There are about 1 billion dogs on the planet; some 250 million of these are pets. The rest: highly-adapted scavengers.
In their new book, “What Is a Dog?,” Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals.
The Coppingers have been major figures in canine science for decades. Raymond Coppinger was one of the founding professors at Hampshire College in Amherst, and he and Lorna, a biologist and science writer, have done groundbreaking work on sled dogs, herding dogs, sheep-guarding dogs, and the origin and evolution of dogs.
They've developed breeds used in sledding, herding, and livestock-guarding. And in their 2001 book, they argued that - rather the the conventional view at the time regarding dog domestication - dogs domesticated themselves. In their view:
Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.
Today's dogs - as we know them - are thought to have originated in Mongolia. Modern European street dogs, it is known, are descended from East Asian dogs that migrate with humans to Europe over 4,000 years ago. And an amazing amount of work, albeit with little funding, is underway to determine exactly when and how Fido came to be.