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The Dog Listener
Learn How to Communicate with Your Dog for Willing Cooperation
The Lost Language"The dog is a lion in his own house."
Mankind has misplaced many secrets in the course of its history. The true nature of our relationship with the dog is among them. Like many millions of people around the world, I have always felt a special affinity exists between our two species. It goes beyond mere admiration for the dog's athleticism, intelligence and looks. There is an intangible bond there, something special that connects us and probably has done since our earliest beginnings.
For most of my life, this feeling was founded on little more than instinct, an act of faith, if you like. Today however, the subject of man's relationship with the dog is the subject of a burgeoning body of intriguing scientific evidence. That evidence indicates that the dog is not only man's best friend but also his oldest.
According to the most up-to-date research I have read, the two species' stories became intertwined as long ago as 100,000 years BC. It was then that the modern human, Homo sapiens, emerged from his Neanderthal ancestor in Africa and the Middle East. It was also around this time that the dog, Canis familiaris, began to evolve from its ancestor, the wolf, Canis lupus. There seems little doubt that the two events were connected and that the link lies in man's earliest attempts at domestication. Of course our ancestors have incorporated other animals into their communities, most notably the cow, the sheep, the pig and the goat. The dog, however, was not just the first but by far the most successful addition to our extended family.
There is compelling evidence to suggest our forefathers valued their dogs above almost everything else in their life. One of the most moving things I have seen in recent years was a documentary on the discoveries made at the ancient Natufian site of Ein Mallah in northern Israel. There, in this parched and lifeless landscape, the 12,000-year-old bones of a young dog were found resting beneath the left hand of a human skeleton of the same age. The two had been buried together. The clear impression is that the man had wanted his dog to share his last resting place with him. Similar discoveries, dating back to 8500 BC have been made in America, at the Koster site in Illinois.
The sense that man and dog had a unique closeness is only underlined by the work done by sociologists in communities in Peru and Paraguay. There, even today, when a puppy becomes orphaned it is common for a woman to take over the rearing process. The dog feeds off the woman until it is ready to stand on its own feet. No one can be sure how far back this tradition goes. We can only begin to guess at the intensity of the relationship these people's ancestors must have had with their dogs.
There are, I'm sure, many more discoveries to be made, many more eye-opening insights to be gained. Yet even with the knowledge we now have, we should not be surprised that the empathy between the two species was so powerful. Quite the opposite in fact, the immense similarities between the two animals made them natural partners.
The wealth of study that has been done in this area tells us that both the ancient wolf and the Stone-Age man shared the same driving instincts and the same social organization. In simple terms, both were predators and lived in groups or packs with a clear structure. One of the strongest similarities the two shared was their inherent selfishness. A dog's response to any situation -- like man's -- is "what's in it for me?" In this instance, it is easy to see that the relationship they developed was of immense mutual benefit to both species.
As the less suspicious, more trusting wolf settled into its new environment alongside man, it found it had access to more sophisticated hunting techniques and tools such as snares and stone arrows, for instance. At night it could find warmth at the side of man's fire and food in the form of discarded scraps. It was little wonder it took so easily to the domestication that was about to begin. By introducing the wolf to his domestic life, man reaped the benefits of a superior set of instincts. Earlier in his history, the Neanderthal man's exaggerated proboscis had provided him with a powerful sense of smell; his descendant saw that by integrating the newly domesticated wolf into the hunt, he could once more tap into this lost sense. The dog became a vital cog in the hunting machine, helping to flush out, isolate and, if necessary, kill the prey. In addition to all this, of course, man enjoyed the companionship and protection the dog provided within the camp.
The two species understood each other instinctively and completely. In their separate packs, both man and wolf knew their survival depended on the survival of their community. Everyone within that community had a role to perform and got on with it. It was only natural that the same rules should be applied in the extended pack. So while humans concentrated on jobs like fuel gathering, berry picking, house repairs and cooking, the dogs' main role was to go out with the hunters as their eyes and ears. They would perform a similar role back within the camp, acting as the first line of defense, warding off attackers and warning the humans of their approach. The degree of understanding between man and dog was at its peak. In the centuries that have passed since then, however, the bond has been broken.
It is not hard to see how the two species have gone their separate ways. In the centuries since man has become the dominant force on earth, he has molded the dog -- and many other animals -- according to... The Dog Listener
Learn How to Communicate with Your Dog for Willing Cooperation. Copyright © by Jan Fennell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.