I can’t help feeling that dog owners tend to accept the theories of zoologists and cynologists alike a little too blindly, seldom questioning the wisdom such scientists seem only too willing to offer.
The man in the street on being asked about which species of wild canid was the ancestor of the modern domesticated dog would, after he had recovered from the shock of being questioned, reply “The Wolf” and indeed the majority of cynologists would agree with this notion.
The Fiennes- Richard and Alice- two of the world’s top cynologists in their great book “Natural History of The Dog” do in fact go one stage further and name the various species of wolf which gave use to various breeds of dog.
The great northern wolf Canis lupus supposedly gave use to the herding dogs of Northern Europe-the collies, the German Shepherd dog, the Milinois etc.- and the terrier types. The giant heavy jawed Tibetan wolf, the scourge of the caravans which travelled the Silk Road from china to Istanbul is reputedly the ancestor of the mastiff types which range from Boston terriers to St Bernards, the hounds or at least the hounds which favour hunting by scent rather than sight and range in size from the tiny pocket beagles, mites of 12” or so at the shoulder to the giant stag hounds, huge hounds some measuring 27” at the shoulder.
The sight hounds, the Whippet, the greyhound, the saluki, the Afghan and perhaps even the Irish wolf hound (now a mixture of many breeds and quite distinct from its ancestor the Irish greyhound or the Great Irish Hound) are supposedly descended from the rangy narrow skulled pale footed Asian wolf, Canis lupus pallipes or related species Canis lupus arabs and at least according to Fiennes, the dingo group which includes the basenji, the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the two varieties of Australian dingo are descendants of the same pale footed Asian wolf.
Yet there is ample evidence to suggest that the Fiennes may well be wrong, and so also might eminent zoologists of the calibre of Zenner or Lorenz who also credit the wolf with being the ancestor of the domesticated dog.
Wolves can be tamed is undeniable and that they will accept their humans owners as being head of the lupine pack is also true, In her somewhat baffling book “Arctic Wild” Lois Crisler describes how she reared, tamed and partly trained Timber wolf cubs but decided to kill them after she saw what captivity and contact with man/or women in her case, had done to the species.
Yet there is some evidence to suggest that dogs and wolves display a marked antipathy to each other. Mrs Robert Russell, one time president of The Alaskan Malemute Club of America, tells the tale of a wolf called Daffney she reared in the company of a litter of basenji and Malemute puppies. The cub was taken at three weeks of age and reared by hand and at six weeks old transferred to a litter of ten week old Malemute puppies living with a fourteen week old basenji whelp.
The wolf cub assumed the “bottom most” level of the puppy pack-not surprising when one considers the age of the cub’s kennel companions-but despite a massive and intensive socialising programme at four months of age the cub became shy of human company and hid when any stranger approached her kennel, though the Malemutes and the basenji clambered at the wires at the appearance of a visitor.
When Daffney came into season the Malemutes ignored her and as she became older they did their best to avoid the wolf. Mrs Russell is, one should add, one of a group that lobbied Congress to stop the sale of wolf dog hybrids in the U.S.A- as there is evidence to suggest that these hybrids are biological time bombs.
Yet many breeds of dog, the Malemute and the German Shepherd Dog type dogs closely resemble wolves and this might suggest their lupine origin. Indeed Strebel mentions that the potent German Shepherd Dog stud dog Phylax Von Eular was bred from wolf stock but this is unlikely. It is however very likely those breeders have deliberately produced German Shepherds Dogs with a more lupine appearance for the early stock bore only a superficial resemblance to wolves.
It is argued that some of the Arctic breeds bear such a close resemblance to wolves that they must have lupine blood not too far back in their ancestry. Indeed Malemutes closely resemble spitz tailed (curly tailed) wolves. Dunbar, “Dog Behaviour”, attributes this spitz tail which is characteristic of all the “undiluted” sled dogs of the Arctic (Alaskan huskies are often straight tailed and are of mixed ancestry) to the fact that sometime in prehistory the Finnougrian races migrated north from the mouth of the Volga bringing with them spitz type dingo pariah dogs which mated with the northern wolf-or wolf blooded dogs and produced the familiar spitz tailed sled dogs of Northern Europe, Asia, and North America.
What is more likely is that the dingo type dogs which accompanied these migrating tribes would have undergone changes as they encountered adverse climate conditions. The ears carried by these dingo type dogs would have been reduced in size to prevent excessive heat loss while the round eyes of the southern dingo type dogs would become slit-like to prevent damage from cold winds and glare of sun on snow. Likewise a thicker more weather resistant coat would have developed and the dingo type dog assumed the appearance of an animal that is perfectly adapted to life north of the “tree line”- the Palearctic wolf. The spitz tail now far more profusely feathered to trap body heat would be the last reminder of the sled dog’s dingo ancestry.
Darwin, “The Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication” (1897), suggests that to determine the origin of the dog it might be expedient to allow a variety of types of dog to breed indiscrimately to recreate the original type of dog or ancestor of the modern dog.
Curiously when such indiscriminate breeding has been allowed few wolf-like animals appear and the mongrelised stock reverts to the same colour and type as the dingo-like pariah dogs of Middle and Far East.