"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg

In 1994 a discovery was made in a cave in Southern France of  fossilized footprints of a prehistoric young boy. Alongside these prints are the prints of a large dog. Evidence points to the dog being a companion to the boy. The astonishing thing about these prints is that they are dated to have been made way before scientists thought that man had domesticated wolves, making them into companions/pets. This set the scientific community on its head and started a flurry of experiments and research projects about man's best friend.  Surprisingly up to that point little research had been on dogs. I guess familiarity indeed  does breed contempt (in terms of research.)

Kay Frydenberg in her aptly named book A Dog in the Cave pulls together all kinds of research from paleontology, biology, and the social sciences on dogs and their relationship to humans. The book is fascinating.

Here are just a few of my takeaways:

  • All dogs descended from wolves, but domesticated wolves are not dogs. Through evolutionary processes they have changed to the wonderful array of creatures we call our best friend. In a recent study in Russia on foxes, a researcher wanted to see what would happen if he mated foxes based only on their "tameness". It took only twenty generations for these foxes to already start taking on very dog-like characteristics, physically and socially. 
  • It is quite possible that dogs were what distinguished Homo Sapiens from Neanderthal man. There is early fossil evidence that Homo Sapiens had dogs but not neanderthal man even though they existed at the same time...and we know what happened to him---he and his kind are extinct. Could dogs have made the difference in the dominance of Homo Sapiens? Researchers think the answer is yes.
  • One fascinating difference between wolves and dogs is that the former makes eye contact with humans, wolves don't or won't. Because of this dogs can infer things just from a look. I think that people anthropomorphize their dogs because of this. They think that their dogs think like a human because they make eye contact. 
These are just a few bits of information I learned from this book. It is chalk full of information.

The target audiences for this book are young adults. It is written in a clear and easy-to-read fashion, yet, and I really appreciated this, it doesn't dumb-down its language or assume that the reader is stupid or unsophisticated. I am not sure what teenagers will read this book but I am sure that some dog lovers will find their way to it and then will learn a whole lot they never knew before.

One quibble I have is the way the book was put together with the little sub-chapters. They are short, four or five pages long, little asides on particular topics. Each chapter had one of these "inserts" within the pages. Sometimes they were inserted right in the middle of some discussion topic, other times they were inserted in the back of the chapter. When they were inserted in the midst of the topic, it broke the flow of the reading and became confusing. I found myself stuffing my thumb into the pages to mark my spot so I could finish reading about the concept before going back and reading the insert. I am positive this will be a point of confusion for young readers. Once I worked out a method for dealing with them, I was fine, but I couldn't help but wonder why publishers do that sort of organization of extra topics.

I do think this book is worthy of a spot on all library shelves, especially those who have a lot of pet lovers and those interested in animal research. The book is nicely produced with lots of color photographs which add to its appeal and readability and there is a nice index and endnotes. That said I still honestly think that more adults will enjoy this book compared to its target teen audience. I know I did.

Frydenborg, Kay. A Dog in the Cave: the Wolves Who Made Us Human. Houghton Mifflin, 2017. Print.

Source: school library.
Pages read: all, 246. 
Rating: 4.5 stars


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