Tag Archives: Dogs

Evolution and Dogs

My friend Jim has a dog, Casper. Casper (pictured above) is a six year old American Eskimo Dog who still has the energy of a puppy. This is not entirely an accident. Jim is a researcher at a local company, and he has made research into a way of life. His research when selecting dog breeds led him to the discovery that a dog’s lifespan and general health is closely related to how much the dog looks like a wolf.

If this seems surprising to you, consider this: each breed of dog is a descendant of wolves. The breeds were then created through, well, breeding. Humans selected features they wanted, and the very wolf-like first dogs led to dogs optimized to be small (toy breeds), or have comically short legs (Corgies), or short snouts (pugs). In this optimization for human-selected qualities, they have been optimized away from survivability, that is, health. This can also happen with plants, leading to unfortunate situations such as illustrated in the comic below.

There are some things that have not been bred out of dogs, though. For instance, the predilection to roll in the leavings of other animals. Some study has been devoted to this behavior. Theories of why it might be beneficial for a wolf to roll in poop or a rotting carcass include camouflage and group identity.

The camouflage theory does not apply to fooling prey so much. A study of wolves given various scents to roll in found some interesting results.

Surprisingly, the wolves were least interested in rubbing themselves in the faeces of herbivores like sheep or horse: the scientists did not see them rub at all on these odours. Food was similarly unappealing. Instead, their favoured scents were artificial odours like perfume or motor oil.

A powerful, strange smell like perfume is likely to make hunting more rather than less difficult. A savvy prey will run from any strange smell approaching. A predator, however, is more discerning. It may be less inclined to pick off a delicious straggler from a pack of wolves if its nose tells it that in fact what it smells passing by is merely a pack of poops or an ambulatory puddle of motor oil.

Group identity is even more fun. All the wolves in a group might roll in the same dung, identifying themselves together as “team bear poop.” Team bear poop then can more effectively work together and compete against “team deer carcass” and “team industrial sludge.”

I wonder if a dog who finds a scent it likes may just want to keep it around a little longer. What better way than to make it a personal perfume? So, the next time your dog chooses to express its membership in “team ruptured septic tank,” consider giving it human perfume after you wash it for a more sanitary Eau de Toilette.

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Scrabble in Purley

For Mother’s day I went with Alice to her mother’s house in Purley, North Carolina. Purley is a rural area, and out there in the country the first thing I noticed was that the cricket noise didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular – it was just ambient. It was nice. What was also nice was the abundance of green fields, as pictured below, and the general simplicity of life out in Purley, where most residents seemed to be retired and very little was going on at any given time. Purley is a nice place to cool down when one tires of the big city life.

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Below are Alice’s family. They factor into this story only to the extent that they participated in a game of Scrabble.  This game of scrabble turned out to be very interesting indeed.

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Sandy, on the left, is very good at Scrabble. He denies it categorically, but his score by the middle of the game made the truth clear. Here is part of the Scrabble board near the end of the game:

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If you look near the center of this image, you will see a word “welp.” Those of you skilled in the ways of spelling will note that, in fact, “welp” should be spelled “whelp.” I did not notice this word when Alice played it much earlier in the game, or I would never have allowed it, but once a word is on the board, there’s no contesting it. By this point in the game, I had narrowly been able to get back in the lead past Sandy with “movie” on a triple word score with an “i” on the double letter score for thirty-three points. Sandy was poised to pull back into first by adding a single letter to the partially obscured “treat” to make it “treats” while simultaneously making “welp” into “welps”

This is where Sandy’s plan fell apart. Unfortunately for him, although I had not been paying enough attention to stop Alice from playing “welp” in the first place, I could stop him from modifying this nonexistent word to make another nonexistent word “welps.” So I did. Sandy lost his turn, and I won the game.