The Dog – Part II, Origin of the Dog

In the last post, we started discussing mans use of animals in general, and the difference in how most animals associated with humans with the interaction of the dog. The dog, while used for many of the same tasks, would, after completing those tasks, follow their master into the house, and could truly be considered a friend, a companion, and a protector.

In this post, we will continue to delve into the origin of the dog, as understood in the mid-nineteenth century.

Origin of the Dog

Some controversy has arisen with regard to the origin of the dog. Professor Thomas Bell, to whom we are indebted for a truly valuable history of the British quadrupeds, traces him to the wolf. He says, and it is perfectly true, that the osteology of the wolf does not differ materially from that of the dog more than that of the different kinds of dogs differs; that the cranium is similar, and they agree in nearly all the other essential points; that the dog and wolf will readily breed with each other, and that their progeny, thus obtained, will again mingle with the dog. The relative length of the intestines is a strong distinctive mark both as to the habits and species of animals; those of a purely carnivorous nature are much shorter than others who resort entirely to an herbaceous diet, or origin of the dogcombine the two modes of sustenance according to circumstances. The dog and wolf have the intestines of the same length. (See Sir Everard Home on Comparative Anatomy.) There is one circumstance, however, which seems to mark a decided difference between the two animals; the eye of the dog of every country and species has a circular pupil, but the position or form of the pupil is oblique in the wolf. (This is not necessarily true. While some wolves, as seen in the picture, do have oblique eyes, others have similar pupils to the dog. Just Google “wolf eyes” and look at some of the similarities!) Professor Bell gives an ingenious but not admissible reason for this. He attributes the forward direction of the eyes in the dog to the constant habit, “for many successive generations, of looking towards their master, and obeying his voice:” but no habit of this kind could by possibility produce any such effect. It should also be remembered that, in every part of the globe in which the wolf is found this form of the pupil, and a peculiar setting on of the curve of the tail, and a singularity in the voice, cannot fail of being observed; to which may be added, that the dog exists in every latitude and in every climate, while the habitation of the wolf is confined to certain parts of the globe.

There is also a marked difference in the temper and habits of the two. The dog is, generally speaking, easily manageable, but nothing will, in the majority of cases, render the wolf moderately tractable. There are, however, exceptions to this. The author remembers a bitch wolf at the Zoological Gardens that would always come to the front bars of her den to be caressed as soon as any one that she knew approached. She had puppies while there, and she brought her little ones in her mouth to be noticed by the spectators; so eager, indeed, was she that they should share with her in the notice of her friends, that she killed them all in succession against the bars of her den as she brought them forcibly forward to be fondled.

M.F. Cuvier gives an account of a young wolf who followed his master everywhere, and showed a degree of affection and submission scarcely inferior to the domesticated dog. His master being unavoidably absent, he was sent to the menagerie, where he pined for his loss, and would scarcely take any food for a considerable time. At length, however, he attached himself to his keepers, and appeared to have forgotten his former associate. At the expiration of eighteen months his master returned, and, the moment his voice was heard, the wolf recognized him, and lavished on his old friend the most affectionate caresses. A second separation followed, which lasted three years, and again the long-remembered voice was recognized, and replied to with impatient cries; after which, rushing on his master, he licked his face with every mark of joy, menacing his keepers, towards whom he had just before been exhibiting fondness. A third separation occurred, and he became gloomy and melancholy. He suffered the caresses of none but his keepers, and towards them he often manifested the original ferocity of his species.

These stories, however, go only a little way to prove that the dog and the wolf have one common origin. There are some naturalists that even go so far as to state that the different varieties of dogs are sprung from, or compounded of, various animals, as the hyena, jackal, wolf, and fox. The philosophic John Hunter commenced a series of experiments upon this interesting subject, and was forced to acknowledge that “the dog may be the wolf tamed, and the jackal may probably be the dog returned to his wild state.”

The ancient Cynegetical writers were not only acquainted with the cross between the wolf and dog, but also boasted the possession of breeds of animals, supposed to have been derived from a connection with the lion and tiger. The Hyrcanian dog, although savage and powerful beast, was rendered much more formidable in battle, or in conflict with other animals, by his fabled cross with the tiger. In corroboration of this singular, but not less fabulous belief, Pliny states that the inhabitants of India take pleasure in having dog bitches lined by the wild tigers, and to facilitate this union, they are in the habit of tieing them when in heat out in the woods, so that the male tigers may visit them. (See L. 8, c. xl.)

There is, however, but little doubt that the wolf and dog are varieties of the same family, as they can he bred together, and their offspring continuing the cross thus formed, will produce a race quite distinct from the original. French writers do not hesitate at all upon this point, but even assert that it is very difficult to take a she-wolf with male dogs during the period of œstrum[1], parce que la veulent saillir et couvrir comme une chienne.[2]

Baudrillart, in the “dictionaire des chasses,” further remarks that the mongrels produced by this connection are very viciously disposed and inclined to bite.

The period of utero-gestation, and the particular mode of copulation in the wolf, is the same as that of the canine family, which two circumstances are certainly very strong presumptive evidences of the similarity of the species. The dogs used by our northern Indians resemble very much, in their general appearance, the wolves of that region, and do not seem very far removed from that race of animals, notwithstanding they have been in a state of captivity, or domestication, beyond the traditionary chronicles of this rude people.

Another strong circumstance in favor of the common origin of these two quadrupeds, is the existence in our own country of the Canis Latrans, or prairie wolf, who whines and barks in a manner so similar to the smaller varieties of dogs, that it is almost impossible to distinguish his notes from those of the terrier.

Major Long remarks that “this animal which does not seem to be known to naturalists, unless it should prove to be the Mexicanus, is most probably the original of the domestic dog, so common in the villages of the Indians of this region, some of the varieties of which still remain much of the habit and manners of this species.” (Vol. i, page 174.)

If further proof be necessary to establish the identity of the dog and wolf, the circumstances related by Captain Parry in his first voyage of discovery, ought to be sufficient to convince every mind that the wolf, even in its wild state, will seek to form an alliance or connection with one of our domestic dogs.

“About this time it had been remarked that a white setter dog, belonging to Mr. Beverly, had left the Griper for several nights past at the same time, and had regularly returned after some hours absence. As the daylight increased we had frequent opportunities of seeing him in company with a she-wolf, with whom he kept up an almost daily intercourse for several weeks, till at length he returned no more to the ships; having either lost his way by rambling to too great a distance, or what is more likely, perhaps, been destroyed by the male wolves. Some time after a large dog of mine, which was also getting into the habit of occasionally remaining absent for some time, returned on board a good deal lacerated and covered with blood, having, no doubt, maintained a severe encounter with a male wolf, whom we traced to a considerable distance by the tracks on the snow. An old dog, of the Newfoundland breed, that we had on board the Hecla, was also in the habit of remaining out with the wolves for a day or two together, and we frequently watched them keeping company on the most friendly terms.” (Page 136, 1st voyage.)

In volume 1st, page 111, of the Menageries, it is stated that Mr. Wombwell exhibited in October, 1828, two animals from a cross between the wolf and the domestic dog, which had been bred in that country. They were confined in the same den with a female setter, and were likely again to multiply the species. Mr. Daniel remarks that Mr. Brook, famous for his menagerie, turned a wolf to a Pomeranian bitch at heat; the congress was immediate, and, as usual between the dog and bitch, ten puppies were the produce. These animals strongly resembled their sire both in appearance and disposition, and one of them being let loose at a deer, instantly caught at the animal’s throat and killed it. (See Daniel’s Rural Sports, vol. i, page 14)

Next post will start with the dog as discussed in the Bible and in Mythology. See you there!

[1] “heat”

[2] French translates to “because of the want to protrude and cover as a bitch”

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