SREL Reprint #2169





Primitive dogs, their ecology and behavior: Unique opportunities to study the early development of the human-canine bond

I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., PhD, and Thomas S. Risch, MS

The human-canine bond, as we see it today in the United States, is the modern manifestation of an important and unusual event that happened more than 11,000 years ago in the Shanidar Cave region of Iraq. This event was the domestication of the dog. As the first example of animal/plant domestication and the only example to take place during the hunter-gatherer stage of human cultural development, establishment of the human-canine bond paved the way for a process that has since provided human beings with a wide variety of food-producing, transport, and companion animals.

An understanding of the changes that took place in dogs and in their relationships with human beings during the first several thousand years of contact is relevant to a number of problematic aspects of the human-canine bond as we see it in our society today. These aspects include, but are not limited to, problems with dog bites, the health and physiologic well-being of domestic dogs and people, and pet overpopulation.

Most efforts to study and understand the domestication of the dog and the early development of the human-canine bond have focused on an archaeologic approach to these issues. An alternative but complementary approach involves anthropologic studies of relationships between human beings and dogs within present day aboriginal or culturally simple human societies. We propose a third approach to studying the early human-canine bond-namely, documentation of the basic biologic behavioral and ecologic characteristics of present-day populations of primitive free-ranging or semiconfined dogs. These dogs have characteristics that indicate a close descent of type, if not direct genetic relationship, to dogs that participated in the initiation and early development of the human-canine bond thousands of years ago. In particular, we will describe 2 types of primitive dogs, emphasizing studies of their ecologic and behavioral characteristics under semiconfined or free-ranging conditions. These dogs include the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD; Canis lupus dingo) and the Carolina Dog, a registered domestic breed developed from the captive breeding of wild-caught dogs having a primitive long-term feral/ pariah phenotype, acquired from several locations in the southeastern United States.

SREL Reprint #2169

Brisbin, I.L. and T.S. Risch. 1997. Primitive dogs, their ecology and behvior: conservation concerns for unique opportunities to study the early development of the human-canine bond. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 210:1122-1126.

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