National Geographic

How To Evolve a Dog’s Brain (And A Human One, While We’re At It)

It’s Thursday, and that means that I’m publishing my next piece for Matter, my weekly column for the New York Times. Today, I take a look at dogs. Last month I wrote in the Times about cognitive scientists playing games with dogs to probe their behavior. But that’s just part of the story of canine research these days. There are also geneticists out there looking at the same question from a different perspective. They want to find the genes that evolved over the past 30,000 years or so to turn the brain of a wolf into the brain of a dog. The answers are now starting to emerge, and they’re fascinating. They may, in fact, tell us a lot about how we became humans. Check it out!

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  1. Susan Leslie
    May 16, 2013

    Several years ago, I found a stray dog, that appeared to be a Samoyed, Siberian cross. She was white with fur that in the summer, had black tips on the white fur. In the winter she was pure white, so I named her Sugar. She was about 9 months old or less, when she came to me in a thunder storm. I had Sugar for about 14 months, when the people who used to have her, found us. I had dedicated my time and love in training her and I refused to give her back. Later that day while she was in the yard, her old owners tried to coax her to go with them and she actually put the run on them. That is when I knew that Sugar’s heart belonged to me. She was the most wonderful, obedient and gentle dog I have ever had. She did have one wild trait which was the fear of being trapped inside without being accompanied, especially in a storm. One day while I was shopping, a well meaning family member, opened my door and put Sugar inside. When I returned home I was greated by Sugar as usual. When I got inside upstairs, I saw that she had destroyed the window sill and had torn the screen into 1 inch pieces before openning the window and jumping from the second floor. Another time she was put in the garage and she chewed a large piece of a metal door before destroying the door frame and escaped to the outside. She would never leave my property and never needed to be tied. She seemed to know exactly where the boundaries were. I did lose her for almost three months because she was home alone when an unexpected thunderstorm put her in a panic and I asume she was off looking for me. Another family found her and kept her chained. Luckily she wasn’t far and a friend of mine found her and I quickly went and claimed her back. I finally lost Sugar to cancer at 12 yrs. of age. In spite of her fear of storms and being trapped inside alone, she remains the best dog I have ever had. R.I.P. SUGAR :( I love and miss you more than I can express. <3 <3 <3 :)

  2. Susan Leslie
    May 16, 2013

    I neglected to mention that when the old owners found us, they told me that they had purchased Sugar from Inuits, north of Winnipeg. She was a white wolf, exactly like the wolves at the Toronto zoo. I understand that I was one of the lucky people who was able to keep a wolf for a lifetime with only 3 minor mishaps….I feel I was blessed.

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