Socializing = Bigger Brains For Dogs

The existing coverage of this study from Oxford is one reason I write this blog.  Most media outlets are stating this study proves dogs are smarter than cats (dumb) and they’re including polls for you to vote on whether you agree (dumber).

Update: Yea!  Sophia Yin over at Huffington Post writes a smart article on the study.

The study actually shows something I think is much more interesting. Socializing led to bigger brains in some mammals. The brains of mammals that live in groups like monkeys, horses, dolphins, camels, & dogs grew the most over time, while the brains of  more solitary mammals like cats, rhinos, & deer grew much more slowly.  Scientists previously believed that brain size had increased at relatively the same rate across species.  Being a social being requires enough extra work that brains actually increased in size.

So, the study does show that dog brains have increased in size more dramatically that cats, but for reporters to say dogs are smarter than cats is meaningless.  Smarter how?  About catching prey?  Avoiding detection?  Getting humans to do what they want?  Surviving alone?  It annoys me that reporters dumb down studies and reduce them to some stupid poll that doesn’t mean anything.  So one of the reasons I write this blog?  I think you (& I) are smarter than that.

Dogs From Middle East Not East Asia

Evolutionary Tree of Dog Breeds & Grey Wolves

(click to enlarge)

A comprehensive new study shows that dogs are more closely related to wolves in the Middle East and therefore originated there.  (It was previously believed dogs were more closely related to wolves in East Asia and originated there.)  These new findings better match archaeological evidence of dogs in the Middle East.  It’s not all that surprising that dogs originated in the Middle East—this is also where cats were domesticated and many of our livestock animals were domesticated.

The study also showed that dog classifications based on behavioral traits (herding, retrieving, vermin hunting, etc.) match the branches in the dog evolutionary tree.  Herding breeds descend from other herding breeds, retrievers from retrievers, sight hounds from sight hounds, terriers from terriers.  This seems like common sense, but scientists didn’t have genetic proof before this study.  On the flip side, toy dogs, bred for size and not behavioral traits, descend from many branches of the dog evolutionary tree.

Be sure to click on the the dog evolutionary tree above—very interesting.