Sunday, January 24, 2010

Science Sunday: Going To The Dogs

It should come as no surprise that research shows how humans value the "cuteness" of their pet dogs can influence a breed's survival, variation and evolutionary pattern.

The University of Manchester has published a new study that compared the skull shapes of domestic dogs with those of different species across Carnivora, a diverse order of over 250 species to which dogs, cats, bears, weasels, seals and walruses belong.

Researchers found that the skull shapes of domestic dogs varied as much as other species across the whole order. In other words, a Collie's skull shape is as different from a Pekingese's skull as a cat's skull shape is distinct from a seal's skull.

The reason, researchers believe, is that human intervention has played a powerful role in dog breed evolution and diversity.

"We usually think of evolution as a slow and gradual process," explained Dr. Abby Drake, one of the researchers. "But the incredible amount of diversity in domestic dogs has originated through selective breeding in just the last few hundred years, and particularly after the modern purebred dog breeds were established in the last 150 years."

This has transpired because today's domestic dogs can exist and flourish as several hundred breeds because of human care, protection and managed breeding.

Long story short, many dogs live very protected lives, and we get to choose which breeds are appealing enough to continue on because we feed our dogs specially prepared food so they have little need to perfect their hunting skills to ensure their survival, as well as take them to veterinarians for regular check-ups and shots.

The result is that domestic dog breeds don't have to be any particular size or shape. They don't even need fully functional limbs, but if left alone in the wild most would be forced to evolve different breathing and chewing functions that would lead to their extinction.

Salient examples include the breathing problems Pugs and English Bulldogs or the tiny size of a Pomeranian's mouth.


Yup, dogs sure can be cute, but some of them can drive their owners bonkers because they're bonkers themselves.

Well, scientists have now linked a gene to compulsive behavior in dogs.

Researchers studying Doberman pinschers that curled up into balls and repeatedly sucked their flanks have found that these dogs shared a compulsive behavior gene that have broad implications for compulsive disorders in people, as well.


The good folks at Balloon Juice have been leavening their politix-heavy blog loaf with dog rescue stories. They're great reminders that while dropping 1,000 large for a pedigreed dog is just fine, animal shelters have zillions of hounds of all descriptions that can be yours for a modest donation and/or neutering fee.

The payback: Unconditional love.

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