Survival of the Friendliest

'Off-Leash' looks at the evolution of domestication.

A bone to pick with you: Gabby and Taylor share the wealth

A bone to pick with you: Gabby and Taylor share the wealth

We had stopped for lunch on the ridge overlooking the Flathead Valley, and the only thing more breathtaking than the view was the array of delectable food items my human was pulling from his pack.  There was sharp cheddar cheese, slices of ham, pickles, fresh buns and a container that smelled suspiciously like the apple pie that my female human had baked yesterday.

I watched the assembly of this feast and felt my saliva glands go into hyper-drool mode.  I moved closer but not too close, lest I be accused of begging — a canine crime that a good dog would never think of committing.  And I am, gentle reader, a good dog.

Even with this embarrassment of riches spread around him, my dude continued to frantically rummage through his pack, until finally, he looked up and with apologetic eyes said, “I’m sorry Bo.  I forgot to pack anything for you.”

Now, we dogs are pretty much the poster-pups for domesticity.  We do as we are told, provide affection, and learn to balance dog biscuits on our nose, because it makes you happy. Happy humans in return provide us with shelter, sustenance and a loving place in their pack.  It is this dynamic of sharing that a domestic relationship is built on and it is a magnificent thing.  However, mankind did not impose domestication on us dogs; it is something we taught ourselves.

The wolves from which dogs sprang began to evolve into a species that was more tolerant of two-leggers and thus more cooperative.  A wolf that gave a wag instead of a snarl was the one that got the left over mammoth bone to gnaw on.  This extra food made him stronger and healthier than his fiercer compatriots and a better potential mate.  After hundreds of years of the less aggressive wolves being the ones that got the girl, the genetic trait for tolerance and cooperation grew stronger and the wolf/dogs more successful.

Now that said, we canines can still be a territorial lot.  We don’t run around cocking our leg on every bush, post and fire hydrant because we have weak bladders.  We do it to mark boundaries – to stake our place in the world.  It is a behaviour that mankind also exhibits on a regular basis (the fondness for boundaries not the leg cocking) and the resulting wars have cost humanity undeniable suffering. It is my view that both hominids and canines should not lose sight of the fact that it was cooperation and sharing that made us so successful.  Survival of the fittest is an evolutionary fact but survival of the friendliest also pays dividends.  Maybe, just maybe, the meek really shall inherit the earth.

My human was busy constructing sandwiches from the delicacies he had unpacked when he paused and stared off into the distance.  After a moment he spoke.  “Quite the place, eh, Bo?  Beautiful, and we have it all to ourselves.  I think we should keep quiet on this one.  It will be our secret place, Bo.”

As my alpha human returned to his culinary creation, I reflected on his statement. It was a indeed a magical place, one we had discovered on our own by studying maps, reading books, and quizzing locals.  However, keeping it to ourselves went totally against our sharing model.  Yes, if word got out we would no doubt be giving up some solitude but there is always a sacrifice to be made when you share your wealth.

The benefit of telling folks about this place would be that they would experience this view for themselves.  One picnic on this ridge and there would be no doubt as to its value.  What a shame it would be if it was lost to industry or it was otherwise repurposed because, “No one ever went there anyways.”

I was wondering at my man’s uncharacteristic miserliness when I was snapped out of my reverie by the sound of him calling my name.  When I turned to look at him I saw that he had made two sandwiches… one for each of us.

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