Do Dogs Laugh?: Where Dogs Come From, What We Know about Them, and What They Think about Usby Jake Page, Susanne Page (Photographer)
Do Dogs Laugh? draws on the last several decades of canine research, examining everything from a dog's eyesight to its culinary preferences and sense of humor. Jake Page looks at dogs' wild brothers, the wolves, and their closer cousins, the wild or pariah dogs; explains the newest theory of how dogs were domesticated; describes a dog's development from/b>
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Do Dogs Laugh? draws on the last several decades of canine research, examining everything from a dog's eyesight to its culinary preferences and sense of humor. Jake Page looks at dogs' wild brothers, the wolves, and their closer cousins, the wild or pariah dogs; explains the newest theory of how dogs were domesticated; describes a dog's development from puppyhood on; and finally ponders a dog's emotional life and intelligence. And as an added bonus, Page's own pack of dogs makes multiple cameo appearances.
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Do Dogs Laugh?
Where Dogs Come From, What We Know About Them, and What They Think About Us
Origins and Oddballs
If someone asked you where domestic dogs came from, the chances are you would say wolves, and you would be correct. Over the years scientists have argued about this question, saying maybe some came from coyotes or jackals, but these days it is clear that dogs derived exclusively from wolves, and almost surely from wolves who inhabited the huge Eurasian continent. The process of domestication could have taken place anywhere from some 15,000 years to more than 100,000 years ago, depending on which scientists you pay most attention to—geneticists or archaeologists—but never mind that for now. We'll get to it in a later chapter.
Let's start with wolves. First, where did they come from? That leads us to a time sixty or so million years ago, after the dinosaurs had vanished, leaving the field to the humble mammals. Some of these were ferret- and shrew-sized mammals with lithe bodies and long tails. Called miacids, they were arboreal creatures, and from them arose all of the meat-eating mammals called carnivores. Some of the miacids gave rise to the lineage represented today by the cats, hyenas, civets, and mongooses.
Some miacids gave rise to a lineage called Caniformia—which is to say, dog-related: dogs, raccoons, bears, sea lions, seals, walruses and weasels. And the first of these creatures to arise was called Hesperocyon (which means, approximately, dog of the evening). They were for the most part about the size of small foxes, with supple bodies, long tails, and fairly short muzzles.They walked on their toes (like modern dogs) and so they are considered the first actual canids. In addition, theywere good tree climbers. (I should point out that what you have here in this brief evolutionary tale is the equivalent of a few still photographs taken out of a very long, and very complicated movie.)
One of these early canids was Cynodictis, which lived in the forests of North America some forty million years ago. It had several features that turned out to be characteristic of most dog-like animals ever thereafter: longer legs, a particularly bony growth in the ear called the auditory bulla (which you may now forget about), and a bigger braincase than its ancestors. Also, it had scissor-like cheek teeth called carnassial teeth for shearing and chewing meat, a telltale sign of a meat eater be it a dog or a cat or any other carnivore.
As long as forty million years ago, the canids were already on their way to becoming long-distance runners suited to pursuing game over open ground, exhausting their prey the way wolves do, scissoring out big chunks of meat and bolting them down. Over the millions of years the legs would grow longer, the feet longer and more compact, the tail shorter. Five spreading toes would turn into the four compact toes (plus the dew claw) adapted to running fast over considerable distance. They ran on their toes only, what scientists call digitigrade. The basic shape and pattern and number (forty-two) of the teeth would remain similar. The essential pattern of today's dog, in other words, was established.
I believe I have made this word up. It means the condition of walking on one's toes, which is what most modern predators do and, in the case of dinosaurs, did. Birds walk on their toes, as do cats, hippos, and, of course, dogs. The familiar term, dogleg, is a result of digitigradience: the bones that correspond to the rest of a typical foot are held off the ground, sloping rearward with the ankle and foreleg angled forward from the (nonexistent) heel.
Animals who plant their entire foot on the ground are called plantigrade, and they include bears, squirrels, mice, and humans. Unguligrade refers to ungulates, the name for hoofed animals like horses, goats, antelopes, and deer. For example, in the case of the horse, the claw of the middle toe evolved into a single toe (the others becoming mere slivers), which became the hoof.
My word digitigradience also suggests a continuum, variation. Our dog Amelia walks on her toes but they spread out a lot, to the extent that you might be forgiven for thinking she was plantigrade. On the other hand, Ding, the Australian Cattle Dog, walks almost entirely on the tips of his toes, tending toward the unguligrade. Ding's trot is an airy gait, much like the trot of a spirited Arabian horse, while Amelia, whose trotting days are nearly over (except when she hears the telltale sound of dog biscuits being lifted from a bowl) plods along a lot like a bear.
Over the next twenty or so million years, the earlydog-like creatures gave rise to other lines of carnivores, most notably bears. These were larger and bulkier than canids, and some grew extremely large, like the cave bears of Eurasia (which were vegetarians) and like what is probably the most terrifying predator ever to roam the earth: the great short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), who stood as high as a moose at the shoulder and was probably fast enough, at least in spurts, to run down a horse.
Canids also branched out into other dog- like lines in this long period, for example big, almost bear-sized bone crushers something like gigantic hyenas. One of these, known to science as Epicyon haydensis, was the size of a bear, and the largest canid ever known. But all the canid-type evolutionary experiments ended in failure—extinction—but for one lineage represented by a canid called Eucyon. By about ten million years ago, Eucyon's line ranged around the American southwest, and served as ancestor of all of the dog-like groups of animals living in the world today.Do Dogs Laugh?
Where Dogs Come From, What We Know About Them, and What They Think About Us. Copyright © by Jake Page. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Jake Page was the founding editor of Doubleday's Natural History Press, as well as editorial director of Natural History magazine and science editor of Smithsonian magazine. He has written more than forty books on the natural sciences, zoological topics, and Native American affairs, as well as mystery fiction. He and his wife live in northern Colorado with six dogs and a steady supply of dog hair, available free.
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