Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dogs and wolves

This post isn't really about dogs and wolves. That's just an illustration. But I need to develop the illustration a bit before I apply it. 
Dogs are wildly popular pets. There are two reasons that dogs "bond" with humans (and vice versa):
i) Dogs are descended from social animals (wolves). So they have an innate capacity to form social bonds–unlike cats (except for lions).
ii) Dog breeders enhance that capacity by suppressing certain traits while cultivating other traits that make them friendlier around humans. 
Of course, different dog breeds are bred for different physical and temperamental traits. You have guard dogs, hunting dogs, sled dogs, sheep dogs, &c. Not all dogs are bred for friendliness, and dogs used in dogfights are bred to be vicious. 
But pet dogs are bred to have great rapport with humans. This is based on their innate capacity as social animals, enhanced by domestication and selective breeding. 
To my knowledge, dogs are much better at reading human body language than wolves or chimpanzees. At a certain level, they understand us. 
On the other hand, wolves are reputedly much smarter than dogs at problem-solving skills. That makes sense.
It might be that a dog breed like a sheep dog would be closer to a wolf in its problem-solving abilities. I don't know what dog breeds have been tested against wolves in that respect.
Speaking for myself, looking into the eyes of a wolf is a unique experience compared to other wild animals. 
For one thing, they instantly take us back to the experience for our Ice Age forebears. That's the world in which our distant ancestors had to survive. 
In addition, you do a double take. It's kind of jarring.
On the one hand, wolves remind us of dogs. And some dog breeds retain a lupine appearance. So wolves remind us of dogs. There's that family resemblance.
They trigger similar associations. We're conditioned to subconsciously associate wolves with what we expect from dogs. If I make eye contact with a dog, what is the dog's expression? When does a dog register when it sees a human? But wolves are another story. 
i) One difference is automatic hostility. Wolves are not our friends. In the wild, they view humans as potential prey. When hunted, they learn to fear humans. 
ii) But there's something even deeper: the complete absent of rapport. Wolves are not simpatico with humans. When you look into the glinty amber eyes of a wolf, that animal doesn't connect with you. It's like an alien life-form. There's no psychological affinity. The look of recognition is gone. 
To my knowledge, even "tame" wolves are dangerous. They inhabit in a world of invisible lines. If you inadvertently step on the invisible line of a "tame" wolf, it will attack you. 
A wolf is a reminder of what your lovable pet dog would be like without selective breeding. 
And in that respect, wolves are like dogs without common grace or special grace. Wolves are the canine analogue to the damned. 
Some unbelievers are already quite lupine in this life. Other unbelievers can be brave, decent, kind, loyal, and honest. They exhibit common grace virtues. But when they go to hell, the dog reverts to a wolf. Centuries of selective breeding undone. It flips back to its wild ancestors. Deevolves–in the microevolutionary sense. 
Both like and unlike the person you knew. Recognizable, but something essential is now missing. Something crucial is lost. All that's left is savage. Inhuman. Sociopathic. 


  1. I think the cultural fascination with zombies also has lots of redeemed/damned undertones resonating at different levels.

    1. Yes, zombies and vampires are good metaphors for drastic personality change after they are "turned."