Of Our Dogs and of Our Origins

Summer Fundraiser 2016, Day Five

We’re rolling up towards the end of our fundraising week — just this weekend left to go, and then we’re done with our exhortations to our readers to make the tip cup clink and help keep the lights on at Gates of Vienna.

Tip jarThe last couple of days have seen quite a few new donors from out West. I strongly suspect that most of them were prompted by WRSA to come over here — they’re from Red States in the heartland of the USA, just like the Second Amendment people that read WRSA every day. In any case, thanks to all of you! Lots and lots of modest donations really add up, you know.

The theme of this week’s fundraiser is “Dog Days”, in reference to these oppressive August days we’re enduring right now. At least we are here in the Mid-Atlantic States — it might not be so bad out in Seattle and Vancouver or up in Montreal. And down in Melbourne and Sydney it’s the middle of the winter — which doesn’t sound all that bad right now.

The weather’s been monsoon-like here for weeks. When it’s not raining, it’s hot and steamy. Whenever I venture outside, the insects feast on me like piranha, unless I suit up in advance to thwart them.

Normally I would forgo mowing the lawn during fundraising week — the pace is just too hectic to leave much spare time — but the tropical rainforest outside our front door could no longer be ignored. So last night, in the relative cool of the evening, I suited up and went outside to clear some space in the undergrowth. Everything was so wet that the lawnmower kept clogging up — I had to shut it off repeatedly to clean out the thick tar-like mass that had accumulated around the blade and made the thing inoperable. The sodden green glop, a mixture of chlorophyll and cellulose, plopped out in big steamy piles. It looked like a herbivorous dinothere had dropped a great load of digestive byproducts on our driveway.

Boy, was I glad to come back into the air conditioning.

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This kind of dog-days weather makes me think of an old hound dog lying on the porch with his tongue hanging out. I’m aware that the term “Dog Days” originated in antiquity, when the Greeks and Romans associated the brutal summer weather with the early-morning rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. But when I was a kid, I assumed it referred to a hot, panting dog, and the image has stuck with me ever since.

The etymology of the word “dog” is interesting, because it has almost none. It left no record before late Old English (docga), and all the foreign words that contain a version of it were borrowed from English. Its origin is simply unknown.

Like the speakers of other Germanic languages, the English had originally preferred to use “hound”, which is related to hund, hond, and other Germanic variants. Eventually, however, “dog” supplanted the word, and “hound” developed a more specialized meaning, referring to a hunting or tracking dog.

The Germanic hund can be traced all the way back to a common Indo-European root that looks something like kwn, with the voiced guttural version of the “k” later metamorphosing into an “h”. In other languages the “k” remained, giving rise to kuon in Greek and providing us with the word “cynic”. In Latin, through an obscure transformation, it became canis, giving us “canine” and “kennel”.

The other Indo-European languages use words derived from the same root. But for some unknown reason the English settled on “dog”.

The word has developed ancillary meanings in composite words and linguistic variants. Sometimes the sense is intuitively obvious, as in “dogging his footsteps”. And a “sundog” dogs the sun, I suppose. But what about a “firedog” — was it originally forged to look like a dog, or were the dog ornaments inspired by the already-existing term?

The root sense of these composites is that of a companion or follower — someone who follows you or sticks close to your side. Canis familiaris, a part of the family. So it has been since the dim mists of prehistory — the first dog was domesticated thousands of years before any other animal.

The origin of the word is obscure, but what about the animal itself? When did we humans first develop a close rapport with Man’s Best Friend?

Like the word, the origin of the dog itself is also somewhat obscure…

Genetic evidence for the evolution of the dog is a hodge-podge, because so many varieties have cross-bred with one another and hybridized with wolves.

We know that the gray wolf and the dog share a common ancestor, which is now extinct. We know that the two species diverged from each other around 30,000 years ago.

We know that there are two distinct genetic lines, so that the canid that became the domestic dog seems to have been domesticated at least twice in separate locations, with the two breeds eventually overlapping and mixing.

We know that the dog was probably domesticated somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic, before the last glacial maximum.

Beyond that we can only speculate. But very early in the development of modern humans, dogs were treated almost like fellow human beings: as soon as cemeteries appeared, dogs were buried in them facing in the same direction as the humans, and with grave goods like their masters’.

The most intriguing aspect of the domestication process is neurological. Based on various details of brain functions, it appears that humans and dogs co-evolved. That is, dogs domesticated humans as much as humans domesticated dogs.

30,000 years is a long time, and the human brain has evolved significantly during that period. In the process of domestication, both we and our dogged companions evolved the neural connections and instincts to enable interspecies communication. Dogs instinctively read human faces and body language, but humans also read the same types of signal in dogs. We are attuned to one another.

The relationship between dogs and humans evolved in the tundra of Eurasia during the Ice Age. Both species needed to cooperate among themselves to hunt the large mammals on which they subsisted. The evolution of cooperation between the two species enhanced the survival of both. The brain structures that evolved for those purposes are with us still.

It may even be that modern humans learned some of their cooperative skills from dog packs. Did we see dogs sharing among themselves, and adopt the same behaviors? Was human friendship modeled on the observed loyalty of a dog for his pack-mates? No one knows for sure.

But what we do know for certain is that human beings and dogs are neurologically and evolutionarily bound to one another. The two species are symbionts, and the idea that dogs are somehow the junior partner in the relationship is having to be rethought. They’re looking more and more like equal partners.

Thus, when Muslims shun dogs as “unclean” they are doing something that is deeply unnatural. To misuse and abuse dogs is actually against human nature. Rejecting Canis familiaris means overriding instinctive companionable behaviors and replacing them with aversive, hostile learned behaviors.

It’s yet another indication that Islamic ideology has created in its adherents a deformation of the human spirit. Psychologically, behaviorally, spiritually, and evolutionarily — Islam is literally inhuman.

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Yester-dog-day’s donations came in from:

Stateside: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Texas, and Virginia

Near Abroad: Canada and Mexico

Far Abroad: Croatia, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK

The title of this post is a reference to the final stanza of “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens:

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

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20 thoughts on “Of Our Dogs and of Our Origins

  1. The attraction (Ark) is being protested by “Free” Thinkers. That’s ironic. It’s “free thinking” for them, but not free for others. What hypocrites! . . . and why do they feel so threatened by the beliefs of others when those beliefs – unlike Islam – do not make any threats against them? These protesters are the Taliban of the Left. I have not seen these cowards protesting outside mosques. Hmmmm . . . I wonder why that could be. [For the record: I am not a fundamentalist-creationist; and I do not believe that the earth is a mere 6000 years old. I prefer the record of evidence. But I also believe that people are free to believe what they wish, provided that they do not impede on the property of others by acting on their beliefs or other impulses.]

  2. If you don’t believe a dog is man’s best friend – try putting your spouse (gender neutral) and your dog inside the trunk of your car for a couple hours; and when you open it up – see which one is glad to see you.

    • Another great experiment, though probably a thought-experiment, is to make both you cat and your dog like 20 times larger and see which one will obey you and which one will eat you. Cats are not our friends.

      • “Cats are not our friends.”

        Of course not! Why would they befriend their servants?

      • I guess you missed the saying, “Dogs have owners, Cats have staff”? 🙂

        I never understood the connection w/dogs or why people would even be interested in dogs–I was a cat-only person–until a girlfriend asked me in 1995 to make sure her poor dog got a walk at least once a day while she was away for six weeks on her honeymoon. She had a house-sitter, so the dog had potty chances at will, but he needed those extra smells and some exercise, from someone reliable (house-sitter was kind to animals, but a flake).

        I walked the dog (a Keeshond), took him to the local dog park, watched him interact with other dogs, watched him interact with *me* and with the house-sitter. For about two and a half weeks.

        Sometime during week three, I realized that the Keeshond was firing up parts of my brain I had never known were there. “Wow, this is interesting,” I thought. I read a couple of positive-reinforcement dog-training books (maybe Ian Dunbar of Sirius Dog Training fame?) and started right in.

        Keeshond was 8 or so years old. Girlfriend had said that he was “too old” to learn new tricks/behaviors, so of course I took this as a challenge.

        And of course you’ve all guessed it already: Keeshond learned a new trick a week and couldn’t WAIT to show his “mommy” when she and new hubby returned!

        She and I opened a pet-sitting biz shortly thereafter which only died because I was later offered a full-time teaching job.

  3. Dogs (bless them) seem to be genetically unique; no other species can produce such a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations. Might almost convince unbelievers like myself that God has a plan.

    • Or that He has a tremendous sense of humor! Just think: from the Chihuahua to the Neapolitan Mastiff….

  4. I agree that shunning dogs is unnatural for humans. But sometimes human nature wins out over Islamic teachings. I remember seeing in Turkey a young man running a carpet stall who had a puppy from the Kangal breed, a large livestock guardian type of dog. He allowed this puppy to sleep atop a large pile of carpets and kilims that were for sale. He didn’t seem concerned that the light coloured hair shed by the puppy might put off some prospective buyers. I found this heartwarming. But generally what I saw was more akin to neglect and abuse.

    Baron, I have a small request: could you indicate what Canadian provinces your donors come from, please? Canada is one huge country! And since we neighbour the United States we don’t really think of ourselves as being “abroad.”

    • Yes, I want to include the provinces. The same for the states in Australia, actually. The problem is this: locations are identified automatically, via program code that I wrote to extract the information from PayPal’s email notice. Determining the country has already been done; that’s fairly easy because the format is clear and consistent. The formatting for the USA — City, State Zip before country — was not too hard to parse, so I extract the state from that. But Canadian addresses use a different protocol, and I haven’t yet figured out the parsing algorithm to get the province out of there. But I’ll get it done eventually; it will just take a while.

      In the early days I used to do it all by hand, but thanks to the growth of our readership, that is no longer possible!

      • Thanks for the reply, Baron. As far as I know Canada Post requires the same format as you mention for the USA – City, Province, Postal Code, and then country. But not everyone here follows it. Good luck sorting it all out.

        • In PayPal notices, a Canadian address is not formatted the same way as a US address on a line-by-line basis. That means looking at different lines in the text via code. It’s not all that difficult, but it takes time to code it.

  5. It’s been long understood that dogs can perceive the unseen world around us, like evil spirits and such.
    Strange that Gabriel refused to visit our (Man) Mo’s tent while Aisha’s puppy was in there.

    Sahih Muslim 5246:
    Then he cast a glance (and by chance) found a puppy under his cot and said: Aisha, when did this dog enter here? She said: By Allah, I don’t know. He then commanded and it was turned out. Then Gabriel came and Allah’s Messenger said to him: You promised me and I waited for you, but you did not come, whereupon he said: It was the dog in your house which prevented me (to come), for we (angels) do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture.”

  6. Actually, Baron and Dymphna, it was reading GoV everyday (since the Red House/The Other 9-11 postings) that lead me to WRSA. A great source which lead to many others. Much thanks. Cheers! Also, thanks for the use of the Holger Danske avatar which I innocently “borrowed” from your site!

    • Speaking of Holger Danske, I suspect the time is nigh for that “other” eye to open. If the legend is to manifest itself for the sake of Christianity and the West, let’s hope (i.e. prepare) so.

  7. So many comments on the variety of types of dogs, as if it were the product of natural selection or God’s will. It is due to selective breeding people, man did it. He started with a sociable wolf (or a pair) and took it from there.

    • “Man” is not thought to have brought the “sociable wolf” into human dwellings. At least, that’s not the prevailing theory right now. Current discussion centers on how the wolves selected *us*: we had all this food and fire handy, so the wolves checked things out and, bit by bit, became less wary and closer to our kind.
      Conscious, selective breeding to develop new breeds seems to be fairly recent in human history (maybe only 2,000 or so years back, when the Romans still used dogs of war). Of course, selective breeding of the best to the best was practiced long before then.
      We know that many breeds are the result of selective breeding by people. The Golden Retriever (19th century) is possibly the most famous example, or in more recent times the re-creation of the Leonberger (post-WW II).
      But just try to tell me (or anyone else) that you can determine the 2nd-generation ancestors of a mixed-breed dog! I can usually tell a 1st-gen mixed-breed (e.g., a dog whose parents were a Border Collie and a Labrador Retriever). But if that mixed-breed dog mates with another mixed-breed dog, could you or I tell what its four grandparents were?
      That’s the randomness factor which *may* lead someone to develop a different breed, or it could simply lead, after a few generations of uncontrolled breeding among mixed-breed dogs (not my idea of a good time), to the “reversion to the norm”–a medium-sized, short-haired, non-descript or agouti colored dog with semi-perk ears being “the norm.”
      And that’s what’s so great about dogs: people can project almost anything, any idea, any ideal, onto them and find it.

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