Domestication of dogs: how was it?
For a long time the process of domestication of dogsremained a secret. No one could say how they became our best friends - those who understand not only from a half-word, but also from a half-view. However, we can now lift the veil over this mystery. And they helped to reveal this secret ... foxes!
In the photo: foxes who helped solve the mystery of domesticating dogs.
Dmitry Belyaev’s experiment with foxes: is the secret of dog domestication revealed?
For several decades, Dmitry Belyaev conducted a unique experiment at one of the animal farms in Siberia, which made it possible to understand what domestication is and explain the unique qualities that dogs possess. Many scientists are convinced that the Belyaev experiment is the greatest work in the field of genetics of the 20th century. The experiment continues to this day, even after the death of Dmitry Belyaev, for more than 55 years.
The essence of the experiment is very simple. At the fur farm, where ordinary red foxes were bred, Belyaev had 2 animal populations. Foxes from the first group were randomly selected, regardless of any qualities. And the foxes of the second group, experimental, passed a simple test at the age of 7 months. The man approached the cage, tried to interact with the fox and touch it. If the fox showed fear or aggression, it did not participate in further breeding. But if the fox behaved with an interested and friendly attitude towards humans, she passed on her genes to future generations.
The result of the experiment was stunning. After several generations, a unique population of foxes was formed, which clearly demonstrated how domestication affects animals.
In the photo: a fox from the experimental group of Dmitry Belyaev
It is striking that, despite the fact that the selection was carried out solely by nature (lack of aggression, friendliness and interest in humans), foxes over several generations began to differ greatly from ordinary red foxes in appearance. They began to have hanging ears, their tails began to curl, and the color palette was very diverse - almost like we can see in dogs. Pinto foxes even appeared. The shape of the skull changed, and the legs became thinner and longer.
We can observe similar changes in many animals that have undergone domestication. But before the Belyaev experiment, there was no evidence that such changes in appearance can be caused only by selection for certain character qualities.
It can be assumed that hanging ears and tails with a ringlet is, in principle, the result of life on a fur farm, and not experimental selection. But the fact is that the foxes from the control group, which were not selected by nature, did not change in appearance and still remained classic red foxes.
The foxes of the experimental group changed not only externally, but also in behavior, and very significantly. They began to wag their tail, bark and whine much more than foxes in the control group. Experimental foxes began to strive to communicate with people.
Changes also occurred at the hormonal level. Serotonin levels were higher in the experimental fox population than in the control group - this, in turn, reduced the risk of aggression. And the level of cortisol in experimental animals was, on the contrary, lower than in the control group, which indicates a decrease in stress level and weakens the “hit or run” reaction.
Fiction, don't you find?
Thus, we can definitely say what domestication is. Domestication is a selection aimed at reducing the level of aggression, increasing interest in a person and the desire to interact with him. And everything else is a kind of side effect.
Domestication of dogs: new opportunities for communication
The American scientist, evolutionary anthropologist and dog researcher Brian Hare conducted an interesting experiment with foxes bred as a result of the experiments of Dmitry Belyaev.
The scientist wondered how dogs learned to communicate so skillfully with people, and put forward a hypothesis that this could be the result of domestication. And who, if not domesticated foxes, could help confirm or refute this hypothesis?
Diagnostic games for communication were carried out with experimental foxes and compared with foxes from the control group. It turned out that domesticated foxes perfectly read human gestures, but foxes from the control group could not cope with the task.
It is curious that scientists spent a lot of time specially training small foxes from the control group to understand human gestures, and some of the animals made progress. While the foxes from the experimental group clicked puzzles like nuts without any preliminary preparation - almost like dog cubs.
So we can say that the wolf cub, if he is carefully socialized and trained, will learn how to interact with people. But the charm of dogs is that they have this ability from birth.
The experiment was complicated by excluding food promotion and introducing social promotion. The game was very simple. A man touched one of two small toys, each of the toys, when touched, produced sounds that should have been of interest to the foxes. Previously, the researchers were convinced that the toys themselves are attractive to animals. It was interesting to find out whether the foxes would touch the same toy as the person, or they would choose another one that was not “defiled” by the experimenter. And in the course of the control experiment, one of the toys was touched by a person not with his hand, but with a feather, that is, he offered a “not social” hint.
The results were interesting.
When foxes from the experimental group saw that a person was touching one of the toys, in most cases they also chose this toy. While touching a toy with a feather did not affect their preferences - in this case, the choice was random.
The foxes from the control group behaved exactly the opposite. They showed no interest in the toy, which was touched by a person.
How did the domestication of dogs occur?
In fact, now the veil of secrecy over this issue is ajar.
In the photo: foxes from the experimental group of Dmitry Belyaev
It was unlikely that a primitive man once decided: "But what a good idea - to train several wolves in order to hunt together." It seems more likely that once the wolf population chose people as partners and began to settle nearby, for example, to pick up leftover food. But it was supposed to be wolves less aggressive than their relatives, less shy and more curious.
Wolves are already creatures aimed at interacting with each other - and probably they realized that they can interact with people. They were not afraid of people, did not show aggression, mastered new ways of communication, and besides, had those qualities that were not enough for a person - and probably people also realized that this could be a good partnership.
Gradually, natural selection did its job, and new wolves appeared, which were different in appearance, friendly and oriented toward interacting with people. And those who understand a person are not even a half-word, but a half-view. In fact, these were the first dogs.