to the unfamiliarity of apes, which a long history of racist classifications, given new potency by nineteenth-century colonialism and imperialism, ensured was inextricable from the unfamiliarity of other ‘races’. I will address this history in Chapter 6. Here, my focus lies on the conceptual confusion that potentially follows from the artificial selection/natural selection metaphor. For it is perhaps because morphological and behavioural evidence of artificial selection can be witnessed in dogs within a compressed – i.e. a human – timescale that the metaphor encourages the mistaken idea that, just as a long-legged Corgi can ‘morph’ over several generations into a short-legged one, so too one species can morph into another.

The popular Facebook post that shows a dog lounging at a kitchen table and reads ‘If dogs are descended from wolves, how come there are still wolves?’ captures the common misconception that dogs ‘rolled out’ of wolves, i.e. that, over time, one form of species slowly transforms into another, perhaps even ultimately replacing that earlier form. This notion of gradual change unfolding over time – in effect, of gradation – animated some of the racist and imperialist politics of the nineteenth century, for it enabled ‘races’ and species to be conceived of in terms of an evolutionary scale or hierarchy (see Chapter 6). Yet Darwin himself was committed to an idea of evolution ‘as an irregularly branching process producing marked discontinuities in forms of life that have survived to the present day’ (Boakes 2008: 21). Contra the atemporality of fixed and static typologies, and contra also the concept of time as the medium of linear change, time can be conceived of as an element that introduces unpredictability to ‘the encounter between individual variation and natural selection’ (Grosz 2004: 7). Retrospectively traced lineages can be described as continuous, but the process of evolution, because it is temporal, is marked by discontinuity.

Discontinuity, or irregular branching, is relevant to how one understands the relations between different species. Different extant species have not evolved one from another. Rather, the principle of discontinuity invokes novel trajectories, which is why, on the ‘tree of life’, species are represented ‘only [at] the very tips of these metaphorical branches’ (Van Grouw 2018: 49). From these tips, species continue to ‘evolve independently’ (Van Grouw 2018: 49).7 Nevertheless, Darwin’s famous transmutation diagram – often called the ‘Tree of Life’ sketch (Figure 2.1) – which illustrates Darwin’s thinking in branches, competes against his choice of words and metaphors, and his written descriptions of evolutionary change and variation as, for example, ‘a series [that] impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage’ (Darwin 2008: 42). Indeed Darwin’s choice of words ‘impresses the mind’ with a great number of problematic ideas. The very title The Descent of Man and the concept of a ‘descendant’ implies that lineages are continuous over time, while the term ‘unity of descent’ implies descent from an origin. Elizabeth Grosz seeks to rescue evolutionary theory from the conceptual, linguistic and political minefields that Darwin inadvertently laid for it, by arguing, for example, that Darwin ‘analyzes only the descent, the genealogy, the historical movement (for we cannot even call it progress) of species, the movement from an earlier to a later form, a movement that presupposes an origin that it cannot explain, which perhaps is not an origin except in retrospect’ (Grosz 2004: 21, emphasis in the original). Today, no scientist would dream of conceiving of evolution in terms of continuity and origins. And yet, the notion that there is some point at which, or after which, a dog is no longer a wolf, some point at which a dog becomes what it is, a dog, is difficult to dislodge.8 Thus it is that much of the following discussion is obliged to engage with this very question.

How and when dogs became dogs

Like other living creatures, dogs have been categorised into a species, the species Canis familiaris. Unlike other species, the relationship between Canis familiaris and Homo sapiens is often said to be unique. This uniqueness is largely rooted in the perception of dogs as ‘the first human companion species and the only large carnivore to ever be domesticated’ (Freedman et al. 2014: 2). ‘The early association of dogs and humans’, the evolutionary geneticists Adam Freedman and Robert Wayne write, ‘potentially allowed dogs to have a profound influence on the course of early human history and the development of civilization’ (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 283). In other words, as the oldest domesticate, the dog’s evolution, which preceded the agricultural revolution, is seen to be especially interesting not just for what it teaches scientists about dogs, but for what it teaches them about humans. This relationship, however, precisely because it is so ‘ancient’, is also especially obscure.

Crucially, in many, if not most, accounts of the evolutionary story of dogs, dog speciation is dog domestication. This is significant because it means that humans – whether by conscious design or not – become the pivot of the story of ‘how dogs became dogs’. However, Darcy Morey, who is a canine palaeobiologist and archaeologist, proposes that wolf and dog genetic divergence, which is the main preoccupation of genetic scientists, and dog domestication, which is the central concern of archaeologists (among others), are two different things. If the findings of both, with their sometimes vastly differing timescales, are roughly correct, then ‘the animals that were destined to become dogs must have made their living for some time essentially in the old-fashioned way, like wolves. It is entirely possible that the genomes became separated for reasons having nothing to do with domestication’ (Morey 2006: 166–167). Although Morey himself seems hardly persuaded by this idea, I think it is an important one, because it opens the door to an entirely different species story – a door that, as it stands, is not only firmly bolted shut, but firmly bolts dogs in with humans. It also explains why it is so difficult to fit dogs’ species story into some of the staples of conventional domestication paradigms, such as bottlenecks, reproductive isolation and strong selection (Frantz and Larsen 2020: 32), as I will illustrate below.9 Rather than understand these difficulties to represent gaps in scientific knowledge, I take them to be indicative of the effort that the project of species-making demands.

It is now widely accepted in the animal sciences that ‘the single progenitor of all domestic dogs, ancient and modern, was the grey wolf, Canis lupus’ (Clutton-Brock 2017: 8). (I will return to the category Canis lupus familiaris below.) What this means is that, with the exception of the grey wolf, no other canid species is understood to have contributed to the ‘genetic legacy’ of domestic dogs (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 282). As I have already discussed, it is a mistake to jump from this ancestral relation to the idea that an extant grey wolf is the ‘original’ form of an extant domestic dog. Evolution takes place continuously over time, but the dog is a dog and the wolf is a wolf on account of the discontinuities/divergences between them, which are invoked by selection in time. This is why it is absurd to look to the wolf – and particularly to look to contemporary, living, wolves – for answers to dog behaviours. It is absurd not only because this is not how evolution works, but also because, some scientists argue, the relation between the ancestor grey wolf and the modern dog cannot, in fact, be directly established. One reason for this is because the processes through which the points of divergence between species are identified is far from straightforward.

It may be, for example, that the nearest common ancestor to dogs is extinct (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 282): that is, that the temporally closest relative of the dog does not walk on this planet today, which means that scientists have no way (or limited ways) of identifying who that ancestral creature was, from whom dogs departed. In the meantime, the assumption is that extant wolves are an out group for dogs. What is an ‘out group’? An out group serves as a reference point for the investigation of evolutionary relationships. An out group is a lineage that is closely related to the ‘in group’ in the clade10 – or branch of the evolutionary ‘tree’ – that is being investigated. Coyotes are an out group for wolves, on the assumption that between 1 and 2.5 million years ago, before wolves and coyotes began to evolve separately, they shared an ancestor (Miklósi 2017: 136). Genetic calculations regarding the date of the wolf–dog split are made on the basis of the coyote–wolf split. Both these calculations rest on the idea of a ‘molecular clock’ that, like all clocks, assumes continuous regularity of some kind of rate – in this case, of genetic mutation. Mutation rates, which occur at the molecular level, are believed to be constant. However, ‘many mutations will not be detected if their carrier dies without offspring’ (Miklósi 2017: 137). Scientists thus build into their calculations ‘the chance of a mutation to transfer to the next generation of a population’ (Miklósi 2017: 137). This is called the substitution rate. If the chances of transfer are 100 per cent, then the mutation and substitution rate will be the same.

Were a continuous regularity of genetic mutation to be assured, ‘the number of mutations found in the descendants could offer some clues as to how much time has passed since the divergence’ (Miklósi 2017: 136–137): i.e. time of coyote/wolf divergence to the present, divided by wolf/dog mutations, equals date of dog domestication. In 1997, in a ‘benchmark’ study (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 285; cf. Clutton-Brock 2017: 9), Carles Vilá and his colleagues calculated that dog mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)11 diverged from wolf mtDNA by a maximum of 12 substitutions and an average of 5.3 substitutions. Using fossil evidence that indicates that coyotes and wolves split 1 million years ago, the authors dated dog domestication to 135,000 years before the present (BP) (Vilá et al. 1997).

More recently however, the coyote/wolf split has been re-estimated at about 100,000 years BP (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 298), bringing forward wolf/dog divergence to 11,000–34,000 BP. This shift of timescale is striking, even bearing in mind that the calculation rates of mutations in humans are accurate to ±10,000 years. ‘One should therefore not expect’, the ethologist Ádám Miklósi writes, ‘a more accurate dating for the domestication of dogs based on genetic data alone, especially because the realistic time frame for such an event to have taken place is much shorter’ (Miklósi 2017: 139). The ‘realistic time frame’ to which Miklósi is referring is between 16,000 and 33,000 BP (Miklósi 2017: 138), which is consistent with archaeological evidence. Archaeological evidence is especially significant with regard to dogs’ species story, because it is this evidence in particular that ties dog speciation to dog domestication (and therefore to humans).

So how secure is the archaeological evidence? Despite the frequent disputes between genomic scientists and archaeologists, ‘genetic studies frequently rely on the fossil record to make temporal inferences’, and they also rely on these records because ‘data on ancient canids provide a line of evidence independent from genetics’ (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 282). Research based on fossils, zoomorphic art, dog burials etc. (Morey 2010, 2006) has found evidence of dog-like canids, showing ‘what are assumed to be the characteristics of incipient domestication’ in their skulls and teeth, around 30,000 years ago in Europe, Ukraine and Siberia (Clutton-Brock 2017: 9; Freedman et al. 2014: 2). Skulls and teeth are used to distinguish between the archaeological remains of wolves and dogs because domestication is widely understood to affect morphology. Compared to wolves, domesticated dogs are said to show, for example, a diminution in the size of the body and head, a shortening of the muzzle and snout, changes in coat colour and so on (Clutton-Brock 2017: 11–12).12 Alternative explanations for these characteristics, however, are available. It is possible, for example, that at least some of the morphological signs of domestication can be identified in wild canids who have been subject to ‘ecological stress and inbreeding’ (Clutton-Brock 2017: 10). Or it may be that dog remains are not an ancestor of the modern dog, but rather are evidence of a ‘domestication process that eventually failed’ (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 283). (This implies that domestication processes could have started at least more than once.) Or, as noted above, these putative dog remains may refer to ‘a smaller, morphologically distinct lineage of wolves that is now extinct’ (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 283), a lineage that may possibly, in place of grey wolves, be dogs’ ‘true’ ancestor.

Wolves, dogs and other canids themselves confound these attempts at identification. In Freedman and Wayne’s words: ‘[t]‌he canine genome is particularly porous with regard to admixture and contains signals of interbreeding on varying timescales across past and present geographic distributions’ (Freedman and Wayne 2017: 299–300). Which means: whenever and wherever you find them, canids are given to mating. Because wolves and early dogs interbred, it is difficult to know whether an individual fossil finding – of possibly an individual dog – is representative, or not, of an emerging dog population, characterised by specific phenotypes. Not only did wolves and incipient dogs interbreed, but indigenous dogs bred with non-indigenous dogs, which complicates the mapping of the geographical origin/s of dogs. A further confounding characteristic of canids with regard to geographical mapping is that they move/migrate relatively fast. For example: although jackals became extinct in central Europe 100 years ago, Miklósi, writing in 2017, notes that since their return approximately fifteen–twenty years ago, they have been able to cover a ‘range of a few thousand kilometres’ (Miklósi 2017: 99). Given this rapidity of coverage, estimations regarding the migrations of species members of the Canis genus 10,000–20,000 years ago will be speculative indeed (Miklósi 2017: 101). Moreover, if dogs travelled with humans, they may have moved even faster than other members of their taxonomic family (the pace of human migration sped up during the Mesolithic period) (Miklósi 2017: 139). It is worth noting also, finally, that theories about human migration, which are considered to be crucial to the genetic and archaeological identification of human ancestry (to which dog domestication is seen to be connected), have been problematised in social science literature. As Joan H. Fujimura and Ramya Rajagopalan note, the accounts of human migration that scientists draw on, and which are often deployed as if they were facts, are ‘constructed via histories written through archaeology, physical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and social anthropology’ (Fujimura and Rajagopalan 2011: 13). In these disciplines, these histories are often subject to reflexive and critical debate.

As one might anticipate in a hypothesis based on the biological species concept, which privileges sexual reproduction (see Chapter 6), the molecular clock is understood to ‘“[tick]” by generations’ (Miklósi 2017: 137). Wolves and dogs, however, ‘generate’ themselves differently. Wolves breed once a year. With the exception of Basenjis and some feral dogs, dogs, possibly as a consequence of domestication,13 are able to breed twice a year, so doubling the wolves’ rate of reproduction, and producing increased opportunities for variation (Miklósi 2017: 148). This difference complicates any calculation of divergence that is based on a ‘simple linear relationship between genetic divergence and time’ (Miklósi 2017: 137). This complicating factor may be a moot point, however, given that, in practice, extant wolf and dog populations (from whom genetic samples are mostly taken), for different reasons (for example the declining populations of wolves and the increasing genetic homogeneity of dogs on account of breeding), probably both show less variation than they have done in the past. ‘The idea of a domestic bottleneck’ – i.e. a reduction in genetic diversity on account of domestication – ‘is so embedded in the genetic literature it is often taken to be prior knowledge’ (Frantz and Larson 2020: 26). Yet in the case of dogs, the ‘most drastic’ (Frantz and Larson 2020: 26) example of a bottleneck is not the period of their domestication (whenever that was), or the periods of their multiple domestications (if there were more than one), but rather the Victorian era, which was characterised by intense breeding. Thus, as Miklósi points out, ‘[i]‌f the same data had been collected in antiquity, a smaller divergence between dogs and wolves might have indicated a more recent date for domestication’ (Miklósi 2017: 137).

As well as questions pertaining to when and where dog speciation occurred, another key issue is how dogs became domesticated. Theories about the evolutionary mechanisms that led to dog speciation/domestication can refer to the individual level and/or to population level (Miklósi 2017: 125), and these map roughly onto theories of domestication by artificial and/or natural selection respectively. An example of an individual-level theory would be Konrad Lorenz’s proposal that humans, perhaps especially women or ‘little girl[s]‌’ (Lorenz 2002b [1949]: 11), ‘adopted’ jackal pups as companions and in this way inadvertently alerted their human pack leaders, i.e. their fathers, to the usefulness of the human/half-wild jackal alliance, which the fathers then dominated, much to their daughters’ dismay.14 (Lorenz’s theory reads as much like a human heteronormative patriarchal family psychodrama as it does an account of dog domestication.) Although this adoption thesis is often attributed to Lorenz, Stan Braude (a biologist) and Justin Gladman (a physical anthropologist) suggest that ‘[t]he popular acceptance of Lorenz’s dog domestication scenario may actually result more from the popularity of Jack London’s classic tale White Fang’ (Braude and Gladman 2013: 1), which preceded it by some fifty years. This is why Braude and Gladman refer to it as the ‘white fang model’ (Braude and Gladman 2013: 5). In Miklósi’s view, this theory of individual selection is indeed a fiction that, if anything, might have characterised the end, rather than the beginnings, of domestication (Miklósi 2017: 125).

The behavioural ecologists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger – to whom I will return in the following section – summarise the ‘white fang model’, which they call ‘the Pinocchio hypothesis’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2001: 41), thus:

Capture a wolf.

Tame the wolf.

Train the wolf.

Breed the wolf to other tame, trained wolves.

And, presto! a domesticated dog.(Coppinger and Coppinger 2001: 57)

Coppinger and Coppinger call this the Pinocchio hypothesis not because it is an untruth, but because ‘[c]‌hanging wolves into dogs by getting them to behave like dogs’ has something of the same magical ring to it as does the idea of a puppet turning into a boy by way of his efforts to act like one (Coppinger and Coppinger 2001: 41). What the ‘white fang’ and the ‘Pinocchio’ models have in common is that they turn on artificial selection and, therefore, on human intentionality (whether conscious or inadvertent). Coppinger and Coppinger, like farmer and science writer Stephen Budiansky, are among those who believe that dog domestication is more likely to have occurred at least in part through the volition of animals ‘taming themselves’: ‘[t]he more one understands the motives behind coevolution in the wild’, Budiansky writes, ‘the less one feels the need to invoke the deus ex machina of human invention to explain domestication’ (Budiansky 1992: 59). Wolves, Budiansky argues, appreciated the ‘benefits’ of parasitising human spaces (Budiansky 1992: 59–60; see also Budiansky 2001).15

Theories based on individual selection were largely replaced in the second half of the twentieth century by population-level theories of dog domestication, the most popularly known of which is probably the Coppingers’ own ‘village dog’ scenario. According to Coppinger and Coppinger, the Pinocchio theory, which assumes that genetic transformation follows from adoption, socialising and training (Coppinger and Coppinger 2001: 57), has it all backwards. Their version goes:

People create a new niche, the village.

Some wolves invade the new niche and get access to a new food source.

Those wolves that can use the new niche are genetically predisposed to show less ‘flight distance’ than those that don’t.

Those ‘tamer’ wolves gain selective advantage in the new niche over the wilder ones.

(Coppinger and Coppinger 2001: 57)

In this version, which favours natural selection, those wolves who (for genetic reasons) were successfully able to exploit a novel food source ultimately became socialised to humans, and thus became trainable by them.

Yet, for every problem solved by a theory of dog speciation, a new one emerges. One of the problems with the village dog scenario is that it relies on the village – i.e. on human sedentism. Not only does this reinscribe the anthropocentrism that such theories seek to contest (wolves were attracted by something human); sedentism is an event which some argue postdates the beginning of dog domestication (e.g. Braude and Gladman 2013; Clutton-Brock 2017). The same theory – of wolves exploiting an anthropogenic niche – could be pushed back to human hunters (15,000–20,000 BP), but this in turn raises another set of issues, such as how and why an apex predator would ‘help’ Homo sapiens to hunt (Wynne 2020a: 166–169). Anthropogenic niche theories are also obliged to explain – especially in view of canid proclivity to mating – how one group of wolves could become reproductively separated from other groups within the same geographical area (as required by the biological species concept). Braude and Gladman argue that sympatric accounts, i.e. accounts that explain speciation among animals who share a geographical environment, are unconvincing when it comes to canids. The essence of their allopatric thesis is that groups of wolves became geographically isolated from each other approximately 15,000–20,000 BP, either because scavenger wolf populations followed humans moving south to a habitat that would have been unsuitable for the populations of hunter wolves, or because groups of humans and scavenger wolves became isolated by climate change (Braude and Gladman 2013: 3).

In his analysis of the ‘closely woven’ bond between dogs and humans (Paxton 2000: 6), the Australian veterinarian David Paxton addresses himself not only to the role of climate change, as Braude and Gladman do, but also to the roles of caves, olfaction, the specificity of Neanderthal social organisation, Homo sapiens social organisation, anatomy (especially the anatomy required for speech), migration, burials, ‘brawn’ and ‘brains’ in shaping early dog–human relationships (Paxton 2011). His argument in essence is that ‘the human–canine complex evolved as an extended phenotype … [P]‌art of what defines a human being is an association with dogs, and vice versa’ (Paxton 2000: 7). ‘We and dogs’, Paxton writes, ‘together make up a composite animal’ (5). More specifically, Paxton describes dogs and humans as a ‘composite conversationalist’ (17), by which he means that this composite animal ‘has the ability to speak’ (5). What is significant about Paxton’s argument is that it folds dogs into the speciation of humans in biological, as well as in social and symbolic, ways.

To explain: humans are by definition central to the anthropogenic niche accounts of dog speciation/domestication. Nevertheless, in most of these accounts, humans and wolves/dogs constitute two separate units of biological analysis. Partly, this is because the timeline in these narratives starts much more recently, approximately 30,000–15,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens was already established as the dominant Homo species. Partly, it is because the many uses to which humans put dogs – for example ‘to transport goods and people, work as hunting aids, serve as bed-warmers, warn people of potential danger, ward off predators, and act as sources of food and fur’ (Perri et al. 2019) – appear to have no bearing on the transformation of human biology per se. Even similar biological transformations in dogs and humans, transformations that might have been evoked by events that dogs and humans experienced simultaneously, are usually held apart analytically. This, the anthropologist Helen Leach argues, is typical of many conventional domestication accounts in which there exist, for example, ‘one set of explanations for cranio-facial and tooth-size reduction in early Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic dogs and another for humans’ (Leach 2003: 359).16

Paxton’s argument, that dogs and humans are an ‘extended phenotype’, is not metaphorical. Nor does it refer centrally to the effectiveness of dog–human communication (although this certainly follows from his thesis). In his ‘speculative’ (Paxton 2000: 7) account of dog–human associations, Paxton proposes that the physical anatomy that makes speech and enunciation possible in humans could only have developed through a close association with an animal who retained fully developed senses, and particularly the sense of olfaction. The animal with whom humans associated, in his view, was the emerging dog, who passed through an evolutionary bottleneck 135,000 years ago, at approximately the same time that humans were emerging as ecological niches (7). The ‘short blunt piston’ tongue and the ‘dropped face’ (6), for example, which characterise Homo sapiens, gave humans a competitive edge over Neanderthals, ‘whose sense of smell was as good as dogs’ (108). As Haraway summarises it: ‘the hypertrophied human biological capacity for speech emerged in consequence of associated dogs’ taking on scent and sound alert jobs and so freeing the human face, throat, and brain for chat’ (Haraway 2003: 31). By pushing back the association between emerging dogs and humans to 135,000 years BP, before Homo sapiens was fully established within the Homo genus, Paxton is enabled to argue that ‘people and dogs … have co-evolved in a complex and subjective association that includes a dimension of biological interdependency’ (Paxton 2000: 6). Dogs and humans, Paxton argues, ‘are aspects of each other’ (6), which accounts, in his view, for the ‘deep need’ that humans have of dogs (7).

Paxton’s hypothesis, which is somewhat outlandish, is rarely cited in the scientific literature on dog speciation. Part of the reason I mention it here, though, is that it seems to me to be not very much closer to ‘the truth’, nor very much further from it, than is any other account of dog becoming that I explore in this chapter. Trying to establish the empirical veracity of theories of dog speciation/domestication on the basis of extant animals and extant animal–human relations is challenging in the extreme. It is a bit like trying to identify who is an individual’s extended ‘family’, whom they have been mixing with, and where they have travelled – over the course of tens of thousands of years no less – on the basis of a few blurry pictures of their (possibly) very distant relatives, and a few natural or artefactual remains that might (possibly) have been connected to them. Yet, new ‘breakthroughs’ regarding the date of wolf/dog divergence, or what kind of dog was the premodern dog, are greeted every time with breathless enthusiasm – I cite an example of this in the epigraph to this chapter. It is not as if scientists do not appreciate the difficulty – they do (e.g. Freedman and Wayne 2017: 300–303; Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: Chapter 1; Miklósi 2017: 146). Nevertheless, the will to species-making is strong.

Dog racialisation

Many scholars have fruitfully examined the ways in which dog breeds are cross-cut with class (Dayan 2016; Kete 1994; McCarthy 2016; Ritvo 1987) and also how they are racialised (Boisseron 2018; Guenther 2019, 2020; Kim 2015; Rosenberg 2011; Weaver 2013, 2021). An implicit assumption usually undergirds this approach, which is that dogs, like humans, constitute a single homogeneous species that is internally differentiated by classism and racism. In the case of dogs, that differentiation often maps onto breed. This identification of the classed and raced aspects of breeds is not, in my view, problematic. There are, however, other ways in which dogs are racialised, one example of which I will be exploring in this section. In the work of Coppinger and Coppinger, the question of racialisation is bound up not with breed, but with species. Although the Coppingers’ analysis does not exclude breed, breed is not the fulcrum for racialisation. Rather, that fulcrum is the ecological niche.

In 1758, Carolus Linnaeus classified the domestic dog Canis familiaris, so distinguishing it as a species from Canis lupus. In 1993, dogs were reclassified by the Smithsonian Institute and the American Society of Mammologists as Canis lupus familiaris. This new name was intended to reflect scientific confidence that there is ‘minimal genetic difference between dogs and wolves’ (Morey 2006: 166), that ‘the dog is not only a descendant of the wolf, but really is a wolf’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 13; my emphasis). Today, the transformation of Canis familiaris from an independent species into ‘a mere variety of the wolf’ (Morey 2006: 166) remains a matter of debate among scientists (Bekoff 2018: 213). Or rather, it is a matter of debate among some scientists, while others ignore it entirely. In James Serpell’s (2017) widely read collection The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People, for example, the issue of reclassification is discussed just once, and this once is the sole occasion (out of the 128 that refer to the taxonomic classification of dogs) on which this new nomenclature is mentioned. Miklósi has a geocultural explanation for what he describes as this ‘unfortunate and confusing situation’, which is that ‘European zoologists, behavioural scientists, and geneticists over the world still refer to the dog as a separate species, while in many papers written mainly by North American authors, dogs are categorized as subspecies of wolves (C. l. familiaris)’ (Miklósi 2017: 99). Nevertheless, this reclassification cannot be dismissed, for as the Coppingers note in the context of Konrad Lorenz’s mistaken views about dogs’ descent from jackals, and as I indicated in the introduction to this chapter with regard to the dog-is-wolf thesis, ‘once an idea gets into print, it stays in people’s perceptions for years’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 171).

One might imagine that the Coppingers, being North Americans, would be in broad agreement with the idea that dogs are a variety of wolf. They are, however, also behavioural ecologists, and it is as behavioural ecologists that they strongly object, in What Is a Dog?, to the reclassification of dogs on the basis of genetic ancestry.17 For Coppinger and Coppinger, the dog-is-wolf classification marks dogs out from all other domesticates, and they impute this ‘exceptionalism’ not, as one might imagine, to the ‘appeal for a dog to be part wolf’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 12),18 but rather, more subtly, to dog speciation theories that connect the dog–human ‘special relationship’ (127) to human domestication of wolves and, from there, to the ‘euphori[c]‌’ ‘mythology’ that ‘dogs were domesticated by humans to do something useful’ (224). In other words, they impute this exceptional classification to a wishful story about humans, in which humans somehow conquer wolves and transform them into useful employees – i.e. dogs.

The ‘when, where and how questions’ that I addressed in the previous section are described by Coppinger and Coppinger as ‘entertaining’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 65). According to the Coppingers, they are based on two mistaken beliefs: that the symbiotic relationship between dogs and humans is mutual, and that evidence for such mutualism can be identified in human domestication of wolves. For sure, Coppinger and Coppinger write, dogs and humans have a symbiotic relationship, which is to say that they live in close proximity to and interact with each other. But that relationship is one of commensalism, which means that dogs and humans ‘[eat] at the same table’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 133), a practice – or rather, an evolutionary strategy – that is obligatory for dogs and without which they would become extinct (cf. Pierce and Bekoff 2021). The argument for commensalism rather than mutualism is that, were dogs to become extinct, human reproduction would be unaffected (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 133). Not only is human reproductive success/survival independent of dogs today, it has always, the Coppingers argue, been independent of dogs, regardless of the ‘imaginative’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 132) accounts of the origins of dogs that relate how wolves/dogs were the first human companion species, or how they were an aid to humans on account of their sense of olfaction, or as hunters, herders, guarders, bed-warmers etc. It is noticeable that Coppinger and Coppinger are careful to report on the costs to humans of the global dog population in terms of bites, rabies and other diseases, livestock harassment and deaths, and negative effects on wildlife (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 140). Their purpose in doing so, it appears, is to provide evidence for their claim that dogs are not necessarily ‘good’ for humans.

So if not the wolf, who is the ancestor of the dog? Coppinger and Coppinger argue that there are two different kinds of dogs in the world, and it is the group that is in the numerical minority – ‘Western breeds’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 20) – that define, wrongly, what is a dog.19 The ancestors of these ‘fancy hobby pet’ dogs are the ‘real dogs’ who are everywhere visible in nearly every part of the globe today, with the possible exception of ‘the West’ (which is the location of the densest production of scientific knowledge about dogs). They write:

Man’s best friends live ubiquitously in the United States, Europe, and other developed countries and, in these countries, are by and large household pets … We need to add our professional opinion, however, to display a little squeamishness toward the fancy hobby pet group about the few hundred Western breeds that set the standard for what dogs are supposed to be. Could it be that breeds represented as working, or hunting, or pet groups don’t represent real dogs? Could it be that the so-called stray dogs, street dogs, neighbourhood dogs, village dogs, and even feral dogs of the world are the real, naturally evolved, self-selected dogs? We will argue that those street dogs are not mongrels or strays. We will argue that they are the real dogs, the ancestral type of our modern breeds … They are much more ancient than any ‘ancient’ breed.(Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 21)

The relevant ancestor of the ‘Kennel Club creations’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 20), in short, is not some misty species of grey wolf, but rather that population of dogs which all ‘look alike’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 39),20 that has evolved, over approximately 7,000 years, ‘on [its] own’, and that is ‘adapted to the [human] niche in which it makes its living’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 42). ‘The dog is its own, individual species. A lot of us think it is a beautiful species. And not because it looks or acts like a wolf but just the opposite: it doesn’t look or act life a wolf – it looks and acts like a dog’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 21). The significant difference pertaining to dogs lies not in the difference between dogs and wolves, or among dog breeds, but rather between dogs with a history of breeding and dogs without a history of breeding. Street dogs (dogs without a history of breeding) are not derived from once-wolf modern breeds; rather, modern breeds (dogs with a history of breeding) are derived from the street.

To suggest otherwise would be racist. Although Coppinger and Coppinger do not mention the word racism specifically, they note that it would be ‘politically incorrect’ (by which I assume they mean that it would be racist) to ask whether ‘white people evolved from black people or was it the other way around, and did they both evolve from Asian types?’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 9). They continue: ‘[i]‌f we asked the same question for the members of the genus Canis isn’t it equally absurd?’ (9). The point here is unusually difficult to grasp because the terminology ‘white people’, ‘black people’ and ‘Asian types’ is generally associated with ‘races’, whereas members grouped under the genus Canis are generally identified as species. Are they saying that it would be racist to identify human ‘races’ as species? Or that it is racist to identify dog species as ‘races’? The Coppingers’ critique is buried deep within the confusion that follows from their rhetoric. As I understand it, it is this: to imagine that any one group evolved from another, be it a ‘race’ or a species, is racist. One response to such a claim would be to confirm that it is indeed racist to imagine such a thing, because only racism could make such a contention intelligible. And in fact racism did make such a contention intelligible, in the nineteenth century, by insisting on evolution as a continuous, gradual process of change over time, a conception that can be effortlessly bent to the service of an ideology of human and animal hierarchies (see Chapter 6 of this book).

This is not, however, the Coppingers’ response. ‘Races’, for the Coppingers, do in truth exist. They refer, for example, to ‘Canis (races) … jackals, wolves, dingoes, coyotes, and dogs’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 9), and to ‘landraces’, which means ‘a geographically based population within a species that contains a nonrandom distribution of alleles (forms of a gene)’ (19). What is the difference between the Coppingers’ ostensibly non-racist identification of Canis races and the racist identification of – or question with regard to – the evolution of some groups of humans or animals from other groups of humans or animals? The difference is that the Canis races are defined not by lineage, but by niche-based adaptation: ‘wolves, coyotes, and jackals were ever-changing adaptations to a niche. The niches were constantly changing, and the species were constantly readapting to those changing niches’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 207). Note how easily here (and above) Coppinger and Coppinger slip between ‘race’ and species. In the end, this slippage returns the Coppingers to where they began. It leads them to ask a second ‘politically incorrect’ question, a question that is too ‘politically incorrect to talk about at the moment’, which is whether humans who are adapted to different niches (e.g. the arctic tundra or the African semidesert scrubland) are different species (216).

It seems that for Coppinger and Coppinger, as for Darwin, ‘race’ and species ‘“come back” to the same thing’ (Darwin in Desmond and Moore 2009: 265). I will return to what this meant, for Darwin, in Chapter 6. For Coppinger and Coppinger, ‘race’ and species come back to the same thing because all identities are derived from, and defined by, the niche. Thus, one can call a dog a ‘race’ or one can call a dog a ‘species’, but it does not ultimately matter which it is, because the identity of a dog is not defined by either category. A dog is a dog because, for 7,000 years, according to the Coppingers, they have been exploiting a human niche. The fact that niches are ‘constantly changing’, and that species are ‘constantly readapting’ to such changes, might do away with the essentialism of species and ‘race’ in theory, but the timescale – thousands of years – ensures that it does not do away with them in practice. By way of the niche, Coppinger and Coppinger place ‘race’ firmly within the long timescales of evolutionary biology. The implications of this equivalence between the identities and temporalities of ‘race’ and of species are grave. Trapped in ‘niche time’, ‘race’ becomes resistant to ‘political time’, that is, to the times of specific forms of historical and contemporary racisms, and to the kinds of anti-racist analyses that this temporality allows (see also Chapter 6).

Coppinger and Coppinger enact what they themselves are trying to illustrate and critique, which is that speciation theories are tied up with ‘race’ and racism. I don’t think this enactment can be explained solely by their superficial understanding of ‘race’. I think it is also a consequence of their efforts to replace one theory of speciation with another. Coppinger and Coppinger are at liberty to criticise ‘race’ (in which they are evidently not especially interested), but are not at liberty at all, it seems, to criticise, or even to think reflexively about, the concept of species. Yet this is precisely the Coppingers’ agenda: to expose the implications, especially for street dogs, of the dog-is-wolf speciation thesis, and the ‘special relationship’ that goes with it. The issue for them is not merely that the ‘fancy dog’, ostensibly ‘a mere variety of the wolf’, defines ‘what is a dog’; it is that the relations that humans have with fancy dogs – relations of governance, domination and control, that are rooted in the fantasy that it was by such relations that humans turned wolves into dogs – are naturalised as the model for all dog–human relations. Street dogs pay the price for this, in the form of sterilisation, adoption and killing.

In a strange twist of analysis, Coppinger and Coppinger themselves offer an explanation for the powerful lure of the dog speciation theories they condemn. In the course of their niche account of dogs’ evolution, they argue that dogs developed a wide range of physiological, behavioural and social capacities that ensure they will be successful when they initiate the ‘special relationship’ on which their lives depend (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 155). Included among their examples are: the early abandonment of dog pups by their mothers, such that their best hope of survival is to find a human companion; the ‘cuteness’ of pups at the moment of abandonment; the social bonding abilities of dogs that enable them to build lifelong relationships, especially with species to which they are exposed during the socialisation period; and the ease with which they can be adopted (they can eat almost anything, starve relatively easily, and can tolerate high levels of abuse and handling) (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: Chapters 11 and 12). Reading between the lines, one is almost led to believe that the invitation to write the story that the Coppingers oppose – that dogs, to quote again, were ‘domesticated by humans to do something useful’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 224) – was sent out by dogs themselves.


If one must speak of origins, as it seems one must, then perhaps the origins of dogs and of humans, of Canis familiaris and Homo sapiens, are best dated, give or take a few decades or centuries, to 2,300 years ago, to Aristotle – or perhaps to 500 years ago, to the sixteenth century, if it was Christian theology and not Aristotelian logic, as John Wilkins argues, that gave birth to the concept of species. ‘I have become convinced’, Wilkins writes, ‘that the reason for the introduction of species in the first place was the attempts by theologians in the sixteenth century to determine how many kinds of animals were included on the Ark’ (Wilkins 2017: xxiii). Like the evolution of dogs themselves, theories of dog speciation do not reveal themselves easily; they are based upon numerous competing methodologies, conjectures and assumptions regarding events that could have happened anywhere between 10,000 years ago (if not less) and 135,000 years ago (if not more). In this chapter, I have drawn attention to the great effort that is required to create a coherent narrative of dog speciation in order to begin to denaturalise the stories that are told about dogs and their behaviours. There are other ways to pursue this project. In his book Animal Biographies: Towards a History of Individuals, the historian Éric Baratay offers an incisive critique of the contemporary ethological conception of ‘the universal, timeless, “natural” dog (Baratay 2015: 9) by illustrating how the behaviours of dogs and, importantly, their relations with humans, change over generations: ‘not biological generations … but social generations, having to do with the communities of one period, occurring after communities of other periods’ (Baratay 2022: 121).21

To understand species as a story, as I am doing here, is not to suggest that it could be easily changed or dismissed. Dogs’ species story has acquired a substantive reality, not because it explains what dogs ‘really are’, but because biology, genetics, archaeology, zooarchaeology, anthropology (etc., etc.) bear witness (Stengers 2000: 98), in their differently tenuous ways, to it. Tenuous though they are, they together constitute a powerful and influential ‘order’ (see Chapter 7) that defines a particular relation between dogs and humans today. It is on account of this order that dogs’ species story cannot simply be extracted from dogs, and on account of it also that contesting its implications is so urgent, for this is not a narrative that necessarily shapes the lives of dogs for the better. In Chapter 4, I will address how expectations regarding dogs’ behaviours are articulated and justified with reference to their species story. Before doing so, it is important to address how species and behaviour come to be connected at all. For it seems almost to go without saying, today, that behaviour, as Thom van Dooren notes, ‘is a key part of the identity of [a]‌ species’ (Van Dooren 2016: 33).


1 And, indeed, by the owner’s total surrender to the trainer, as Woodhouse’s 1954 book, Dog Training My Way (Woodhouse 1997 [1954]), indicates.
2 Of course there are exceptions. See for example my discussion, below, of the veterinarian David Paxton, whose account of the speciation of dogs and of humans could be understood in terms of a biological co-becoming. Paxton, however, is something of an outlier.
3 On whose contribution, precisely, this was, see Grosz (2004: 20).
4 The connection that Darwin identified between artificial and natural selection was not in fact ‘a logical step’ for everyone. Worboys, Strange and Pemberton observe that while race and breed were used synonymously for dogs, breed was ‘rarely, if ever, applied to human grouping’ (Worboys et al. 2018: 164). This, they continue, was because races of humans were understood – especially by the racist polygenists (see Chapter 6 of this book) – to be fixed, while breeds of domesticated animals were considered mutable (Worboys et al. 2018: 164). In other words, it was possible to believe that one rule of inheritance did not apply to all species.
5 Although Darwin also went on to argue that natural selection ‘is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art’ (Darwin 2008: 50).
6 A metaphor is quite distinct from a blueprint. Darwin’s relationship with breeders was ‘superficial’, Van Grouw argues, because Darwin wanted to use selective breeding and the creation of diversity only as a metaphor for evolution, and not ‘as an evolutionary process in its own right’ (Van Grouw 2018: 60). Darwin’s eugenicist cousin Francis Galton, by contrast, was deeply interested in the real implications of breeding not only for animals, but also for humans. Not surprisingly, he was also the only biologist of the period, Worboys, Strange and Pemberton argue, to be genuinely involved with breeders (Worboys et al. 2018: 182).
7 Although see Chapter 7 on biological theories suggesting that all evolution is co-evolution.
8 For some scientists, as I will illustrate in Chapter 4, that point arrives when the eyes of a dog, unlike the eyes of a wolf, swivel to look at what a human is pointing to.
9 Although as Frantz and Larson note, the trend in genomic science now is to view domestication pathways as species- and region-specific (Frantz and Larson 2020: 32) (rather than generic).
10 From the Greek word klados, meaning branch. A clade is a monophyletic group, and it includes ‘an ancestral species and all of its descendent species’ (Wilkins 2017: 242, emphasis in the original). As John Wilkins explains: ‘a clade is understood to be uniquely isolated from the rest of the tree by a single stem or “cut”’ (Wilkins 2017: 291).
11 Mitochondrial DNA – is used in the investigation of gene flow (geographic distribution, migrations etc.). Unlike nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents, mtDNA is inherited from the maternal line.
12 For a critical analysis of the significance of these changes in domesticated animals more broadly, and especially of paedomorphism in companion animals, see Tuan (2004 [1984]).
13 Some evidence for this claim is found in Dimitry Belyaev’s famous Silver Fox Study, which suggested that the reproductive cycles of silver foxes changed after forty years of selection for tameness (Trut 1999: 167).
14 In 1975, in the foreword to M. K. Fox’s edited collection The Wild Canids, Lorenz rescinded his view that jackals are the ancestors of one type of dog (see the introduction to this book on Lorenz’s distinction between types of dogs). As he explains it: ‘I am guilty of writing a popular book on domestic dogs and also of having propounded an erroneous hypothesis: I had inherited, from my teacher Oskar Heinroth, the assumption that the bulk of domestic dog races are descended from the golden jackal, Canis aureus’ (Lorenz in Morey 2010: 14).
15 Social scientists have similarly moved away from understanding of domestication as something that humans do to animals (e.g. Tuan 2004 [1984]) toward analyses of domestication as the product of accident and chance, leading possibly to a kind of symbiosis or mutualism (see for example Cassidy and Mullin 2007; Swanson et al 2018; Weil 2012). One key difference between the sciences and social sciences, however, is that social scientists only rarely perceive or assume the relationship between domesticated animals and humans to have been, or now to be, advantageous to animals. This may be because reproductive success (‘species survival’) is not necessarily, for them, a criterion of advantage. As Yuval Harari (a historian, not a social scientist) says in relation to cattle: ‘[i]‌n evolutionary terms, cattle represent one of the most successful animal species ever to exist. At the same time, they are some of the most miserable animals on the planet’ (Harari 2011: 108).
16 Leach’s argument, which describes parallel domestication, is that physical transformations resulting from domestication – defined by her as ‘acclimatization to life in a household’ (Leach 2003: 359) – were first seen in both dogs and humans. ‘Though it would be unreasonable to expect one overarching explanation for these [biological] phenomena’, she writes, ‘at the very least we should ask why one explanation should not be tested for closely similar changes in two symbiotic animals’ (Leach 2003: 359). Leach’s use of the word ‘acclimatization’ in her definition of domestication is significant. Her point is that the ‘culturally modified, artificial environment’ (359) of the household could have exerted selection pressures as strong as those brought about by climate change.
17 What Is a Dog? was the final book that Raymond Coppinger co-authored with his wife, Lorna (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016). He died in 2017, at the age of eighty.
18 Which social scientists would surely recognise as a valorisation of the wild over the tame (see for example Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 240), or Berger (2009) on animals; for critiques of the wild/domestic dualism in general, see the references in note 15 above, and, in relation to dogs specifically, see Lescureux (2020)).
19 Although I very much appreciate the Coppingers’ critique here, which is that ‘western breeds’ cannot define ‘what is a dog’, their division of all dogs into just two categories – in essence, street dogs and captive dogs – is problematic: first, because dogs live together or alongside humans in many different ways (see for example Natasha Fijn’s (2018) ethnographic account of how dogs live with herding communities in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia and how dingoes live with the Yolngu in Aboriginal Australia), and second, because there exists huge diversity within the categories of street dog and captive dog (as indicated, for instance, by Gris et al.’s (2021) scientific study of the patterns and levels of the activities of village dogs, v. owned dogs who roam freely, v. family and farm dogs).
20 This physical similarity is important to Coppinger and Coppinger because ‘[f]‌or a biologist, that kind of uniformity implies the process of natural selection’ (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 42). The dogs’ particular size and shape ‘fit’ a niche that has only so much ‘carrying’ capacity.
21 For a more detailed account of Baratay’s book, see Motamedi Fraser (2023).
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Dog politics

Species stories and the animal sciences


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