Group Walks Reveal Who's the Big Dog
University of Manchester
A pointer named “Major” is identified as the first known example of a modern dog. A description of the dog was found in a now-obscure 1865 edition of a Victorian journal called The Field. It marks the earliest reported dog breed based on physical form and pedigree. “The invention of ‘breed,’ physically and imaginatively, still shapes how we see and think about dogs today,” Michael Worboys, Director of the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, told Discovery News. Worboys and his team found the information concerning “Major” while preparing a new museum exhibit on dogs.
The first domestication of dogs was thought to have taken place 31,680 years ago -- but new research suggests the skull in question likely belong to a wolf. This particular specimen was found with a still-visible mammoth bone in its mouth.
The paleolithic dog remains resembled a modern Siberian husky, but suggest an animals that was significantly larger. Today, the Siberian husky, Samoyed and Alaskan malamute breeds are all closely related. "The most remarkable difference between these dogs and recent dog breeds is the size of the teeth,” paleontologist Mietje Germonpré said. Other early dog breeds, with a focus on the U.K., are featured in the museum exhibit curated by Worboys and his team. Entitled “Breed: The British and Their Dogs,” the exhibit runs at the University of Manchester museum through April 14.
Another team of researchers, led by Heidi Parker of the National Human Genome Research Institute, used DNA analysis to determine the genetic relationships of numerous dog breeds. One such ancient breed is the Afghan hound. As its name suggests, it's native to the Middle East. It’s one of the oldest dog breeds in existence, and was originally used for hunting hares and gazelles.
Parker and her team found that Akitas are yet another ancient breed. These dogs originated in Asia and are genetically similar to chow chows. The breed was not included in the first dog show. “The first dog show was in 1859 when only two varieties were shown: pointers and setters,” Worboys said. It had nothing to do with the handsome Akita’s looks, as he explained that the first dog show was “for gun dogs only.”
The sleek-bodied saluki comes from Iran, where its distant ancestors might have once lived near the earliest farmers from the Fertile Crescent. Dogs in this region evolved the ability to eat a starch-rich diet around 12,000 years ago. “Our findings show that it was crucial to early dogs to be able to thrive on a diet rich in starch,” Uppsala University’s Erik Axelsson, who led a related study, told Discovery News. “That indicates that dog domestication may be linked to the development of agriculture. It is possible that dogs may have been domesticated independently at locations where agriculture developed early, such as the Fertile Crescent and China.”
One of the most ancient dog breeds native to the United States is the Alaskan malamute. The DNA study found that they are genetically similar to Siberian huskies. This large, muscular dog was used -- and still is -- for pulling sleds, hauling freight by other means, and for additional work tasks.
The basenji is “an ancient African breed,” according to Parker and her colleagues. While “Major” the pointer is the first documented modern breed of dog, the basenji is arguably the first dog to be heavily bred by humans. Although this dog hails from central Africa, paleontologists believe its wolf ancestors originally came from eastern Asia.
Remigiusz Józefowicz/Wikimedia Commons
In China, the chow chow is affectionately referred to as Songshi Quan, meaning “puffy-lion dog.” It is genetically close to the Akita, also from Asia. It represents yet another early breed.
Of the four most ancient known Asian dog breeds, the shar-pei was the first to diverge from a wolf ancestor, suggesting it is the oldest known Asian breed. This dog is famous for its deep wrinkles and blue-black tongue. Mutations of the same gene that causes wrinkles in these dogs can also cause wrinkling of human skin.
The paths dogs take on group walks reveal their personality traits as well as the leaders of the pack, according to a new study.
Amazingly, researchers can describe most major traits of a dog sight unseen.
“We showed that it is possible to determine the social ranking and personality traits of each dog from their GPS movement data,” study co-author Máté Nagy of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology said in a press release.
“On individual walks it is hard to identify one permanent leader, but over longer timescales it soon becomes clear that some dogs are followed by peers more often than others,” Nagy said. “Overall, the collective motion of the pack is strongly influenced by an underlying social network.”
Dogs that consistently took the lead during group walks were more responsive to training, more controllable, older and more aggressive than the dogs that tended to follow, according to the study.
Dogs that led more often had higher dominance ranks in everyday situations. This was assessed by a dominance questionnaire filled out by the dogs’ owners.
“The dominance questionnaire tells us the pecking order of dog groups by quantifying interactions between pairs,” said the study’s senior author Enikő Kubinyi, from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
“For example, the dogs that bark first and more when strangers enter the house, eat first at meals, and win fights are judged as more dominant. Conversely, dogs that lick other dogs’ mouths more often are less dominant as this is a submissive display.”
It’s known that wolves exist in clear hierarchies. A single breeding pair of wolves leads most packs. Animal experts, however, continue to debate whether domesticated dogs have a clear social hierarchy. At the very least, when a dog walker takes out a bunch of dogs, there’s no guarantee that the group will include a pair that’s mated.
“These dogs (from the study) have no breeding pair,” Kubinyi said. “However, there are dogs who take the lead more often than others. On average, an individual took the role of the leader in a given pair about three quarters of the time. This ratio is of similar magnitude to the case of wild wolf packs with several breeding individuals.”
“Using this qualitative data over longer time scales allows us to see the more subtle relationships that might otherwise be missed,” he continued. “Of course, hierarchies are likely to vary across breeds and individual groups, so we hope to use this technology on other animals in future to investigate further.”
Aside from learning more about social hierarchies — which exist among humans too — the researchers hope that this way of studying dogs could help to create optimal pairings of dogs used for important tasks such as search-and-rescue operations. The method could determine how well certain dogs work together, putting together those with the highest compatibility.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons