An Ancient Pact
The wolf hunts and we follow. The wolf has fangs and fur and a predator’s cunning. We have little of any of that, but as long as we are careful we can share the kill.
The pack has taken us in, they accept us among them. They are strategic hunters and there is much to be learned from them. They live in complex social groups, where even non-blood related members get along. It’s a strange way to live, but we’ve begun to try it to. Wolves sing, like birds do, but even more beautifully. Sometimes we sing with them.
We are learning. The wolves taught us much, but now we’re expanding beyond that. With the wolves to help with food and keep watch for danger, we have the time and the energy to create. We’ve started making tools and harnessed fire. We’ve even started to take care of plants that bear fruit. With wolves at our side it seems that we can conquer the world.
These humans are strange beings. The pack has become strangely attached to them and this year’s pups seem to enjoy spending more time with them than the pack. The pups also seem somewhat dim-witted and immature, but they seem to be able to communicate with the humans on level that the older generation cannot. An outsider came on to our territory the last day and we chased him off of course, but we noticed something odd. The outsider looked different, with molted grey fur and yellow eyes, a long muzzle and narrow chest, huge paws and upright ears. Our pups don’t look like that. Their ears never straightened, their eyes are brown, they have spots and strange colors, and some even have curled tails. We’re changing. It’s almost as if we aren’t wolves any longer. It seems we’ve made our choice. Our destiny is tied with that of humans forevermore.
The human-dog relationship has always fascinated me. Even when I was little I had a lot of encyclopedias of dog breeds. I loved looking at the different shapes and wondering why we designed them that way, what purpose did it serve? Today I still find selective breeding to be a fascinating subject, but the more I learn, the more I realize that there is an even more fascinating subject within that relationship.
Most people only look at how humans have shaped dogs, but what I find amazing is how we co-evolved together. How both sides of the partnership were transformed by this ancient alliance. I read a book called “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin, which I think every person on Earth needs to read at least once, that threw out a radical and growing theory that the human-wolf partnership goes back far earlier than previously thought. Grandin believes, as do I, that wolves literally made us human in as much a way as we turned wolves into dogs.
Think about this for a moment, every other human-like species died out. Scientists speculated that Homo sapiens simply out-competed them, but what if it was because humans formed a partnership with another animal, one that gave them an edge and allowed them to survive when other similar species could not. That bit is purely my own speculation, it was implied, but never directly stated in anything I’ve read. Now back to some of the other points Grandin made. Social structure is a very interesting thing. Chimpanzees and other great apes, our closest living relatives, do not have social structures like ours. They are not nearly as complex. Wolves are much closer to our hierarchy than other apes are. Could it be possible that we learned how to live by mimicking wolves? I think it’s a very interesting possibility.
As far as symbiotic relationships go, there probably isn’t any other relationships as deep and complex as the one between humans and dogs. Dogs are incredibly gifted at understanding human behavior and body/verbal language. No other species can even come close to understanding us on a day to day basis as dogs can, certainly not chimpanzees or any other ape. And it works both ways, humans have been proven to be very talented at understanding dog behavior and body/verbal language as well. The truth is that dogs think like us and we think like dogs. We literally evolved together, so much so we are nearly the same species, just with very different bodies.
If you do the research and really look into this subject you’ll never look at Fido the same way again. If only we remembered to treat their ancestors half as well, I might be listening to wolf song outside my window instead of a coyote chorus.
One of my favorite pictures ever, Jim Dutcher hand to paw with a wolf in a moment of perfect understanding. The wolf was in no way forced or influenced to do this, a beautiful moment. If you want to hear the back story on it, it’s from the documentary “Wolves at our Door”. Definitely worth a watch.
I’m still reading “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz which is what prompted this post. I’m not done either; there will probably be at least one more dog-related post in the near future. So something to look forward to, or to roll your eyes at, either way :).