But the changes did not just affect their looks.
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Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures. As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable.
Even our closest relatives—chimpanzees and bonobos—can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction. With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing.
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People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs. Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.
And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way. So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us.
As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us.
Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs , published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www. Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, National Geographic. Read Caption. Who made the first moves toward friendship, humans or dogs? They Domesticated Us. Scientists argue that friendly wolves sought out humans. A few have gone so far as to call it a dogman or even werewolf, although it was only seen running on all fours.
The witness had seen the news photos and felt that he should reveal what he had personally seen. At my request, he also drew the attached sketch of what he observed standing at the treeline of his own back yard less than a year ago. Just a glance at a map will confirm what a great habitat it would be for any wild canid. The witness has since moved from that area.
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He said I could call him Zach here, but I do have his full name for contact info. Here is his own account of the incident:. It was a humid summer night in July and the TV was acting up so I needed to go out and readjust the satellite like usual. I took a flash light and when I went outside it was usually quiet. Like so silent it was unnerving. I brushed the thought off and went to the dish which is in the corner of my yard. I went to work, making sure all the wires were alright and pointing it to a different angle.
Suddenly I heard I small snap of a stick to my left and turned the flashlight to the direction and I saw a creature standing there. I got a good look at it for what seemed like an eternity but was for only about ten seconds. I slowly backed off and ran back to the house and locked all the doors and windows.
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The creature was unlike anything I have ever seen before. When I shined the light at it, the first thing I saw was the head. It has cropped ears that pointed upwards. Its snout was narrower than a bears and longer and I could make out large teeth protruding from the jaw. Its eyes were a deep yellow, amber shade that seemed to reflect off the light I was pointing at it.
The body was muscular and huge. It had long arms that appeared to be longer than its legs. Broad shoulders that tapered into a skinnier waist.
It was slightly crouched over when I saw it, with one hand wrapped around a small tree. Even with the crouched position, it was about my height which is 6 foot. Standing up to full height this creature could easily be 7. The fur was black and thicker around the neck and chest and the bottom half significantly less so.
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Was it observing me or stalking me? For a creature this large is was deceivingly silent. It got within 15 yards of me without me noticing. All I knew was I needed to get out of there and not find out. But I would hear sounds in the woods I cannot explain. Once I got back to the house, I opened a window closest to where I saw it and shined the light exactly where it was but it was gone.
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It was still dead silent outside when I had the window open. Some nights it would just be very quiet outside and others it would be like normal.
Zach said what he saw was nothing like those new photos now making Internet rounds. His description and sketch show a creature that is larger and more muscular than the Denton canid, and also had black fur rather than brown. Its behavior was also different, as it was observing the yard of the witness from a spot next to good cover rather than boldly stalking farm animals, and then quietly removed itself from view as the witness retreated into his house.
He would have had no idea whether it was truly gone or just behind some foliage, still watching.