The World of Dogs
or More Simply: Man’s Best Friend!
Pharaoh happily jumped out of my car being almost as familiar as I was with this weekly trip across to see Jon.
Just as naturally, once in Jon’s room and almost as soon as Jon and I had started talking, Pharaoh rolled over on to his right side and closed his eyes.
“You know, Paul, as often as I see Pharaoh it still strikes me as incredible as to how large a German Shepherd he is. Stretched out like that he seems almost half the width of this room!”
“He really is a gentle giant”, I replied. Adding: “Plus he is such a smart, intuitive dog.”
Jon was quiet for a moment then, after looking down at the sleeping Pharaoh, looked back up at me.
“At our last meeting a week ago, we spoke of the research that had been carried out by Dr. David Hawkins; the American life member of the American Psychiatric Association.[i] Do you recall that?”
“Yes, and I found it fascinating.”
Jon continued: “One of the critical innovations that Hawkins did was to find a way of measuring in an objective manner how an individual behaved from the perspective of being fundamentally a truthful or false person.
It is very clearly explained in his seminal book, Power vs. Force. The book provides great detail of his research into, to use his words the hidden determinants of human behaviour.”
I made a note to get myself a copy of the book.
“Anyway, Paul, there’s a chart in his book that shows how Hawkins sets out those behaviours as a scale with the value of 200 being the mid-way point. In other words, persons who are rated above the value of 200 are essentially truthful persons with integrity and those who score below 200 are fundamentally false persons.
And here’s the magical point I wanted to make, that so directly affects you and Pharaoh.
Dr. Hawkins has measured dogs as creatures who rate above 200. Approximately in the range of 205 through to 210.
Dogs are creatures of integrity.”
It was a Monday afternoon in the month of May. The year being 2008. I will never forget the date. For that evening, when I had returned with Pharaoh to my home in the small village of Harberton, just a few miles from the Devon town of Totnes, I went online and registered the domain name LearningfromDogs.com. I had no idea then of what I had set in motion.
However, one aspect of my future was falling into place. In a few months time I would be travelling one-way from England to Mexico with Pharaoh. A result of the most beautiful and fortuitous meeting of a woman; the woman who would become my wife in 2010.
I’ll not say too much for this essay is about dogs. But it is highly relevant to explain that Suzann, a friend of mine from way back, invited me to spend the Christmas of 2007 with her and her husband in San Carlos, Mexico. San Carlos is 250 miles south of the Arizona border town of Nogales. I had never previously been to Mexico.
I flew down from LA to the main city of Hermosillo, some 80 miles north of San Carlos and was met by Suzann and her closest female friend: Jean.
Jean had been living in San Carlos for a number of years, her American husband having died in 2005, and within a very short time of us all being in Su’s car and setting off to San Carlos I explored what I heard to be an English accent in Jean’s voice. It turned out to be an Essex accent for Jean had been born in Dagenham. Dagenham is a large suburb of east London about 11.5 miles east of Charing Cross and 9.5 miles east of the City of London.
I quickly learnt that Jean and her late husband, Ben, had been living in Mexico for a number of years and that Jean’s passion was rescuing dogs from the streets of Mexico, in and around San Carlos, paying to have them either spayed or neutered, and then finding good, loving homes for them primarily in Arizona. That explained why my seat behind Su and Jean was practically walled in with shrink-wrapped cardboard trays containing more tins of dog food than I had seen in a lifetime!
Just a few weeks later, in early 2008, before I left San Carlos to return to Devon there was no question that I had fallen deeply in love with this very beautiful woman and, miracle of miracles, Jean likewise had with me. To put a small detail to this miracle, I had been born in Acton, north-west London, and the straight line distance between Dagenham and Acton is 23 miles!
Thus when in December of 2008 I arrived in San Carlos with Pharaoh I rapidly started to appreciate what life was like living with 15 other dogs; in other words 16 with Pharaoh. More precisely described as me starting to learn from the dogs around me. That learning has continued unabated for over 8 years and I don’t see any end in sight to that education for a very long time.
The starting point to learning about dogs must be the history of the relationship. Looked at from a general perspective of dogs and humans it is a breathtakingly wonderful story.
The origins of that first grey wolf or two starting to follow us humans around are lost in the mists of time. But we are certain that it was long before modern man settled down to an agricultural way of life, back when we were still hunting and gathering.
Most hunter-gatherers were nomadic and survived more on scavenging than hunting, according to Lewis Binford.[ii] But either way there would have been a great propensity to attract wolves and other similar animals. Somehow, somewhere a human reached out to a wolf and slowly over time each species became comfortable with the other.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) knew without doubt that humans had a very special relationship with dogs but was unable to determine how far back that went. The origins of that relationship are still a complex puzzle.
Previously, archeological evidence in examining the different shape of the dog’s skull compared to the skull of a wolf, had put the ‘split’ back to around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.
However, the mitochondrial DNA sequence offered evidence that the domestication of the wolf, as in the dog, went back more than 100,000 years. All scientists are now agreed that the domestication of the dog goes back thousands of years further than with any other pet animal.
Modern molecular genetics, as in DNA, offers us the knowledge that our mitochondrial DNA sequence is passed down through the maternal line.[iii] Thus not only do these DNA markers set out a timeline they also show dogs to be more closely related to grey wolves than any other species: Dogs are domesticated wolves; without a doubt.
Back to timelines. For we are not saying that the domesticated wolf, the dog, goes back before the origins of homo sapiens for that is back to around 200,000 years ago.[iv] That is far too long ago. But dogs were certainly on the scene long before the Neanderthals came to an end around 28,000 years ago. The other fascinating aspect is that it is probable that we had dogs in our lives during the last glacial period, as in the last Ice Age, which occurred from circa 110,000 years ago right through to 11,700 years ago.
Another important aspect of how wolves and early humans may have become familiar with each other comes from Dr. Kaminski for she has identified that we share with wolves the fact that we are both social carnivores that live, as in feeding ourselves, in daylight.
The research by Dr. Juliane Kaminski, of both the Max Planck Institute and the University of Portsmouth in the UK[v] has also shown; in her words: “Dogs may think more like us than any other animal.”
Yet it gets even more fundamental than that. For there is a view that without the dog our civilisation would not have even got started. The basis of this theory is that the domesticated wolf turned dog enabled hunter-gatherer tribes to become so effective at finding food that we humans evolved to an agricultural way of life, started settling down as communities, bringing us all the way to modern man in this twenty-first century. (If “modern” is the appropriate descriptor!)
While it is difficult to draw a clear evolutionary line between hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies, the widespread adoption of agriculture and the resulting cultural changes that have flowed from that has most definitely occurred in the last 10,000 years.
But again I say that this essay is about dogs, not the history of humans! Well, I stand corrected: It is about the relationship between dogs and humans.
Compared to what science has discovered about that relationship, the fact that there are around 520 million dogs across the world is probably just a ‘throwaway’ fact. Like other statistics that suggest there are 70 million dogs in the USA and 9 million in the UK.[vi]
No, the real importance of the story of dogs and humans is our relationship with each other.
As in Germany, where remains were found of a person buried with their dog that was estimated to be 14,000 years old. Or that when a pet dog died in ancient Egypt, well-to-do owners would have their dog mummified with the same care as a human family member.
Then in ancient China dogs were regarded as a gift from heaven and the blood of dogs was considered so sacred it was used in sealing oaths and swearing allegiances.
Or, closer to home, the Mayans, in the Americas, kept dogs as pets yet also associated their dogs with the gods. More than that! The souls of dead Mayans were conducted by dogs across a watery expanse called Xibalba. Then when the human soul arrived in this netherworld, guidance was on hand from a dog to see the deceased through the challenges set out by the lords of Xibalba in order to reach paradise.
But back to more earthly facts.
Did you know that our faces are not similar in terms of left side versus right side? In other words, if one takes a photograph of a person’s face, cuts it vertically down through the centre of the nose (the photograph that is; not the face!), and creates two images, one made up of the two left-hand images and one made up of the two right-hand images they won’t be the same.
This fascinating aspect of us humans flows from the fact that our feelings and emotions show more on the right-hand side of our face. Instinctively and subconsciously, we always look to the left when we are looking at a person, to read those emotions being shown in that person’s right-hand side of their face.
In other words, we have a left-gaze bias.
That is remarkable!
But if that is remarkable then consider this; the result of research by Professor Mills in the UK. This left-gaze bias is only replicated by one creature in the entire animal kingdom: dogs. [vii]
It doesn’t stop there; not by a mile!
Dr. Ádám Miklósi, of the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, has dedicated many years to investigating the human-dog relationship.[viii] He has proved that there is wonderful agreement between many, many people as to what the different barks of a dog mean. Humans are easily able to discriminate six different dog barks and what they mean. Some people can go beyond six different barks.
This has been proved through double-blind testing and is still more evidence of what that ‘domestic’ relationship between us and our dogs has produced. Not just that we are incredibly attuned to each other in a way unique to both species but also that dogs’ wild relatives don’t really bark. The bark has evolved especially to permit dogs to communicate with us!
The connection between dog and human is even closer than that.
Any woman who has had a baby knows how very quickly mother and child develop a strong, positive bond. The special nature of that bond most likely is beyond the true emotional understanding of the father irrespective of how much the father also loves his new child.
A key element in the development of that mother-baby bond comes from breast feeding. Because when a mother breast-feeds her child her body produces oxytocin and that also is produced in the baby. Oxytocin could be seen as the ‘bonding agent’ between the two, reinforcing the bond. Or in the words of US National Library of Medicine: “Oxytocin is associated with the establishment and quality of maternal behavior in animal models.”[ix]
In Sweden, at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Professor Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg[x] believes that oxytocin plays a similar role between dogs and their owners. That the close and mutual interaction that so many owners have with their dogs triggers the release of oxytocin in both dog and owner: “If you have a dog you are much less likely to have a heart attack and, if you do, you are three to four times more likely to survive it.”
Why do we respond in such an amazing manner? Here are three ideas.
Firstly, by highlighting what Associate Professor Brian Hare of Duke University[xi] has discovered in his work of understanding the traits of domestication. That being that while the dog is not a socialised wolf, domestication has produced an animal, ergo the dog, that is like a juvenile wolf.
Secondly, and most notably, the last one hundred years or so of the breeding of dogs has produced even more changes in dogs that we humans see as cute and adorable. (There are now more than 400 different breeds of dog.)
Finally, Dr. Morten Kringelbach of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University[xii] explains that the need to nurture is very deep in us humans and that dogs produce an instinctive parental response in us that is very similar to our nurturing instinct for our children.
If the magic of having dogs in our lives for such a long time ended there it would still be breathtakingly wonderful. But dogs could now be offering us humans the capacity to understand many human diseases. Literally, our dogs could be saving our lives!
The challenge in understanding human diseases is that within our ‘breed’ there is a great variability of genes. Not surprising when one considers the incredible diversity and variation within us humans.
But when we turn to dogs then we have a bonus. For despite there being, as mentioned earlier, 400 or more different breeds of dog, within each breed dogs are very similar to each other. In other words, that narrow gene pool within a specific dog breed makes if far easier to pinpoint genetic mutations than it is in humans.
Elinor Karlsson is the director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.[xiii] As a geneticist, Dr. Karlsson has identified, “hundreds of diseases common to dogs and humans”. In 2005, the dog’s genome was fully mapped; all 2.4 billion letters of the dog’s genome code.
Among those common diseases between us humans and our wonderful dogs are diabetes, cardiac diseases, epilepsy, many cancers especially bone cancers, and breast cancer and even brain tumours.
Yes, of course, dogs are extremely more proficient than us humans in such aspects as their sense of smell or their ability to herd. Many would extend that proficiency of dogs to their sense of loyalty and forgiveness, to and of us humans, but that all pales into insignificance when compared to what our understanding of dogs is giving us.
No less than the capacity to help cure many of our diseases, to deeply understand the workings of the human mind, and above all else, the insight into our very existence.
Acknowledgement; I am very grateful to the BBC Horizon television programme The Secret Life of Dogs, first broadcast early 2010, for stimulating me to study much of the research presented in this essay.
[ii] Binford, Louis (1986). “Human ancestors: Changing views of their behavior”. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 3: 235–57.
[iv] “Fossil Reanalysis Pushes Back Origin of Homo sapiens”. Scientific American. Stuttgart: Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. February 17, 2005. ISSN 0036-8733. Retrieved 2015-05-04. The oldest fossil remains of anatomically modern humans are the Omo remains, which date to 195,000 (±5,000) years ago and include two partial skulls as well as arm, leg, foot and pelvis bones.
[vii] Prof. Daniel Mills. University of Lincoln
About the author
Paul Handover is a child of the post-war era in Great Britain having been born in London just six months before the end of World War II. After a rather shaky attempt at being educated, including two years studying for a diploma in electrical engineering, his first job was as a commercial apprentice at the British Aircraft Corporation in Hertfordshire, England. Paul has travelled widely through his work, spending some time living in Australia before returning to the UK to build his own company.
In 2007, Paul met his present wife and fellow-born Londoner, Jean, who for many years had been rescuing homeless dogs from the streets of San Carlos, Mexico where she then lived. Paul subsequently moved out with Pharaoh, his German Shepherd dog, to be with Jean, and in 2010 the couple, along with 14 dogs and 5 cats, moved to the USA eventually settling in Southern Oregon close to the small town of Merlin. In July, 2009 Paul started writing a blog under the same name as this book, a blog that the author still maintains on a daily basis.
Find and Follow Paul
There’s a tiny amount of domesticated wolf in all of us. The relationship between canids and humans goes back nearly 40,000 years, when dogs split away from wolves. With our dogs, we have traveled the ancient track from hunter-gatherers to modern humans. However, this track now seems to offer an uncertain future for humankind and society.
Learning from Dogs shows how and why now, more than ever, we humans need to learn from our dogs. At times the book relates personal stories through autobiography, diary, and blog entries. Other times it reinforces a point with speculative and imaginative fictional narrative. Throughout the book, there is a foundation about the history of wolves, dogs, and humans, as the author injects factual research to assist us to more fully understand the importance of this unique relationship.
With just the right blend of humor, story-telling, perception, compassion, and insight, the author shares his unusual perspective and how he came to share what he’s learned through a lifetime of observation and interaction with dogs.
Readers who love dogs, or any animals, will connect with this book and become more fully aware of why our animal friends are valuable to learn from to help us heal the challenges of the 21st century. Occasionally launching into intellectual tangents that will provide intrigue and inspiration for the heart and soul, the book ultimately returns to the central thesis: “What we can (and should) learn from dogs.”
Pat Shipman, retired adjunct professor of anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University, and the author of The Animal Connection and The invaders; How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, described the book as, “both wise and thoughtful. It also includes some of the best writing about the intimate and special relationship between dogs and humans I have ever read.”
Fifty per cent of the net proceeds from this book are being donated to the
Rogue Valley Humane Society.
Free promotion for writers, artists, poets and photographers.