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How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends [Hardcover]

Mark Derr
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 27 Oct 2011 --  
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Book Description

27 Oct 2011
That the dog evolved from the wolf is an accepted fact of evolution and history, but the question of how wolf became dog has remained a mystery, obscured by myth and legend. How the Dog Became the Dog illustrates how the dog was an evolutionary inevitability in the nature of the wolf and its human soul mate. How the Dog Became the Dog presents the 'domestication' of the dog as a biological and cultural process that began in mutual cooperation and has taken a number of radical turns. At the end of the last Ice Age the first dogs emerged with their humans from refuges against the cold. In the eighteenth century, humans began the drive to exercise full control of dog reproduction, life, and death to complete the domestication of the wolf begun so long ago.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Press; 1 edition (27 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590207000
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590207000
  • ASIN: 1590207009
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.3 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,129,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Derr's real affinity for canines comes through strongly, and the book should appeal to dog lovers with a curiosity about the origins of their favourite companion.' --Publishers Weekly

'The most important book written on the subject since Konrad Lorenz wrote Man Meets Dog in 1949. This book will fascinate anyone who has ever loved a dog' --Scottie Westfall, author of the Retrieverman blog

'In his latest book, renowned author and dog expert, Mark Derr, shows that one can be scientifically rigorous and still write a highly engaging and accessible account of how the dog became the dog... If you have to decide which dog book to read among the many that are available, this clearly is the one to choose because of its scientific accuracy and easy-to-read style.' Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals. -- 'A particularly ambitious and detailed version of how the wandering wolf became the drifting dog ... Derr isn't just a dog fancier, one realizes, but a kind of dog nationalist ... Dogs began as allies, not pets and friends, not dependents.' --Adam Gopnik, The NewYorker --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Mark Derr is the author of Dog's Best Friend and A Dog's History of America. He writes regularly for Atlantic Monthly, Natural History, Smithsonian and the New York Times. He lives in Miami Beach, Florida. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, but not enough references 15 Dec 2011
The writer has a lot of good ideas, but there's not enough references. It is well written and entertaining to read, but you cannot call it an overview of the evolution of the dog, because the writer is guessing what happened. I was very dissapointed about the academic presence of the book, the writer is not able to strengthen his hypotheses. It's a shame, because I actually think he has got it right. Instead it is just a discussion about how the dog could have arisen.

You can choose to read it to get a point of view about how the evolution of the dog could have occured.

I miss paintings or pictures, there's absolutely no illustrations!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Speedy service 21 Jun 2014
By Molly
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Receive the book swiftly, but got a different cover.
It isn't a big deal but I got a little confused at first. haha
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great anthropology 10 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An erudite analysis of why we live with wolves, and why they live with us. Hugely informative and thought-provoking. Get a copy for your dog.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book 31 July 2014
By Hazel
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
liked the book, I have 2 GSDs myself so they are my wolves
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.1 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Knowledge 13 Nov 2011
By Kevin Behan - Published on
If one wants to understand the nature of dogs, this is a must read. First of all, beware critical reviews that fail to address the specifics of the argument Derr is making, which he backs up with the latest science woven into a logical train of speculation, the connective tissue in any theory, and which is clearly delineated as such. These critics use a vague complaint in lieu of critical argument. Expect a lot of resistance to Derr's thesis due to the current state of political correctness in dogdom which is trying to write the wolf out of the domestic dog's makeup, most especially to counteract the media phenomenon of Cesar Milan. (Ironically several years ago Mark Derr wrote an Op Ed piece in the NY Times entitled: "Pack of Lies" rebutting Milan's approach.) This is straight science by an accomplished scientific journalist and if you're willing to consider a fuller as well as the latest findings on how the dog became the dog, this book should sit right next to Coppinger's "Dogs" in your library. And then let them have at it in your mind.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Did this book have an editor? 30 Nov 2011
By Spot - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
...I think not.

The concept is fascinating, but the writing mostly poor. And there is blatant lack of editing. Some sentences are unintelligible even after several tries. The books is almost painful to read as each page seems to have some kind of error ranging from the obvious (e.g. "146,000 to 123 years ago") to awkward wording.

I did read the whole thing although parts of it were repetitious. I feel like he went thru the same ice age 20 times. But still, there is a very interesting premise that dogs and humans co-evolved and it certainly is a new idea. I look forward to more research in this area.

The description of how dramatically different dogs' lives are now vs. even a few hundred years ago, especially in the first world, is quite enlightening. I had never thought about how we now control every aspect of the dogs' existence whereas before they were much more independent (and still are in poorer countries).
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slapdash and Sloppy Work 10 Jan 2012
By J. Libourel - Published on
I found this to be a disappointing book. (I had eagerly anticipated it.) It starts out by discussing the tracks of a boy and a wolf or "dogwolf" found in association in the famous Chauvet Cave. The author sets much store on this supposed association. He completely disregards the possibilities mentioned in Werner Herzog's recent documentary on the cave that wolf might have been stalking the boy...or that the tracks were made thousands of years apart.

I am not a trained paleontologist or paleoanthropologist, so I do not feel fully qualified to critique the major hypothesis of his book--that dogs arose from a very ancient hunting partnership between wolves and humans or even pre-humans. However, when I find numerous errors of fact in things I do know about, I tend to be distrustful of an author's assertions about matters where I can't claim expertise. For instance, on page 68 among the animals mentioned as part of the massive dying off of megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene, he includes the aurochs. In point of fact, the aurochs made it through that period just fine. Some were tamed by our Neolithic ancestors to become our domestic cattle. In their wild form, they were familiar to the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans (they were favorites of the Roman arena) and only became extinct in A.D. 1627. On the same page, the author evinces an old-fashioned prejudice against hyenas. In point of fact, hyenas can be very tame and affectionate if raised from cubs and can do almost anything a dog can as well or better. Although author Derr states, "There is no evidence that any human group tried to befriend them," in fact the ancient Egyptians did try domesticating them. The hyena's downfall as a human partner is their enormous appetite--they simply eat too much.

Again, on page 196, he mentions among the New World megafauna that were wiped out around the time of the arrival of humans, "giant rhinos" and "flightless rheas." There were no rhinos, giant or otherwise, in North America in the Pleistocene. The rheas still seem to be thriving over a large part of South America.

As I said, I am not a paleontologist. However, I do have a Ph.D. in ancient history, and I have studied the matter of dogs in antiquity somewhat intensely. On page 230, he says, "By the sixth century BC the Greeks recognized four groups of dogs: strong Laconian, or Spartan, hunting dogs; slow, powerful Molossian guard dogs; Crete dogs, crosses of Laconian and Molossian; and Melitan, a small, long-haired, short-legged dog." Now how do we know this? There is nothing notable on dogs in Greek literature before the fourth century. Since the Molossian dog was used for running down hares, it could not have been a "slow, powerful guard dog." This misidentification of the ancient Molossus dog with the mastiffs was the work of Renaissance humanists . Much of the rest of what he says about dogs in the Greek and Roman world is a mere regurgitation of 19th century romantic nonsense. I have been able to find no evidence that the Romans practiced dogfighting or used dogs against large carnivores in the arena.

In all, the book strikes me sloppily researched and poorly documented.

A final bit of evidence of the pervasive sloppiness of this book can be found on page 230, where the author attempts a sort of paraphrase of Homer and refers to "Emmaus, the swineherd for Odysseus." The faithful swineherd's name can be transliterated as "Eumaeus" or "Eumaios." Emmaus is a village in Judea mentioned in the Gospel of St. Luke! This may be nit-picky of me, but if the man is going paraphrase Homer, he ought at least to get the names right! I have to wonder if the copy editor was also asleep at the wheel!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag 7 Jan 2012
By PamandJana - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am not surprised that this book has both strongly positive and strongly negative reviews. There is a lot of information in this book, much of it firmly backed up with the latest scientific research, but I have to agree with the reviewers who questioned the editing: the book is poorly organized and the same facts, anecdotes, and theories appear over and over again. Having been a student of Mark Derr's in a graduate-level class on the history of dog breeds, I know that he has a lot of knowledge but is often disorganized in presenting it. This is why authors have editors; the editors did not come through here.

What I like most about Mark Derr's presentation of the history of the dog's evolution is that he juxtaposes the various theories and points out where they overlap, where they contradict, and where they must obviously be incorrect. He does say that the theories are only scientists' best guesses based on the archaeological and anthropological evidence available at the time they were generated -- so the critics who question the scientific / factual basis of the book are, I think, just being petty.

I also enjoy Derr's attempts to look at domestication from the dog/wolf's viewpoint. As humans, we tend to look at things in the way that is most beneficial or complimentary to humans, but anyone who's spent time with dogs knows that dogs are just as good at (or better at) "training" humans to behave in ways that benefit them as humans are at training dogs. Derr points out that domestication was a choice made by both parties and that benefits both -- a partnership view of the human-dog relationship that seems more fair and honest than only looking at what humans can and do gain from living and working with the dog.

Much of the information in this book can be found in other books, but this book pulls it together and critically analyzes it in a new and interesting way. I recommend it as a resource for anyone who is seriously interested in studying and understanding dogs.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well documented summary of dog-human co-evolution 6 Mar 2012
By Baxter Pass - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a geologist, 'dog guy' and occasional K9 trainer, I greatly enjoyed this book. Mr. Derr has summarized current scientific literature on dog-human evolution (including genome research) and presented it in layman's terms and in a very readable way. He includes relevant archeological history, particularly canine/ human migration routes and settlement patterns.

Derr's work is well researched and grounded in peer reviewed anthropological and archeological writings that most lay persons would not otherwise be aware of. It would be a good read as an ebook; less scientifically inclined readers and non-archeologists could easily look up or 'wiki' unfamiliar terms.

This book may be overly challenging for readers seeking a simple story of canine evolution. From negative reviews, it's clear some readers were not looking for such an in depth work and were obviously frustrated. Derr targets readers with a deep curiosity about canine development, willing to read an academic level book.

Derr's central thesis, that canines first partnered with humans during our ice age hunter-gatherer days (Paleolithic) instead of our early agrarian period (Neolithic or Mesolithic) makes great sense. We are both hunting species and natural wanderers. By cooperating, we improved our mutual odds of survival. Also enjoyed life more.

His description of the ancient Russian burial site, with the human child's hand resting on the dog or wolf's skeleton, moved me deeply.

Derr contrasts 'domestication' of wolves against livestock such as cattle and sheep. Wolves largely self-domesticated, training humans to value them as much as we trained canines to value us. This keyholes with observations of anthropologists that affinity for canines is a positive attribute in the human gene pool; aversion to canines a negative, often associated with sociopaths.

As a German Shepherd Dog owner, I have no difficulty seeing the close association of dogs with wolves, especially northern working breeds. I especially liked Derr's point that only two species on this planet are highly social both within their species and toward another species: Canis lupus and Homo sapiens. Wolves, dogs and humans form packs or clans greater than extended families and also bond closely with a completely different species. As Derr says, "this is not typical primate behavior."

Derr strongly rebuts coercive training methods. He makes the case that had early humans treated dogs in the manner some aggressive trainers suggest, wolves never would have associated with us. Dogs do things that make them feel good, and thus respond far better to positive training methods. Wolves surely are the same.

Much of what Derr wrote on dog evolution is consistent with writings (1923) of Max von Stephanitz, 'father' of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD). Von Stephanitz was a soldier, not a scientist, but he applied what was then known of paleontology and anthropology to the evolution of dogs and arrived at very similar conclusions to Derr's.

Von Stephanitz's "dog of the Bronze Age" (direct ancestor to the GSD) fits in a general way with Derr's observations on European dogs. I would like to know Derr's opinion on the closeness of early GSD and wolves, and how far back he sees the GSD and Belgian Shepherd-Malinois line originating.

Derr and von Stephanitz have different opinions on selective dog breeding (line breeding) and I find value in each of their observations. Both advocate humane treatment, minimal kenneling and lots of love for our dogs.

Note: von Stephanitz's _The German Shepherd Dog In Word And Picture_ is now available as an ebook (epub format) or for kindle; affordable and well worth reading for an early 20th century view on GSD and working dogs in general. But don't buy it if you are looking for tight editing ;-)

I am not a high literati, just a simple guy who enjoys well reasoned applied science. So the negative reviews seemed a bit off target to me, especially the complaints about editing. Yes, the editing could have been tighter. But today we see typos and sloppy editing even in _The New York Times_. Young readers, growing up in the age of blogs and texting, really don't care. Perhaps this is a good thing; one no longer need be an artful writer to be published. Just have something useful to say. Content is king, not style. We older readers have to grip it up and live with it.

Overall this is a wonderful, readable and thoughtful book that any dog lover should enjoy. And learn a lot from.
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