Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

National Geographic’s “Science of Dogs”

Posted 30 Oct 2010 / 0

I have a rather ambitious list of courses that I want to offer in the near future. As I have indicated before, one of the liberating features of my job as a professor at Pratt Institute is that pretty much any topic that makes my students more literate in the sciences of ecology and evolution is fair game for a course. A great many of my students really love animals, and so I have it in my head that I eventually will offer a series of “Evolution of…” courses aimed at particular species or groups of species. Probably offered as short 1-credit courses, I envision having a lot of fun looking at the evolution of corvids, cetaceans, and bats. But probably the most obvious choice for such a course would be to look at domesticated species. Clearly dogs are among the top choices for such a course.

I recently re-watched a National Geographic documentary called “Science of Dogs” that would provide an excellent introduction for such a course. I could easily see watching this video as the opening activity for my nascent “Evolution of Dogs” course, as it outlines most of the key issues of domesticated dog evolution that I would want to explore. It discusses the origin of dog domestication, provides some sense of how humans coevolved with dogs, and contrasts dog behaviors with that of wolves. It also discusses several cases of recent dog breeding efforts and briefly explains why dogs might be so malleable in response to human artificial selection. The harmful effects of inbreeding are covered through several examples as well. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this documentary is how it apologetically refers to our manipulation of dogs as a “massive eugenic experiment”, which I think is appropriately provocative as we enter an era where new genetic screening technology may allow us to begin to do the same with our own species.

Animal Domestication, Courses, Cultural Evolution, Ethics, Evolution, Film, Television, & Video, Human Evolution, Mutualism, Reviews, Teaching

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