Will we ever know the difference between a wolf and a dog?

This article was Originally posted in Time On April 29, 2019, it was republished under Creative Commons.

Living in the Canadian Rockies gives me ample opportunities to get out into nature. In one hour outside the city, I can be in the wilderness, without cell phone reception nor any other humans. Naturally, this wilderness comes with plenty of wildlife, including a number of contemporary North American canine species such as coyotes and wolves. Although I tend not to have any human company, I do have a canine companion, which is taxonomically classified under the species fashionable dog But he also has an apt name, Yoni, which identifies him as a specific individual apart from his own gender.

Located above the 42nd parallel, these parts of the Rocky Mountains often snow and often start to fall early in the fall. While Yoni and I get out a lot in the summer, enjoying the relative warmth of the area, we are in our own element during the winter. Yoni is a Finnish lavender, a breed from northern Scandinavia. My ancestors are based in southern Scandinavia.

Being in the wilderness during the winter gives me, as a human being, rich visual cues found in landscapes. Yoni’s cues are mostly olfactory, though sometimes he also responds visually to imprints left on the ground. Sometimes we stand with our paws stamped, the wolf’s steps next to the dog’s. We haven’t come face to face with these wolves, but we can sometimes hear their howl at a close distance.

Most of the common cultural representations that feed into my human mind tell me that we must be very careful, even fearful, around these wild dogs. In areas of human culture, wolves are often evoked as predatory and aggressive. Some of the locals even told me that Yoni and I could be torn apart at any moment. My dog ​​certainly doesn’t act any fear in these situations. After all, its existence falls outside the realm of the majority, although it certainly is not everythingHuman language games. It is also a type of dog that was bred for reindeer herding where part of the job is to protect the herd from predators.

Many details about the co-evolution between man and dog, especially Time and place, was moot. But what is clear is that the interrelationship of our species is long and richly intertwined. Molecular evidence hardly provides clarity. The gross physical remains from archaeological sites also present challenges, mainly because the first primitive dogs were not very different from wolves. Indeed, the clearest evidence of the depth and length of our coexistence, interaction, and sometimes interdependence lies in the distinction between wolf and dog today.

While it is indeed true that, on some levels, the dog and the wolf, as well as the wolf, are one and the same wolf. same animalIt is also clear that identity (in existential terms) is not categorized at the genetic level alone. We may here contemplate, by analogy, the similarities or differences between some of the close ancestors of man and our species, Homo sapiens, which remains the only one of these many ancestors of hominins. According to contemporary biological evidence, humans and Neanderthals interbred to the point where most of us carry parts of our skin Neanderthals in our bodies. The genetic distance between these two species is very small. However, most evolutionary anthropologists notice clear differences between the two species when skeletal remains are discovered at paleoanthropological sites stretching from Europe to Eurasia. So do some researchers Argues The reason humans were so dominant during the Ice Age is that we developed this close relationship with primitive dogs while Neanderthals did not.

In distinguishing between a wolf and a dog, we face the classic challenge of being able to resolve the differences on a meaningful level. Indeed, one cannot do so without going into the question of meaning. Do we have here “the same animal” or two distinctly different species and beings, like humans and Neanderthals, for example (or even more so)? One of the challenges with these questions is that they do not contain clear scientific or biological information answers We need other toolkits in our conceptual frameworks. One such conceptual framework comes from biosemiotics, an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes the fundamental importance of molecules and other biological markers in shaping our existence, but also readily acknowledges that there is no hard and fast line between biology and philosophy, or biology and culture.

In general, biosemiotics aims to make sense of markers in ecology, and trace the ways in which these markers are mediated by and are mediated by the relationships found across different organisms. Footprints in the snow are a key marker that I as a human respond visually to – sniffing snow doesn’t do us much good. Of course, the signs of a previous existence are never only visual, but, depending on the type, they also exist on a range of sensory levels. As a result, one of the fundamental concepts in biosemiotics is the concept of environmentor a group of meaningful features found in a given animal’s environment.

inside the dog environmentOlfactory cues are more important in many contexts than visual cues—sniffing snow works well—while the opposite is the case for humans; We are distinct species as a result of our evolutionary background (phylogeny) and our individual evolution (phylogeny). The fact that phylogeny and phylogeny are so important in shaping the way of life and existence of any animal is what can make thinking about the differences so difficult. And in the case of dogs, we have the third dimension, which is artificial selection educationwhich brought about further changes in the constitution of the species.

As some wolves began to morph toward what we readily know as a dog today, they preserved their overall physiological and mental make-up—we still have creatures that navigate their environment with an eye for scents, feed on a carnivorous diet, and are massively social. The sociality of wolves is a trait that human cultural representations often ignore. Just think of how often the idea of ​​a “lone wolf” gets brought up. However, wolves are actually intensely social, to the point that some ethicists Suggest that human sociality has been enhanced by our interactions with wolves and our observations.

While humans were observing and helping these wolves all the way to becoming primate dogs, the opposite was also the case. In this co-evolutionary story, primitive dogs began to extend their interest and basic sociality increasingly towards humans who would later become their primary companions in life. Through this shift in shared attention and social behavior, many of the dogs we know closely today smell very different things, obtain their food, and socialize very differently from wolves. As a result, the interview peripheral Same brains – different from each other.

A fruitful way to understand this difference is not to focus on any particular absolutes, although some have been suggested by empirically oriented researchers. The main challenge here is that organisms differ as a result of their evolution and as a result of their upbringing; Individuals are not the same as species. What the biosemiotic perspective can provide is a more comprehensive description of the differences; At the species level, the human-dog peripheral They nest much more than a human wolf peripheral.

Whether this turn things out for the better or for the worse, especially from the dogs’ point of view, is up for debate. Meanwhile, I am happy to share with you environment With Uni, they roam the wilds of the Rocky Mountains with their paws, mostly out of control and hoping not to come face to face with too many wild canids.

written by Katya PetininHe is a cultural anthropologist at Mount Royal University in Canada. She is interested in the nature and methods of acquiring skilled movement in the context of Japanese martial arts practice. Lives in Calgary.

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