I’ll start off by saying I really enjoyed reading Terrill’s Part Wild, even if I didn’t agree with her life choices at times. I have had a lifelong fascination with wolf-dogs, so reading about Inyo and her life was entertaining. The book didn’t necessarily stimulate any new thoughts or questions about the relationship between wolves and dogs and how dogs came to be domesticated, but it did reinforce some theories I’d already had.
I liked that Terrill kept coming back to looking at the process of domestication of the dog from all different aspects: behavioral, morphological, and genetic. To me, wolf and dog are the same species, but I feel like a wolf is more like a breed of dog (albeit a very estranged breed) than an ancestral link in the chain. While we were domesticating dogs in all shapes and sizes, wolves were undergoing their own changes as a species, and most of these changes were probably the exact opposite of what we bred into the domestic dog: distrust of humans, tendency to avoid human civilization, and looking at us as predators more than providers. This brings me back to something I’ve been wondering since talking about Belyaev’s foxes: the researchers bred the foxes into two distinct groups- domestic, and aggressive. Could this be what happened to the common ancestor of dogs and wolves? Those with the slightly higher tendency to be curious about their neighbors the humans, who didn’t mind their company, and who could develop a bond with them would be those whose descendents became the domestic dog. On the other hand, the tendency to avoid human society and distrust what could be perceived as threat was exacerbated in the strain which became modern-day wolves. I see their common ancestor as on more of a middle-ground behaviorally, with wolves and dogs at the two polar extremes, due to inbreeding and selection (natural or artificial).
One thing that does irk me is that people have a tendency to refer to all domestic dogs in a general sense, as one entity whose behavior is constant between individuals. Dogs are more complex than that. Different breeds show different behavioral traits- how could a Chihuahua possibly show the same behavioral tendencies as a St. Bernard? But even deeper than on a breed level, different individual dogs have different personalities. They aren’t as complex as human personalities, to be sure, but anyone who has owned dogs, who has watched them interact and watched other dogs can tell you that they exist. Dogs have personal preferences, distastes, and habits which start developing as soon as they’re born. From research papers I’ve read on behavioral analysis in wolves, it appears they have something akin to personalities as well, however the research is not generalizable enough to be sure. Given the circumstances, we can’t expect wolves to have as much individual differences- it wouldn’t be a good survival mechanism for pack animals.
Discussion of personality is a good segue into what really interests me when discussing wolves and dogs: intelligence. Terrill believes that dogs are the mentally retarded cousins of wolves, bred only to be blindly obedient and want only affection and care. After her experience with Panzer, I can understand her point of view. After all, who should we consider more intelligent, the wolf-dog who avoided the cars, or the dog who got hit and was killed? But I disagree with her train of thought. After all, dogs ride the subway in Russia (http://abcnews.go.com/International/Technology/stray-dogs-master-complex-moscow-subway-system/story?id=10145833) with no problems. So which is really the more intelligent- dogs or wolves? I guess the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. In the human world, dogs will come out on top; in the wild, a wolf is definitely more able to survive. Knowing this makes it all the more heart-wrenching when reading about Inyo, who doesn’t belong in either place. It supports the belief that the practice of purposefully breeding wolf-dogs should be put to a stop. It will not fix the issues that have cropped up in modern dogs, as Leda believes; only give rise to a breed who can’t survive in either world.