Posts Tagged ‘dog phylogeny’

African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus or Canis pictus) are more distantly related to dogs than humans are to chimps. African wild dogs cannot crossbreed with dogs, and they are not an ancestor of any domestic dog breed. This species has suffered greatly because of its common name. Many ranchers and pastoralists in Africa have persecuted this species under the suspicious that it is nothing more than a feral domestic dog. It’s not even an ancestor of the domestic dog. It’s a truly unique but endangered species.

Stanley Coren has posted a slide show on Huffington Post entitled Dog Facts: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Pet.

I couldn’t get past the first slide because this is what it said:

How do scientists decide whether dogs started out as wolves? One way is to try to cross breed the species by mating a wolf to a dog. If that mating produces live puppies that are fertile and can have pups, then that means that the wolf and dog are the same species. It turns out that dogs can have puppies, not only with wolves, but also with jackals, coyotes, dingoes, African wild dogs, and even some kinds of foxes. Although genetic research says that the first species that humans domesticated was the wolf, the guess is that dogs are mixture of all of these different wild canines, which probably explains the existence of so many different looking dogs in the world.


One wonders if Coren consulted any of the genetic literature on domestic dogs.

It turns out that their wide variance in phenotype comes from two really basic weird aspects of the dog genome. One of these is that just few genes account for massive differences in phenotype in domestic dogs. Variation on just three genes produces almost all the variance in coat that domestic dogs. That’s somewhat shocking, I know.

Further, it’s been found that all dog species have an unusually high number of tandem repeats in their genes.  Selection selective breeding animals with such high numbers of tandem repeats often results in massive changes in phenotype within just a few generations. That’s why dogs breeds change so rapidly through the years.

Small size in most domestic dogs has been traced to a single gene that likely originated from domesticating the Middle Eastern wolf. Arabian wolves are often as small as 25-30 pounds– much smaller than other subspecies– and have also been implicated in providing a lot of the genetic material to modern domestic dogs.

Now, all the genetic literature points to the wolf as the primary and perhaps sole ancestor of the domestic dog. Coren totally screws the pooch when it comes to classifying the dog and its closest relatives.

Dingoes are not an ancestor of the domestic dog. They are  descended from domestic dogs that came to Australia from Indonesia as domestic animals. In every genetic study I’ve seen, dingoes group with East Asian domestic dog breeds, which also share an affinity with the Chinese wolf.

The best way to classify dogs, dingoes, and wolves is to count all three as belonging to the same species. Conventionally, dogs are Canis lupus familiaris, and dingoes are C. l. dingo. I think that in light of what we’re seeing in the genetic studies, dingoes ought to be classified as Canis lupus familiaris.  The basenji, which is always classified as a breed of domestic dog,  is actually much more genetically distinct than the dingo is.

So Canis lupus encompasses dogs, wolves,  and dingoes (including the New Guinea singing dog).

That species is interfertile with the coyote, and many coyotes have genes from wolves and domestic dogs. Certain wolves in Eastern Canada have genes from coyotes, and the so-called red wolf, which is primarily coyote in ancestry but does have some ancestry from wolves.

Golden jackals can also crossbreed with dogs, and it’s possible that domestic dogs have a bit ancestry from this animal. Evidence for this ancestry has not yet been discovered. Only the Sulimov dogs, which are recent intentionally bred golden jackal/dog hybrids, have been proven to have golden jackal.

Ethiopian wolves can also cross with dogs, and hybridization with domestic dogs in the Bale Mountains has been considered a major threat to their continued survival.

Other than those animals I’ve just listed, there is no proof other than anecdote and lore that these dogs have crossed with any other wild dogs. There is no genetic evidence of a dog and red fox hybrid, though there were always alleged ones. There is no evidence of African wild dogs crossbreeding with any dogs, except from breed lore from Rhodesian ridgebacks and basenjis, and there is no evidence other than unsubstantiated claims that black-backed and side-striped jackals have ever hybridized with dogs.

There is a breed origin story for a breed from Thailand called the Bangkaew dog that claims dhole ancestry. Supposedly, they are derived from a bitch that got impregnated by dhole in the forest. There were no other domestic dogs around, so it had to have been a wild dog.

I think that golden jackals are a much more likely wild ancestor of this dog, if it does indeed have blood from another species. However, as far as I know, no one has looked for the genes of either dholes or golden jackals in this breed.

Except for dogs that were intentionally bred to coyotes or golden jackals, there is no evidence that species other than the wolf have contributed to domestic dogs.

There are always stories about different wild dogs crossing with domestic ones.

However, there has been no evidence of dogs crossing with anything other than the species I’ve listed here. All the rest are nothing more than stories, folk tales, and speculation.

I think one reason why people hold onto the hope that dogs are derived from a wide range of species is they secretly want to vindicate Konrad Lorenz and Charles Darwin, who may have been right about many things.

But they were wrong about the ancestry of the domestic dog.

Dogs, like it or not, are domesticated wolves that have some weird features in their DNA that make them very easy to mold into bizarre shapes through selective breeding.

They did not derive from hybrids of several dozen wild species.

Coren is simply wrong here, and I don’t know why he keeps makingthese claims. He made this same claim in The Intelligence of Dogs, when the genetic literature wasn’t as clear as it is now,and in How to Speak Dog.  Every genetic study shows that dogs are derived from wolves, and modern dog lineages are likely derived primarily from the wolves of the Middle East. No matter how many times Coren or anyone else wants to claim that dogs are derived from many species, the claim will be still be false. And it’s even worse that he makes claims that dogs are derived from species with which they cannot even cross.

There are so many errors in that first slide that I couldn’t get to the rest.

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