Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour, and Evolution was written by behavioural scientists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger who have raised hundreds of different dogs of various breeds, raced sled teams, and published professional and popular works on canine behaviour. This book, their manifesto, covers their views of canine evolution and treatment by humans and offers deep insight, provoking theories, and controversial ideas regarding our relationship with them. Though some of the material is most appropriate for readers with some zoological background, much of it is written for a general audience–one that cares about dogs not just for what they offer humans, but for their own sake. Arguing that much of current thinking about dogs’ evolutionary history is misguided, they share their own rather complex story of wolf-like animals coevolving with permanent human settlements and only recently being subject to directed breeding and artificial selection. This is interesting enough, but they go on to take issue with the use and treatment of dogs, some of which they claim is bad for dog and human alike. Pure breeding, making companion animals of inappropriate breeds, and even some uses of disability assistance are assailed for neglecting genetic and other hardwired aspects of canine life. Surprisingly little is known for sure about dogs’ lives and behaviour, so the Coppingers’ contribution is a welcome, if occasionally unsettling, eye-opener. –Rob Lightner
Biologists, breeders and trainers, and champion sled dog racers, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger have more than four decades of experience with literally thousands of dogs. Offering a scientifically informed perspective on canines and their relations with humans, the Coppingers take a close look at eight different types of dogs – household, village, livestock guarding, herding, sled-pulling, pointing, retrieving, and hound. They argue that dogs did not evolve directly from wolves, nor were they trained by early humans; instead, dogs domesticated themselves to exploit a new ecological niche: Mesolithic village dumps. Tracing the evolution of today’s breeds from these village dogs, the Coppingers show how characteristic shapes and behaviors – from pointing and baying to the sleek shapes of running dogs – arise from both genetic heritage and the environments in which pups are raised. For both dogs and humans to get the most out of each other, we need to understand and adapt to the biological needs and dispositions of our canine companions, just as they have to ours.