National Geographic : 2011 Mar
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF Jackson the Jack Russell terrier extends a friendly paw. In Jackson's mind there is no such thing as a good person or a bad person. There are only people he desperately wants to meet. Jackson, I should explain, is my Jack Russell terrier. When he meets someone, his short tail wags at warp speed, sending a vibration through his piebald body right up to his floppy ears. He is exuberant, playful, affectionate---everything a dog lover could wish for. He fits the description of an animal domesticated through years of selective breeding. In this month's issue we explore animal domestication, which began more than 15,000 years ago with dogs. As humans bred wolves to be our hunting companions and friends, changes in appearance occurred along with changes in behavior. Traits that might otherwise have been weeded out in the wild survived because they were, well, cute. Jackson, with his piebald coloring and floppy ears, is a classic example. But I think there is more to it than that. When my family went shopping for a dog, Jackson confidently trotted over and made it clear he liked us. We immedi- ately responded by picking him up and hugging him. I have to wonder if there is something in human genes that makes our response to a puppy so immediate and positive. Are we genetically predisposed to connect with dogs? Can a case be made that dog lovers had a better chance of survival with the help of man's best friend---in a violent and uncertain world---to put food on the table and guard against threats? It makes sense to me, but cat lovers may not buy my theory.