Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Salish Wool Dog

Camp dog (left), Wool dog (right). Drawing, CJ Pye.

Before Hudson Bay blankets were available to coastal first nations,
a special breed of dog filled the niche of the domesticated sheep.

The Salish Wool Dog was a small, fluffy, white animal that was kept for it's long, thin hair.

Just picture it, longhouses along the beach, war canoes above the high-tide zone,
and pen with white dogs in them. And when it came time to harvest the wool, the people sheared them like sheep.

Imagine, shearing a dog, in a time when metal razors and electric clippers were non-existent.

But keeping the dogs, and making sure they kept pure, was hard work. So when yards of wool were only a good trade away, this little white dog was left to interbreed with the camp dogs.

The last known wool dog died out in the early 20th century.

To find out more about the now extinct wool dog, I had a conversation with Susan Crockford, evolutionary biologist and dog specialist.

She spoke with me in a room filled with bones while I handled the skull of a now extinct domestic breed.

Susan is a really interesting scientist. She has published a theory that simple changes in they thyroid can change to drastic and lasting changes in a species.
She says this explains the way that most species are domesticated.

And the really interesting part? This theory explains how dogs domesticated themselves.

Check out this video from Nova:

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