A scientist tracks the evolutionary adaptation of the lone, endangered wolf into man’s ubiquitous best friend.
Budiansky covers science for the Atlantic Monthly, and has treated horses and championed domesticated animals in his five previous books, from The Covenant of the Wild (1992) to If a Lion Could Talk (1998). Here, too, the author defies the environmentalists to insist that the domesticated dog is not merely a degenerate, enslaved form of wild dog. He praises the canine wiles that have allowed our two species to get along so well, even symbiotically: in fact, he warns dog owners from being “owned” by these easily spoiled, manipulative creatures. Humans subjectively misinterpret canine submission (licking feet or smiling) and territorial instinctual displays (barking for intruders) as their dog’s devotion, but the author sees them for what they are—and loves his own dogs nonetheless. Beyond extolling the species’ uncanny abilities (“as olfactory ignoramuses ourselves, we can only begin to appreciate the sagas that reside in canine by-products”), Budiansky concentrates largely on genetics, and quotes many researchers on the physical and behavioral characteristics that persist after wolves and dogs genetically split off some 135,000 years ago. Similarly, Budiansky provides charts and statistics to explain the background, dynamics, and motives behind dog-breeding, and he offers a sometimes harsh portrayal of those who care too passionately about canine pedigrees (“crypto-fascists” is one description he offers). His account combines fun and scientific facts, deflating myth-breaking with practical strategies that enhance the dog-owning experience. With 13 pages of bibliography, this is no pet-store variety walk in the park.
Every dog has his day: now he also has his own playful but serious scientific study.