Kirkus Reviews QR Code


From Wolves to Our Best Friends

by Mark Derr

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59020-700-0
Publisher: Overlook

Derr (A Dog’s History of America, 2004, etc.) explores various scenarios on the road to the long, fruitful relationship between dogs and humans.

“Among the broader population of Pleistocene wolves and human were individuals who by virtue of extreme sociability and curiosity, or both, became best friends and compatriots after encountering each other on the trail,” writes the author in this rangy, critically stimulating and warm book. Derr begins with an overview of behavioral and biological experiments and models and theories, which becomes a dirge-like march, perhaps because readers know that he is going to pick many of them apart. So much new information comes in daily regarding dog studies that the ground is always shaky. But there are a number of ideas, backed by research and evidence, which Derr unfolds in a quietly stirring manner. The first is that wolves and humans were drawn together by their mutual sociability and curiosity, and that they stayed together thanks to mutual utility. All evidence places the first dogs at the camps of hunters, so the old notion that humans and dogwolves first made acquaintance around the local dumpster can be laid to rest. “Rather it was an animal capable of forming an active friendship with a creature from another species,” and, absent proof otherwise, likely consensual, in response to the needs and desires of both. Indeed, being able to manage anger and fear, control assertiveness and restraint and moderate one’s appetite is more wolf than primate behavior. Derr also provides a striking geographical analysis of mixing grounds (“a biological and a cultural process involving two highly mobile species”) and enjoyable illustrative scenarios as he imagines specific events taking place.

A transporting slice of dog/wolf thinking that will pique the interest of anyone with a dog in their orbit.