Thursday, 19 April 2012

Decoding Dogs: An intimate insight

Without any first-hand experience of a pup’s characteristic idiosyncrasies, I became thoroughly perplexed about how to control Moa’s overabundance of enthusiasm in the appropriate fashion in those initial days. I was completely clueless about why he was behaving in a certain manner, what was appeasing him and what was triggering a chain-reaction of misdemeanour. At times he used to appear as a thoroughly uncontrollable creature obsessed with chewing and chasing and nothing seemed to arrest his interest for more than a few milliseconds. Striking the proper balance between my works and giving due attention to him and his monumental mess-ups were rapidly becoming an impossible affair.

Vets ruled out any health issues. Neighbours told any Spitz-type dogs and their descendants are prone to temper tantrums. Google said, ‘it’s nothing but small-dog syndrome’. ‘Is Moa a misfit then, a wrong choice? Haven’t I taken him from the correct breeder? Is there something grossly wrong in his genetic pool? Or is there something wrong in my attitude itself? Am I expecting an animal to showcase civilized disposition? He is getting sufficient nutrition, I am taking him out for walks and playing with him as well whenever time permits, then what’s the rationale behind his non-stop stupendous dalliances bordering on the line of insanity (as perceived by me)’? It was then I decided to illuminate myself about dog’s behavioural aspects, the need for early socialization and training.

I picked up a relevant bestseller from the store and got myself inundated with information about puppyhood. I learnt how consistency is crucial in giving ‘orders’ and tried to apply those rules one by one, I learnt the ideal mode of imparting ‘sit’, ‘come’ and ‘stop’ commands along with ‘associative learning’ (rewarding a dog with treat, toy and fondling after them doing what we want), the vocabularies which I have already introduced in Moa’s dictionary but seldom resulted in desired execution. I understood it’s not Moa’s fault, it has got more to do with my failure of sticking to one particular command in correlation with one required action, my juggling between ‘sit’ and ‘sit down’, ‘shake hand’ and ‘hand shake’. Poor Moa! I was aggrieved to learn that I have confused this guy. This feeling augmented further when I have read that as and when he didn’t listen, my hyperactive demeanour worsened the situation as unknowingly, my energy got transpired into his system and he felt his ‘leader’ was not sure of the outcome and hence, not in control. In short, Moa got a leader not to be followed. Phew! In order to put a blanket over my goof-ups, I started following the training methods advocated by the book and the result within a week reinforced my belief that I was on the right track.

Moa has been a quick learner. He started responding to each of my commands (sometimes even aided just by my hand-signals) without batting an eyelid as the promise of goodies lured him and eventually it became a part of his reflex-action.  As I started to slowly withdraw the rewards, as per the book’s proponent, Moa, after initial few disappointments of not getting the anticipated or equally enthralling rewards, also started to exhibit inconsistency, thereby challenging this operant conditioning paradigm. In short, he would respond mostly when he sniffed out the viability of a reward, rather than simply trying to earn it by burlesque imitation of a taught behaviour. ‘What’s going on?’ I wondered. This demonstration of canine intelligence was unexpected and even unmentioned in the book.

Another surprise jolted me when I realized Moa, with his skilled observation power and understanding of finer nuances of certain body-languages, started manipulating with our senses in order to achieve the result he wished. Quite a few times me and other members of the house were beguiled by his loud barking pointing at the direction of window (a great watchdog who never missed the slightest sound of footstep to alert us, by the way) and as we went to peep through to check who was coming, he quickly grabbed a biscuit from our a tea-table. Sometimes we laughed at it and sometimes we were outraged at being outsmarted with such effortless élan by an animal whose intelligence was not even comparable to human we once thought. I also noticed he decoded meanings of certain words in terms of what’s going to happen afterwards or rather he comprehended the ramifications of few words that were part of our regular vocabulary but never have been taught to him.  He learnt to associate some words with the event of me taking him out for a walk (beyond his regular timings) even though I was just discussing such a possibility in a full sentence. Even before I have decided in my mind and right after such a proposition has been voiced, Moa used to position himself at the door with his tail gleefully wagging, with unfailing regularity.

These demonstrations were not overlapping with what has been written in the book like a Canine Gospel. We soon found Moa did not need strict adherence to one single word to follow certain commands, a ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and ‘sit down’ and waving of hands to the downward direction were pretty much interchangeable to the desired effect. It’s not that I haven’t maintained coherency in my teaching once again; just that if any other word was inadvertently uttered by other members of house or strangers who took a certain interest in him while he was enjoying a walk, he started responding to it as well.  Then, I thought why should I constraint his verbal world in this specified regime if he has ability to learn more of them? But like as always, consistency was typically amiss when his ‘feats’ haven’t got substantiation with some alluring treats for the two latest consecutive occurrences. This quirky situation, when frustratingly reported to his vet cum canine psychologist, was explained in mock derision as ‘He will listen when he wants to listen!’ Professional behavioural training was advocated to make Moa obey us religiously at every possible opportunity.

However, I never wanted to robotically mould his sometimes-entertaining and sometimes-annoying actions into acceptable parameters defined by me or by any book or standards. It was a monotonous if not inhuman idea for me trying to make him behave like a puppet with strings attached in my hand. I wanted to let him be and at the same time I wished a certain level of maturity that did not make me look like a possessed person running after him to catch his next destructive act. Upon probing further, I came across several mutually-conflicting training literatures and realized that most of them overlooked dog’s cognition or borrowed from its basic edifice till the point it suited them.

Most of the professional training programs are devised in some such way that expose a dog to many environmental variants and the most obdurate lot will behave in a different way after the result of cumulative changes in conditioning will manifest, irrespective of how good the training actually is.  As no training methods are scientifically tested and none of them has successfully established itself beyond all realms of doubts, it’s a ludicrous idea to think training alone will remove all unwelcome traits. Even if you think post-training you got Michelangelo of the Sedgewick family (as shown in the movie Beethoven IV) back instead of the devil (J) you sent for training, chances are high that a couple of factors attributed to this change more than the program itself, such as: paying more attention to the dog during the training course, not letting him get bored, not leaving him sit idle for a long time, socialization with other members of his species, the dog showing contentment as his excess energy is effectively harnessed in the process of physical activity and mental agility exercises and several such environmental and attitudinal changes.

My goal was different. I wanted to explore Moa’s Theory of Mind- his desires, beliefs, intents, fears and ambitions in order to strike a plausible harmonic symphony in our mutual existence. One question which always used to haunt me in this quest was: Does Moa carry any conscious sense of his self? Otherwise how does he negotiate with his surroundings day-in and day-out? He never behaved like a creature blindfolded by evolution, rather every day I noticed his instinctive responses to various situations and learning from those findings. On his first birthday, when the house was decorated with colourful balloons, upon encountering something strange for the first time in his life, he has shown boisterous retreat and strong reservations. I touched the balloons, kicked them in the air and Moa learnt in a jiffy that these were my ‘toys’!  It was difficult to imagine how he perceived everything around with his exquisitely developed sensory niche but without any word to think or describe any of them. School standard zoology taught us that absence of language left animals bereft of consciousness. Going by the same logic, autistic humans weren’t blessed with consciousness either. But that is not the case.  Devoid of a dog’s olfactory acuity and other skills, we are thoroughly impoverished to measure animal consciousness.

As I started studying dog and animal psychology in general and vis-à-vis mapped them with my personal experience, I also made myself conscious against the pitfalls of anthropomorphisms (to attribute human-like emotional understanding and persona in animals, extrapolating from our conventional wisdom and nurturing instincts).  Moa sitting on the ground with his head tucked down between his two paws and giving me that ‘you promised something else’ look just before I am leaving for my work does not necessarily suggest an awful amount of depression from his end. He may be lazily luxuriating in the possible thought of next ingenious mischief that he can commit after my leaving. Or he may be just resting his mind deciphering a possible state of inertia from playfulness in my absence for some time. Or he is just being Moa, at ease with himself and his environments that assured him of security over a period of time. Be that as it may, there is an oceanic gap between the projections and our perceptions because our ability to comprehend their signals are vastly restricted and prejudiced owing to various straight-jacketed notions developed about our pets attributed by our conditionings and cognitive limitations.

With the abolition of ‘Big Brain’ myth in relation with animal intelligence (having found larger-than-human brains in dolphins, whales and elephants and larger neocortex, responsible for high-level thinking, cognition and speech in  New Guinea’s echidna), it became apparent that many animals other than humans share the faculty of consciousness. Moa’s try to find the toy I just concealed trailing the scent of it exhibits his attention, intention as well as a vague awareness of the shape and hue of the toy. He cooperates more when he is content and shows a twinge of jealousy or at least obstinacy when more attention is being showered on the other dog recently adopted. That indicates a certain sense of fairness. How can an animal show a sense of deprivation unless he is profoundly aware of his individuality?  Till sometime back, Moa used to vociferously bark at the mere sight of an old lady living right opposite our home. Is it a mere coincidence that he stopped it completely right after she lost her husband? Or has he smelled the scent of grief in the air?  Somewhere I read that just because ants have cemeteries for their departed mates, it does not indicate they grief like we do at a loss. The dichotomy is not only it is not right, it’s not even wrong.

Biologists claim everywhere in nature there is an unprecedented suggestion that animals are aware of death’s irrevocable supremacy, yet undermines its relevance in their lives. Once internet was flooded with poignant images of an 11-year old Gorilla, Gana, at Germany’s Munster Zoo, clutching the lifeless body of her baby Claudio, as if she won’t let her go. Primatologists were not least shaken despite of the knee-jerk anthropomorphizing reaction it created amongst urbanites without much knowledge of wildlife. Extended mourning is very common amongst apes as they take time to nullify the other possibilities like sickness, temporary comatose and maybe it’s a nursing ritual they follow in the hope of redemption. There are innumerable citations of an elaborate death ritual in the elephant world. Grief-stricken elephants (with a brain similar to humans in terms of structure and complexity) are known not to leave their dear departed ones for hours and even visit the graves later.

Altruistic behaviour has been regularly confirmed in the world of birds and mammals. Noble laureate ethologist Konrad Lorentz explained, “A greylag goose that has lost its partner shows all the symptoms that John Bowlby (developmental psychologist) has described in young human children in his famous book Infant Grief…the eyes sink deep into their sockets, and the individual has an overall drooping experience, literally letting the head hang...”  There are ample exceptions too. For example, even though sea-lions are seen to wail pitifully when their companions are being targeted by whales, a lion, on the other hand, treats another lion’s fresh corpse just as a source of food with no apparent indication of emotion. The naked mole rats in underground tunnels show sophisticated corpse-management system, presumably prompted by hygienic concerns. We still are doubtful whether they go through intimate experience of some kind at such events.

The old lady, as mentioned earlier in the article, (whom Moa suddenly ‘favoured’ by not barking as before) also has a dachshund in her home and after the event of her husband’s death, I have found that their dog not exactly mourning, but perplexed nevertheless. I guess that’s what happens, all animals including humans share an inherent and collective inability to fathom death and they react mostly to the absence with a confused helplessness rather than really understanding what struck. It is highly probable Moa just got a hint of that helplessness without grasping what exactly transpired. But then, since her husband died as a result of suffering from lung cancer, it cannot be ruled out that at least their dachshund got an inkling of it. I also remember, another dog (who now roams at street but once was attached to this family) paid a visit to their house two days before this mishap. It was not his territory and that’s why I have noticed this aberration. After that incident I haven’t seen the dog loitering here till date.

Modern research reveals that the different metabolic wastes emanated from cancerous cells are easily distinguished by dogs from the breathing of a person and hence they can detect breast and lung cancer just like they smell out anything suspicious. There is persuasive evidence that some dogs can also provide epilepsy alerts to their parents with 100% accuracy. Some researchers also claim as dogs can detect miniscule changes in electromagnetic fields and the microscopic deformation of ground, they even can sense major natural disasters like an earthquake. This is an inconclusive assertion but the survival instincts of animals against any lurking danger in general cannot be overruled. My personal experience with Moa and Thubi (the dog adopted 7 months back from the time I am writing this article), in the event of an earthquake, had been in high dudgeon, with both of them displaying nothing erratic or uncharacteristic. On the contrary, there are some citations of animals moving towards higher ground in the wild and domestic pets showing signs of distress before commencement of a disaster like huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Whatever be the mystery behind this, the implication establishes the presence of highly well-endowed canine instincts. However, one can’t still find a stream of consciousness is running somewhere.

Coming back to the time when I have devoted myself in decoding Moa’s theory of mind and finding whether there was any method beneath this madness, several materials suggested one popular ‘Mirror Test’ for understanding whether my dog had a sense of individuality. When we look at the mirror, almost immediately we realize it’s our own reflection undergoing lateral inversion. I remember as a child whenever I used to cry, I used to find my comfort zone in front of the mirror as an amusing image was potent enough to send a message in my brain about the futility of it all. Shortly after this I was able to see the funny side of it and that definitely used to help me create a certain light-heartedness regarding the spot of my bother. It was almost tantamount to a certain degree of non-alignment between me and the image under strife, while me slowly trying to distance myself from the suffering soul on the glass! Looking at the mirror, I remember myself asking questions like ‘Is it me?’ or even ‘Is that you?’ or ‘Who are you?’

Moa, upon encountering his mirror image for the first time, barked at it and then bowed down like a play invitation to a stranger dog. Almost immediately he lost interest though. A mark on his forehead has not evoked much response either apart from him getting fidgety over the proceedings. As per the deductions written on the book, Moa exhibited no self-awareness. Asiatic elephants, dolphins, chimps and orang-utans tested positively at this Mirror Test by happily acknowledging their own reflections, hence they were claimed to be self-aware animals. But how can we decide upon such conclusion that is borne out of our own conscious perspective? That’s where doubt crept in my mind and I found this mirror test was not looking at dogs through a scientific lens as understanding of the dog’s perspective, the most important component, was apathetically missing.  The primary sense stimulus for a dog is smell, not his vision. So it’s altogether very natural that they are much less bothered about visual events compared to primates.  With about six million sensory receptor sites at our nose, we can at most manage to smell what’s cooking on our neighbour’s oven. Sitting at our drawing room, can we smell what’s our neighbour staying five buildings away cooking? No. Now, does that make us challenged in awareness countenance? And then, sometimes we fail to even smell our own coffee!

So compared to Moa, with over two hundred million sensory receptor sites on his nose, I smell next to nil.  When I once was shown the T-shirt I used to wear as a kid, I recognized it as I have seen myself wearing it in several pictures in childhood album. Moa also recognizes the first cloth he was wrapped with once he came home, with minimal investigation from his nose. We are using different faculties to meet the same purpose. Even a lifetime wouldn’t be enough if I’m asked to spot my childhood dress from others while kept blindfolded. Moa can do it in a millisecond. But to react to such obvious deductions on awareness based upon one such observation would be only ridiculous. So we can comment on dog’s sense of self by asking them to identify their own scents or familiar scents rather than asking them to acknowledge their reflections and its variances.  A dog with its dichromatic vision (can only see part of visual spectrum) contains about 20% cones in their central retina while our fovea contains 100% cones. 

Interpretation of dog behaviours based on their wolf ancestry can only provide us such lopsided view of the canine world. Domestication since time immemorial has changed dogs. Like, they don’t follow the strict social pack-structure like their historical days, they always do not need dominant treatment from their parents to remind them ‘who’s the boss’ and they certainly don’t understand deception even though they are equipped with the learnt understanding of inferring the correlation between actions and goals, which, in our ripen senses, may appear as ‘manipulation’. Sadly, most of the dog books available in the market can be grandly misleading, partly scientific (which, in my experience, even more dangerous than being unscientific) or unwittingly sentimental. But if you have a probing mind, if you are genuinely in love with your Moa to the point of wishing to know what he is thinking, you will be illuminated to find there’s more to him than his fur.
A last word about dog’s self-awareness, according to Buddhism ‘I’ is interwoven with the rest of the world. I believe ‘canIne’ is interwoven with the rest of the world!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Howlz That!

The crop appears to be one thing when it is still in the field:
“Haunched like a faun, he hooed
From grove of moon-glint and fen-frost
Until all owls in the twigged forest
Flapped back to look and brood
On the call this man made.
No sound but a drunken coot
Lurching home along river bank.
Stars hung water-sunk, so a rank
Of double star-eyes lit
Boughs where those owls sat.
An arena of yellow eyes
Watched the changing shape he cut,
Saw hoof harden from foot, saw sprout
Goat-horns. Marked how god rose
And galloped woodward in that guise.” : Faun, Sylvia Plath

At early childhood, I was thrilled by an advertisement on TV which showed a dog fetching newspapers for his human companions. I thought, ‘Great! What a smart creature to keep at home’ (Read: it will make me look even smarter!) With slight trepidation I went to my father and summed up the courage to ask, ‘Baba, can we have a dog at home as a pet?’ My usually benevolent father looked at askance towards my mother who feigned complete unawareness about the exchanges just took place and at that time usually her nonchalance was enough to showcase an irrevocable negative verdict. Disgruntled, I started concocting stories about how adroitly my dog (which didn’t exist) fetched toothbrush for me along with the morning paper to my kindergarten schoolmates. A few more imaginative nudges and a family visit to watch ‘The Doberman Gang’ in a theatre further propelled my desire to such an extent that I mastered enough guts to directly confront my mother: “Why can’t we have dog as pets in home?”  A cold stare which used to make me perspire even during winter retorted: “Dogs will come from the front door in my house and then and there I’ll exit from the back door…never to return!”. Sensing my emotional unsettledness at such a tormenting answer, she tried to comfort with a chuckle, “Dogs are wild animals and wilds are befitting only for wilderness. It’s painful for them to adjust to civilization just as much it will be painful for me to clean the poops”. The second half of the sentence only rang in my mind and I realized my mother was weary of keeping dogs as she knew she had to single-handedly take care of the pet, juggling it with her usual household chores. After dissipation of initial excitement, neither my father nor me would have the time, patience and maturity (in my case) to take such a full-fledged responsibility. I understood and never expressed such a wish thereafter.
Moa in his room
But as destiny or my hidden desire would have it, I got myself a dog (whom I named ‘Moa’) almost 18 years later this conversation has taken place. And as my extreme misfortune and my mother’s strong willpower would have it, she has exited from the other door almost 7 years before Moa’s dirty semolac-smeared paws could spoil the floor of my rented abode at Bangalore. Had she been around, I’m sure it would have been a gala fun with her being such a stickler for cleanliness and Moa being such an epitome of mess. And I’m also sure in today’s time I would have managed to persuade her about keeping dogs and who knows, perhaps she would have cared for Moa more than anyone else and Moa perhaps would have found at least one condescending human. All ifs and buts apart, when Moa came in my house at first, one neighbour asked, ‘Where from you got this?’ I replied with a breeder’s address. And then….
I paused, I pondered. Seriously, where from Moa appeared in actuality? Where, How and Why have dogs originated? 

If you will be tumblers in the lock, I will be the key
Evolutionary science unearths the mystery behind many unfathomable facts. One of them is the starkly close association between humans and other animals in wild from the prehistoric age. There was a time when human, just like any other untamed animals, was a ruthless predator.

More than 400, 000 years ago, the primitive hunting skill of hominids’ was severely challenged in the vast wild. More often than not, a group of human animals (as a member of the order Primate along with chimps and gorillas) only managed to wound a prey for living but the scathed target would have escaped unless a pack of scavenging wolves armoured with their sharp sense of smell and deft hunting tactics joined the battleground and made a kill. Impressed hunters took the major share of the carcass and then left the remains for the wolf pack to savour. The more evolved human brain could soon spot the immediate advantage: it was worthy of his time and effort to follow the wolves (who could clock 40 mph, unthinkable by human standard) in order to better the strike rate. From the wolves’ perspective, a certain danger was slowly becoming a lucrative prospect: humans were using their underdeveloped yet effective spears to mutilate the pray wolves themselves were locating with great accuracy and both parties were enjoying their fair share. In addition, wolves remained better protected in human company as their bones were largely impenetrable to humans, which otherwise would have been vulnerable in front of a 1000-pound-per-square-inch jaw of large enemies like giant sabre-toothed cats.
Grey Wolf
Several other factors came into interplay to make this hint of interdependence a long-term feasibility. Grey wolf were the only wild mammalian species (with their 39 sub-species) which had such an all-pervasive geographical presence (across North America, Eurasia and northern regions of African continent, from the freezing Alaska to the tropical subcontinent) attributed by their terrific adaptive skills. Although the most fearsome ambush predator on terra-firma, tiger, was a more capable hunter (successful in one out of ten attempts), the increasing familiarity with nomadic humans have given wolves a distinct edge. Both Grey Wolf and Dingo (Genera: Canis) have also placed themselves in a far more advantageous position as primates’ use of fire aided them to bring down an animal as a pack. Furthermore, a change of weather in the forest would have spelled disaster for highly territorial tigers and other such solitary beings. In contrast, hominid’s social environs were especially flexible: just migrate to another region, lit up another fire and start finding other resources for survival. Naturally, it paid for the wolves to suitably fit in these ecological niches, undergoing inadvertent morphological changes with the added incentive of devouring hominid excreta! 

Another speculation suggests that around 55 million years ago some human hunters spared few wolf infants after killing their adult counterparts and let them inhabit common space as they posed no imminent danger. As humans observed that adolescent wolf howling signalled them about encroaching potential threats, the elongated body and sharp wolf claws could frighten other predators and they were acting as a loyal guard in the hominid encampments, the comfortable proximity earlier shared became an obstinate interdependence insolvent among the mountains.

Whatever be the possibilities, there are substantial evidence to establish a kind of natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years has resulted in a mutual conditioning of dependence. Status quos hardly altered in such a strict hierarchical set-up, what prevailed was a sharp demarcation between dominant members and the submissive ones (not necessarily timid) in a pack but they all followed their human guardian as the pack-leader. It was a very rewarding disposition, wolves quickly learnt. 

Then the transformation time comes, and we see how it is: half chaff, half grain
Interbreeding between wolves that were genetically as well as instinctively more eager to present themselves as efficient companions, those who possessed means to reach the goal, have managed to create offspring less ‘wolf-like’ due to subtle changes of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) and hormonal levels (such as adrenaline). Slowly wolf’s wild nature has experienced a paradigm shift making them completely lose their fear of humans. Certain typical wolf-like behaviours, such as the regurgitation of partially digested food for the young, have also disappeared. Here comes the ‘domesticated elite’ at a staggering speed, a species that not only tolerates human intervention in their lives but actually welcomes it. Humans took nearly two million years to morph from Homo habilis to Homo sapiens, but the wolf got domesticated with a dogged resolve through a kind of artificial selection. Presumably the dog we keep as pet now is the first animal species to be domesticated by humans, sometime around 13,000–10,000 B.C. (a lot earlier than domestication of cats), from its wolf-like ancestor Canis lupus. Carles Vila of UCLA, who has conducted the most extensive research on this subject, propositioned that dogs were separated from wolf’s lineage approximately 100,000 years ago based on molecular clock studies.

Thus, 20th century genetics has unarguably established the fact that all dogs have evolved from the same maternal stock- intelligent, sociable and self-sufficient grey wolf, with their mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNA of individuals has been used to trace human ancestry, and to estimate the evolutionary relationships among animal species) differing at most by 0.2 %. To put it simply, science revealed that the furry four-legged companion (Canis Familiaris/Domesticus) curling up now at your drawing room or licking your face with affection are nothing but domesticated wolves (Canis Lupus), both belonging to the same Family Canidae (dogs, wild dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingos and jackals). Hyenas are amiss from this list as even though dog-like in some ways, hyenas are actually not canids. They are carnivores more closely related to mongooses and cats rather than dogs.

Through the black amnesias of heaven

As per Zoological classification, dogs belong to the Class Mammalia (mammals - they are air-breathing vertebrate animals, females nurse their young with breast milk which is secreted from special glands, mammary glands), the Order Carnivora (they eat meat) and the Family - Canidae. Within this family there are further subdivisions called genera, and each genus (Lycaon, Canis, Cuon, Nyctereutes, Fennecus, Vulpes etc) contains individual species. A species of dog is a group that normally breed and produce fertile offspring. However, it is possible to cross-breed different species within artificial set-up (like captivity) and indeed the domesticated dog is reported to have been bred successfully with all other members of the family Canidae. For example, German Shepherd shows a closer relation to wolf sequence than to those of the main dog group, suggesting that such breeds had been produced by intermingling wild wolves with dogs.

Although classified as carnivores, dogs have actually evolved as omnivores and can be fed on an exclusive-veg diet (unlike cats which are compulsorily carnivores). Curiously, the Chow Chow in China was fed only rice and cereals owing to which they developed many health concerns when introduced to the all-meat meal in Britain.

The looking itself is a trace of what we are looking for
Earliest ancestors of dogs originally can be traced back to about 200 million years ago from reptiles. Dental pattern of modern day dogs resembles to that found in fossilised creodonts (earlier presumed as ancestors of modern Carnivora and ranged from very large, wolf-like animals as Hyaenodon to small mongoose-like forms such as Prototomus vulpeculus), primitive fish-eating mammals which lived about 50 million years ago, but this genetic line failed to survive and there are no direct descendants today. Another group of animals, the miacids (small forest-dwelling creatures), claimed to be linked to dog ancestry as some believe that cat-like (Feloidea) and dog-like (Canoidea) carnivores actually evolved from miacids. But canoed line is the most significant one on this account, leading from the coyote-sized Mesocyon of the Oligocene (38 to 24 million years ago) to the fox-like Leptocyon and the wolf-like Tomarctus that roamed North America some 10 million years ago. From the time of Tomarctus, dog-like carnivores have made their presence felt throughout the world. In 400 BC, a werewolf won medals at the Olympics.

In his ‘Natural History’, Pliny identified seven dog types in the ancient Rome:
a)       Bellicosi and pugnaces- war dogs ( divisions of fierce fighting dogs patrolled the empire’s furthermost borders)
b)       Nares sagaces- scent hounds
c)       Pastorales pecuari-sheep dogs
d)       Pedibus celeres-sight hounds
e)       Venatici-sporting dogs
f)         Villactici-pets or guard dog

Personalities are born once, a mystic many times
 Archaeology has placed the earliest known domestication at potentially 10,000 BC-12,000 BC and with certainty at 7,000 BC. Sumerian writings from 3000BC and Egyptian paintings of dogs from 2000BC clearly indicate that they were cohabitant of human territory as domesticated animals at that time and there is even an implication that specific breeds were being selectively bred. Naturally, humans would have selected dogs with preferable traits and kept those that responded positively to human fondling and training.

Argos with Odysseus
By the time of Christ, 2000 years ago, Gratius Faliscus, a Roman poet, listed 22 breeds of hunting dog of which only one originated in Italy - the rest were imported from other countries. Unfortunately, no images survive to illustrate these different breeds. Even in Homer’s Odyssey, it is mentioned that when the ancient Greek hero Odysseus returns homeland in beggar’s disguise after twenty years, his faithful old dog, Argos, managed to greet him with all his residual strength before dying amidst utter negligence. (‘There the dog Argos lay in the dung, all covered with dog ticks. Now, as he perceived that Odysseus had come close to him, he wagged his tail, and laid both ears back; only he now no longer had the strength to move any closer to his master….’)

As David Mech, the world’s leading wolf expert emphasizes, “Wolves are not just wild dogs, dogs are domesticated wolves”. As wolves discovered an avenue of huge food source they started living on the edge of human society in order to exploit it. With the advent of agrarian society, humans looking to find settlements found specialized activities like herding and guarding more desirable and wolves started getting selected and bred as per these embryonic attributes. Sporadic out-breeding beyond human control only added to the diversity of the gene pool and retarded some extreme morphological modifications. Humans started to reap multi-faceted benefits as time progressed and human civilization advanced. Larger dogs such as Newfoundland were used to pull carts and were called draught dogs. Newfoundland was also used to carry lines from shore to ship (swimming is still part of the litmus test for the breed). St Bernard in the mid-17th Century was used as working dogs that helped to carry loads, worked as a guide and helped humans to find the trajectory in the snow-cladded route. North American Indians used dog-sized travois before adapting the horse for this purpose, and huskies are famous for pulling sleds for Inuit communities. It is highly probable that the dog was the original beast of burden before the domestication of the horse or ox.

Dog at early cave painting

Actual notion of dog as a “pet” first came into use in the Old Northern English and Scottish languages, at about 1000 A.D. It was used for any favoured animal that was domesticated over a large period of time as a natural practice and treated with indulgence or fondness. Although the terms "taming" and "domestication" are often used interchangeably, they are mutually exclusive. Individual wild animals can appear to behave in a docile manner (due to fall in adrenal glands’ hormone production) around humans (only propelled by the trigger of fear). If the creatures were allowed their freedom, they would invariably revert to their wild ways. Wolves, like big cats, can be trained but it’s too arrogant on our part to think that we have tamed them. It’s actually the cumulative effects of domestication and behavioural modification (that takes place with an entire animal species over many generations) that ushered this change. 

These words may not be pure truth, but they contain an energy that you can spend

Dog Skull
The oldest known human archaeological site which contains the bones of dogs in close proximity with humans is about 14,000 years old. Linguists have discovered that the ancient Nostratic language, which arose in Southwest Asia about 14,000 years ago, had the same terminology for “dog” and “wolf”. Even though all modern dogs appear to be descended from ancestors that lived at the end of the Ice Age 17,000-14,000 years ago, some canines were domesticated by at least 33, 000 years ago. The recent finding of an ancient animal (identified as being a partly domesticated dog through radiocarbon dating) at Razboinichya Cave in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia augmented the possibility of the presence of ideal condition of domestication much earlier than once thought. Domestic redemption of dogs post ice-age ensured a permanent change. Speculations abound when the first pre-Ice Age dogs emerged, but a dog-like skull dating to 36,500 years ago found at Goyet Cave in Belgium indicates the possibility that the first dogs appeared in parts of Europe and Asia much earlier than commonly thought.

Peter Savolainen (of the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm) led the study of Old World dogs, analysing DNA samples taken from dogs in Asia, Europe, Africa and arctic America. The huge genetic diversity noticed in Dogs of East Asia led many researchers to believe that East Asia has been the breeding ground for domestication. Another international group of researchers recently analysed blood samples from dogs in Egypt, Uganda and Namibia and found the DNA of African village dogs to be as much as diverse. They also have taken major initiative to prove the origins of some pedigree dogs. For example, the Saluki breed shares DNA with modern day village dogs from Egypt - as does the Afghan Hound, despite the ambiguity in its name. Likewise, the Basenji breed is genetically quite close to some Namibian and Ugandan village dogs. However, the Pharaoh Hound and Rhodesian Ridgeback have little in common with any African indigenous dogs which suggests that these two breeds have non-African origins. Existing "Wild dogs" - the African hunting dog, South American bush dog and Indian dhole are remotely related to the domesticated dog - only sharing a common ancestry some 20 million years ago in the Oligocene period. On the other hand, foxes and wolves share a common ancestor 7.5 million years ago in the Miocene period.

Along with greyhounds the Spitz-type dogs (has been recorded in Mesolithic human settlements in Denmark) are generally believed to be one of the earliest domesticated dogs in the world. In spite of being closely related to wolves and dogs and their evolutionary readiness, no canids (even Silver fox) have been completely domesticated apart from the dog.

Love does the same with us. Constraint, freedom.
Dog. N. A kind of additional or subsidiary deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship.” Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)
Kukur-Tihar at Nepal
Throughout recorded history as dogs have accompanied man, they have been given religious significance in several countries as well. In China and amongst the North American Indians it was believed that dogs would escort the dead safely to the underworld. In Hinduism, beliefs run parallel where dog is considered as a messenger of Yama, The God of Death and supposedly guards the heaven’s door. In order to please the dogs that humans will meet after their mortal life at the heaven’s door, Hindus in Nepal mark the 14th day of the lunar cycle in November as Kukur-Tihar (the dog's day). This is an auspicious occasion when the dog is worshipped by applying tika (the holy vermilion dot), incense sticks and affectionately garlanded with marigold flower.
The Nosarii of western Asia are said to worship a dog. The Karang of Java had a cult of the red dog, each family keeping one in the house. In é-ur-gi7-ra (which translates as dog house), a Mesopotamian temple, a popular dog cult existed and probably here dog was worshipped as divinity. Even though the Ancient Egyptians are often more associated with cats in the form of Bastet, dog figured in a significant position in their religious iconography and was associated with Anubis, the jackal headed God of underworld. In Zoroastrianism as well dogs enjoyed a religious predilection.
Honoured as one of the twelve animals in Chinese astrology, the second day of the Chinese New Year is heralded as the birthday of all dogs. The greyhound is the only breed of dog mentioned by name in the Holy Bible, appearing in Proverbs 30: 29-31 (King James Version):
                              ‘There be three things which go well,
                                  Yea, four are comely in going:
                             A lion, which is strongest among beasts,
                                 And turneth not away for any;
                                 A greyhound; a he-goat also;
                        And a king, against whom  there is no rising up’.

Islamic religion had a controversial take on dogs where some sect of followers believes dogs are incarnation of evils. In Britain, police sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at stations once suffered major opposition from some Muslim passengers as it was offensive to their religious beliefs. In stark contrast lies the inscription at Park Lane, London, which reads “This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice” (2004, at an Animal in War Memorial). An anonymous person left a note after its unveiling: “Dear Animals, you have smelt our fear. You have seen our bloodshed. You have heard our cries. Forgive us dear animals that we have asked you to serve in this way in war”. One can only think of the Byronic irony expressed in Epitaph to a Dog (1808):
‘But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven’.

I call you dog, but that is not right. Does anything resemble you? Let’s read your name backwards

So finally, after Moa’s invasion in my life, I have managed to trace dog’s family tree further than my own. Hope you had a good time reading it as much as I was tantalized researching and writing on a never-ending subject like this. Want to finish this article with a quatrain of mine written on everybody’s best friend, dog.
As for me there are no barks to bark.
Let me delve into your eyes, an abyss
requesting to run around in the park,
The sight I do not want to miss-
God’s purity playing in light and dark
running around invisible circle, relentless,
stopping only to make a mark
in this indifferent cosmos, of kindness.