Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Farm-fox Experiment

It is a well established fact that domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) are capable of forming strong social bonds with humans (Homo sapien). When raised as pets, dogs are friendly, devoted, affectionate, eager to please, and voluntarily seek out human contact. These traits are missing in wild canine species.

In the late 1950s, Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaeve began the Farm-fox Experiment to show that the silver fox (Vulpes vulpes) could be selectively bred to produce people-friendly offspring. The decades-long study revealed some interesting results.

Foxes for the breeding program were selected for their calm behavior, so it is no surprise to learn that trait was passed to offspring. The most unexpected change was the change in coat coloration that appeared in the eighth to tenth selected generations. A few pups had large areas of white on the head, chest, and tail--profoundly different from their wild relatives. The researchers also observed changes in reproductive cycle, skull size, and ear carriage (some pups had floppy ears).

Learn more:
Cornell University
Video clip from Nova TV broadcast about dogs (04:22)
Video clip about tame foxes (01:55)

A tame fox with tennis ball demonstrating dog-like behavior and showing dog-like coat characteristics. Photograph courtesy of Anna Kukekova.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sometimes smart

Scout is smart--sometimes.

At age 12 weeks, he sits on his place mat on the floor and waits, licking his chops, while I prepare his meal. Scout is a hard worker. He strips my Westie Casey's coat everyday. Scout is also very athletic. He can jump higher than Casey ever could. Scout is, however, a royal pain in the neck when it comes to house training. He runs all the way upstairs in a flash to my bedroom to do his business, when the doggy door to the backyard is two feet away. Oh! Did I say he's smart? Well, he is--sometimes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Best pet bet

Many mammals make excellent pets. Goat, sheep, pot bellied pig, pony, horse (of course), donkey, and mule are all fine examples. Then consider the small mammals, such as monkey, hamster, gerbil, rat, mouse, guinea pig, chinchilla, rabbit, ferret, cat, and dog. Recently I watched a TV program that featured a hippo named Jessica, who is making a very good pet for a South African family, and their dogs.

Jessica the pet hippo. (3:06)

Among all these choices, humans for the most part consider a cat or dog their best pet bet. And for good reasons, which will be explored here in future blog entries.