Mad dogs of Wapping – not your ideal pet
It’s a long time since the dog and the wolf were the same species
There are wolves among us. They are living among us. They are in our homes. We invite them in. We pay for the privilege. Our money goes to ensuring their comfort, their food, their recreation. We give them our loyalty and we believe they give us theirs, but we are wrong. They are wolves.
Sometimes they seem almost like us. Sometimes we believe they know what we are thinking. We convince ourselves that they not only understand our values, but share them. Do they? They are wolves.
Sometimes we think they are, at the very least, a bit odd. Their behaviour mystifies us. They are drawn to excrement and corruption, to unseemliness and decay. They wallow in the mire, they drink from poisoned wells, they consume unclean things and vomit them up again, defiling our homes.
They salivate over filth, drooling from their slack wrinkled snouts. They navigate by stink, sniffing the air for decay. They seem to hear things which we cannot.
Sometimes we look at them and think, "How noble". But they are not noble. They are base. They are driven entirely by greed, owe no loyalty, feel no affection, have simply learnt how to dissemble to get what they want. And when they don't get it they snarl and bite, and when they lose they cower and shuffle on their bellies and foul our quarters.
So much for those News Corp executives writhing and straining on their leashes over the last few days. What about real dogs?
In a wonderfully humane, calmly-written and curiously moving new book, biologist John Bradshaw, founder of the University of Bristol Anthrozoology department, gently disposes of the myth that not just corrupt sleazy cowardly dissimulating media executives but also dogs are wolves.
So long has gone by since wolf and dog diverged that they are no longer the same species nor have the same psychology. And it has been a long time. The oldest known human footprints are in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche: they are those of a nine-year-old child, and close beside them, so that their bodies must have been touching as they walked along, are the footprints of a dog. Side by side they walked along, twenty-six thousand years ago.
Twenty-six thousand years. There they were, child and dog: how like us they must have been, and how entirely and unfathomably different. Next time you go for a walk with your dog, think of that child and its dog, all those thousands of years ago, peering into a cave by torchlight. We've come on since then, but some things still link us.
A dog, says Bradshaw, wants to be part of the family; it wants to enjoy its life; preferably, it would like to work at the job it was bred for. It gets anxious when we leave it. It can read our body language with extraordinary precision. It releases more of nature's love-bomb, oxytocin, when cuddled by a human than when fooling with its fellow canids.
The moral of this lovely book, illuminating for everyone who has or is thinking of having a dog, is: were you a dog, how would you hope to be treated by your family? Dominance is nothing to do with it. Ignore people who say you must relentlessly dominate your dog; they have been misled by studies of wolves in unnatural captivity.
Perhaps, Bradshaw thinks, it's promoted by people who merely want to assert themselves, to punish and go on punishing. Which brings us back to Murdoch and his crew. Sometimes a rescue shelter is the only answer.
• In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw, Allen Lane. ISBN 978-1-846-14295-6 ·
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