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Academic & Professional Books  Mammals  Insectivores to Ungulates  Carnivores  Wolves, Dogs, Foxes & other Canids

The First Domestication How Wolves and Humans Coevolved

By: Raymond Pierotti(Author), Brandy R Fogg(Author)
326 pages, 25 b/w photos
A persuasive book highlighting what traditional indigenous knowledge can teach us about the evolution of domestic dogs.
The First Domestication
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  • The First Domestication ISBN: 9780300226164 Hardback Jan 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £37.50
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

In this fascinating book, Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg change the narrative about how wolves became dogs and in turn, humanity's best friend. Rather than describe how people mastered and tamed an aggressive, dangerous species, the authors describe coevolution and mutualism. Wolves, particularly ones shunned by their packs, most likely initiated the relationship with Palaeolithic humans, forming bonds built on mutually recognised skills and emotional capacity. This interdisciplinary study draws on sources from evolutionary biology as well as tribal and indigenous histories to produce an intelligent, insightful, and often unexpected story of cooperative hunting, wolves protecting camps, and wolf-human companionship. This fascinating assessment is a must-read for anyone interested in human evolution, ecology, animal behaviour, anthropology, and the history of canine domestication.

Customer Reviews (2)

  • Persuasive argument using indigenous knowledge
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 10 Jan 2019 Written for Hardback

    The evolution of domestic dogs from wolves is something that has been written about a great deal. Seeing dogs are one of our oldest domesticates and very close to our hearts, there has been an intense interest in this subject. The First Domestication provides a new perspective by turning to a rich vein of knowledge that is often ignored by contemporary Western scientists: traditional stories from tribal and indigenous peoples. If the sound of that makes you roll your eyes – something I am normally much inclined to do – you would be missing out on an incredibly well-written book that deserves your full attention.

    The story of dog evolution has come to be dominated by the idea that humans tamed wolves that were lurking around human camps and garbage dumps, hoping to scavenge scraps. Popularised by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger in Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, this idea has been given airtime on popular science channels and the idea of humans dominating and controlling the human/wolf interaction has influenced scientists, as exemplified by Francis's 2015 book Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World.

    In their superb introduction, Pierotti and Fogg lay out both their critique of this school of thought and their contribution. Throughout the book, they are very critical of the Coppinger's work, pointing out many flaws, inconsistencies, and the hallmarks of a troubling post-colonial, Western bias that sets humans apart from, and often in opposition to, nature. Interestingly, their critique does not mention the Coppinger's more recent 2015 book What Is a Dog?, where the Coppinger's continue their idea of dogs evolving as scavengers of human refuse.

    The authors raise some very interesting points that are hard to argue with. First, there is the confusion over the status of wolves and dogs, which has not been helped by Linneaus's unfortunate decision to consider them separate species. They are not. Dogs are domesticated wolves. Or, as the authors put it, all dogs are wolves, but not all wolves are dogs. This taxonomic misconception has fueled further misunderstandings, such as the idea that there would have been only a single origin of domestic dogs, with new forms being reproductively isolated from one another. The fact that hybridization between wolves and dogs is common runs counter to this. Rather, Pierotti's assertion that the evolutionary history of dogs resembles a complex mosaic rather than a simple tree, is far more likely. This rings especially true in light of recent findings on human evolution, summarised in Harris's Ancestors in Our Genome and Reich's Who We Are and How We Got Here. It will be interesting to see what will be revealed once scientists start analysing ancient DNA, i.e. DNA of archaeological remains, of dogs.

    Examining traditional indigenous knowledge and stories about wolves in Japan, laiki (a primitive dog breed) in Siberia, dingoes in Australia, but especially wolves in native America, Pierotti and Fogg instead argue that humans and wolves coevolved, mutually cooperating. Pat Shipman's views, summarised in her book The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, are especially fascinating in this context.

    Native Americans have always revered wolves. Their stories and legends of humans and wolves living and hunting together are not mere fancy, and are backed up by historical records of colonists and settlers. For a long time, these wolves were wild, but, as the authors put it, socialized to humans rather than tamed. Indigenous people do not distinguish between wolves and dogs, whereas Europeans considered everything living with humans to be a domestic dog. They could not conceive of the free-spirited bond between wolves and humans.

    This clarifies much of the arguing in the literature over archaeological remains. Are they wolves or are they dogs? When did wolves change into domestic dogs? We only have morphological measurements to try and answer these questions. The revolutionary Russian fox study of Belyaev and Trut showed how rapid artificial selection can produce a suite of changes, including morphological (see Dugatkin & Trut's fascinating book How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)). However, indigenous people likely never applied such rigorous pressure on wolf cubs. Socialized hunting companions would have been more than sufficient, and such behavioural changes can rapidly occur without accompanying morphological changes.

    The final section of the book looks at contemporary interactions with wolves. As a European, it is easy to forget just how much sheer hatred there is for wolves amongst large parts of the human population, especially in the US. Most of us will have been spoon-fed the clichés of the big bad wolf in fairytales, the scary bedtime stories of werewolves, etc. Once the Roman Catholic Church started demonising wolves, European shamanic traditions disappeared. And when European colonists reached the Americas a veritable wildlife holocaust ensued and shaped attitudes for centuries to come.

    Other than the well-documented controversies around wolf reintroductions, these attitudes also affect dogs that look like wolves, such as Belgian sheepdogs, huskies, Alaskan malamutes and other little-known breeds. US legislation means that any incident between humans and such dogs can spell trouble for the owner, but especially the dog. Pierotti, whose expertise has often been called upon in court, is very dismissive here of the work and knowledge of so-called wolf experts (his words) such as Erich Klinghammer's Wolf Park, as well as some scientists. They can't tell apart these dog breeds and wild wolves, and have no inkling of their complex evolutionary history. Unfortunately, they often advise in court cases on whether or not such "wolves" should be put down.

    The First Domestication turned out far more interesting, relevant, and convincing than I thought it would be. A lot of traditional indigenous knowledge is tainted by Western re-interpretation, romanticizing, and New Age nonsense. Pierotti and Fogg thankfully are not guilty of this, skewering a few such examples in the process, and their arguments are persuasive and well written. If you are interested in dogs, wolves and their origins, this book is required reading, especially if you have previously read or heard the Coppinger's take on dog evolution.
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  • Another rehash of "dogs as wolves"
    By Mark 18 Feb 2019 Written for Hardback
    Another entry in the "dogs are wolves" category, this book suffers from extreme bias and mischaracterization of other scientists' recent work. In particular, the authors represent the Coppingers' views as 180 degrees opposite of what the Coppingers said. For instance, on page 21, they represent the Coppingers' views thusly: "the process of domestication began with wolves being dominated by humans", when the Coppingers view was precisely the opposite - wolves self-domesticated into an opportunistic commensalism with humans, i.e. taking advantage of leftover human resources. At a couple of points, they represent the Coppingers as arguing for the scientific reclassification of dogs as wolves, when Ray Coppinger was precisely opposed to that move. It makes me wonder if the authors have treated others of their sources, with whom I am less familiar, as cavalierly.

    They also oversimplify and generalize both "Eurocentric" or "western" influence and conquest, and indigenous peoples. None of those categories were culturally monolithic, but the authors would like you to believe they are.

    However, one of their ultimate points is that the domestication of dogs began prior to the advent of agriculture and permanent communities, and in this regard, there is science that backs them up. This is pretty much the same thesis that Mark Derr proposes in his books and articles on the topic. And, while they are both dismissive of Coppinger, they all propose a similar conclusion - it was not man who domesticated wolf, but wolf who domesticated himself into dog.

    Pierotti and Fogg, and Derr all suffer from ignoring, or attempting to ignore, the elephant in the room: the village dog. Whether the process of domestication began 250,000 years ago, or 10,000 does not change the fact that the physiology of dogs changed markedly at about the same time that mankind began inhabiting permanent villages. And our dogs of today, even if they still occasionally crossbreed with wolves, are not wolves, but dogs, and they come to us through the filter of the village dog. Every dog that we call dog today exists primarily because of village dogs. The occasional interbreeding that Derr, Pierotti, and Fogg would like us to believe is of primary concern are minor eddies on the banks of a great and massive river.

    My conclusion and recommendation: take a pass on this one. It adds little to the conversation, although in some ways Pierotti and Fogg do a better job of persuading the reader than Derr. If you are determined to learn more, it can be worth reading, so that you have some idea of the breadth of viewpoints that are currently out there, but be mindful that this is only one. If we revisit this topic in ten years time, I believe there will be other books, with better science on the topic. Just as an example, Science magazine published an article in 2015 on how dogs utilize the oxytocin feedback loop (and wolves don't). There is serious and major science going on in this field right now.
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Raymond Pierotti is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas. He specialises in evolutionary and behavioural ecology of monogamous birds and mammals, and scientific aspects of indigenous traditional knowledge. He lives in Oskaloosa, KS.

Brandy R. Fogg received an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and a master's degree in Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas. She lives in Overland Park, KS.

By: Raymond Pierotti(Author), Brandy R Fogg(Author)
326 pages, 25 b/w photos
A persuasive book highlighting what traditional indigenous knowledge can teach us about the evolution of domestic dogs.
Media reviews

"Offers intelligent but subtle insights that have generally been overlooked by others writing about dog domestication, including myself. The closing chapter in particular is brilliant."
– Pat Shipman, author of The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction and The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human

"The domestic dog is absolutely unique in its relationship to humans. Famously loyal, fierce in protection, no other animal is such a friend, partner, guardian, guide, and family member. How dogs got to be dogs, how they brought their wolf traits into our home, and how humans have been in many ways reliant on dogs for survival and for our global spread – this is one of the most fascinating stories in the world. It is well told in these pages; this is a deep and insightful book."
– Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

"Fabulous! This book is an inspiration, and a highly readable scientific and scholarly work. It is a must-read for anyone who has ever loved a canid, and all who may not yet have done so."
– Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

"In their landmark book, the authors begin by clearly outlining the material they want to cover and how they will go about doing it. They write, 'In our efforts to produce a significant new contribution to a crowded field, we looked to a source that has been largely ignored in investigations of the evolution of humans and their ecological relationships with other species: the solid information contained within accounts from Indigenous peoples around the world.' And the authors, who bring expertise in the wide-ranging fields they cover in their interdisciplinary analyses, do just this with remarkable skill and clear and easy to read prose."
– Marc Bekoff, Animal Emotions, Psychology Today

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