True confession: I haven’t finished the book The Wolf in the Parlor. I might not, at least not in the near future. Here’s why:
As I said in my last post, the author’s thesis is that “people and dogs, around 12,000 years ago, linked their evolutionary paths together and evolved socially and physically to take on supportive roles. He argues, according to the reviews, that humans lost some of our brain power because dogs took over those functions, and dogs lost some of theirs because we became their protectors and nurturers.” It seems downright churlish of me to stop reading before I read for myself the full extent of his argument, but what I’ve read in the first 60 pages has put me off a bit.
I mentioned earlier that the thesis itself sounded a bit simplistic, but I love speculation and the more the merrier if it’s based on good, solid information. But Franklin’s supporting information seems thin, at best. Here’s an example: Interested in the early evolution of the domestic dog, the author goes to his local library. But he finds little of value, he tells us. He says “Some of the more promising works included a few generalized remarks about the development of the dog; they all sounded the same, and had a ‘just so’ tone to them.” He goes on later to say that the books he ended up checking out were also a disappointment. “Most were superficial, showed some misunderstanding of biology, or were otherwise unsuitable…”. Never in this section does he mention other ways of researching the topic.. he writes as though he accepts that his library has all material relevant to his question. As a lover of libraries, I can tell you that even really, really good ones can only house a small portion of relevant books, and many of those are profoudly out of date. As a science writer, I would assume he is adept at internet searches…?
Eventually, in the books he checks out (we never know which books those are), he finds references to a paleontologist named Stanley Olsen, who spent decades finding and measuring fossils of domestic dogs (dogs can be distinguished from wolves by their shorter muzzles and smaller teeth). He published some of this work in 1974, and Franklin moved heaven and earth to find a copy (The Origins of the Domestic Dog: The Fossil Record) and traveled to the University of Arizona to interview Olsen. Let me be clear: I’d give a lot to interview Olsen myself, he sounds absolutely fascinating and extremely knowledgeable. But 1974 is 35 years ago, and what we’ve learned about the fossil record since then is astounding. Still, I love that Franklin went to meet him–but what about other sources of information about the evolution of the domestic dog? Surely Franklin found many interesting books on that topic? And what books did he read? He is a science writer after all, so I expected him to clearly list his sources.
I turned to the back to see if he had read, for example, Ray and Lorna Coppinger’s book Dogs, its subtitle being “A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution.” But there is no bibliography or reference section, a surprise unto itself. I turned to the index, and Coppinger is indeed mentioned, but only briefly, and only in regard to a discussion about dogs losing the terminal portion of the hunting sequence inhibited (find, chase but don’t kill and eat). Franklin loves Coppinger’s suggestion that dogs are wolves with the ‘kill’ portion of their behavior inhibited, but adds that other scientists “. . . criticized Coppinger’s idea for various technical reasons, …” but doesn’t tell us what those were. Neither had he read Coppinger’s book; he learned about him in a manuscript being edited by James Serpell (now that’s a book I can’t wait to read, I’ll alert you as soon as I find it, don’t know if it’s out yet.)
There are some wonderful sections of The Wolf in the Parlor. Franklin clearly adores dogs and the connection between them and people. He is not only smitten with his current Standard Poodle, he credits him for saving his life (I skipped to the end). If I had no other books to read I’d finish the entire book, and someday I imagine I will. But right now Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog is luring me in, and I just got a book written about a search and rescue dog that looks like a page turner. The wolves in the parlor are just going to have to lie down and stay for awhile.
Meanwhile, back at the farm: It rained! Oh boy oh boy, it finally rained, after almost 3 weeks of no rain. I’m the first to admit 3 weeks isn’t long in many areas of the drought-stricken country, and I know it’s flooding right now in some areas, but we really, really needed the rain and just looking at the moisture soaking into the ground feels so nurturing and good. Willie and I got to go to a new place to work sheep; a good friend and neighbor’s not far away just got a small flock to work her rescue BC on. We had a ball; Will was wonderful, I was a bit slow–not being used to faster reacting sheep, but a good time was had by all. Well, maybe not the sheep, but Will was excellent around them and worked them very quietly. The trick with Will is balancing his speed with his lack of confidence (too slow and he loses power and confidence, too fast and he starts the sheep running.) We’ll be back soon I’m sure!
Here’s a video I took this morning, in the rain by the way, of Willie & Lassie playing with their Chewber. At first you’ll just see Willie, while I make silly noises to hype him up and get him exercising without having to stress his shoulder by fetching or leaping. It takes him longer to get moving than usual (because I have the camera?), but you can see how he runs and shakes the Chewber as if he was trying to kill it. (What was that about the final stage of the hunt being inhibited? Just kidding, I think Coppinger is right to some extent on that; I don’t think I’d use a wolf as a herding partner!).
As I do every morning, I asked Will to lie down and let Lassie get the toy. Watch how she turns and looks at him when she returns. Anthropomorphically, I always imagine her saying “I’ve got the toy-oy. Nee Nee Nee Boo Boo!”