Women influenced the coevolution of dogs and humans
A man’s best friend might actually belong to a woman.
In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found that several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting, and, surprisingly, gender.
“We found that dog relationships with women could have a greater impact on dog-human relationships than relationships with men,” said Jaime Chambers, Ph.D. Student and lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person when the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life than topics of affection were treated and people in general were more considerate of them. “
While dogs are the oldest and most widely distributed domesticated animal, very few anthropological studies have focused directly on humans’ relationship with dogs. When the WSU researchers searched the extensive collection of ethnographic documents in the Human Relations Area Files database, they found thousands of mentions of dogs.
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Ultimately, they found data from more than 844 ethnographers writing over 144 traditional subsistence-level societies from around the world. Looking at these cultures can provide insight into how the relationship between dogs and humans has evolved, Chambers said.
“Our modern society is like a slip in the timeline of human history,” she said. “The truth is, human-dog relationships have not looked like what they did in western industrial societies for much of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a broader vision.”
The researchers identified specific cases that showed the benefit or usefulness of dogs to humans and human benefits to dogs, as well as the “personality” of dogs – when canines were treated like humans, e.g. B. when they were given names in which they could sleep in the same beds or mourn when they died.
A pattern emerged showing that the benefits humans had for dogs, and dogs’ personality, increased when women were more involved with dogs.
Another prevailing trend concerned the environment: the warmer the overall climate, the less useful dogs were to humans.
“Compared to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” said Robert Quinlan, professor of anthropology at WSU and corresponding author of the paper. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a little exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We have seen this trend that they are less useful to people in warmer environments. “
Quinlan noted that there were a few exceptions with some dog-loving cultures in the tropics, but it was a pretty consistent trend.
Hunting also seemed to strengthen the bond between dog and human. In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were valued more by their human partners: they were higher in terms of the usefulness of dogs to humans and in terms of personality. However, these values declined as food production increased, whether it was growing crops or raising livestock. This finding appeared to contradict the popular belief that herding dogs work alongside humans. Quinlan noted, however, that in many cultures, herding dogs often work alone, while hunting requires more intensive collaboration.
This study complements the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans purposely sought out wolf pups to raise themselves. In both cases, there were clear benefits for the dogs, Chambers said.
“Dogs are everywhere people are,” she said. “If we believe that dogs thrive as a species, when there are many of them, then they could thrive. They bonded to us and followed us around the world. It was a very successful relationship. “