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How Did Wolves Evolve into Man's Best Friend?

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By Chris Gayomali

Implausible as it may seem, your harmless little maltipoo puppy descended from a fearsome line of bloodthirsty wolves. And thanks to a new discovery, scientists now have a better idea of how exactly that happened.

Comparing dog and wolf DNA, new research published inNature suggests that dogs possess an evolved set of genes that help them more effectively break down carbs and starches than their ferocious, wild ancestors. It's why our cuddly pals are more likely to go for a dog biscuit than, well, our throats. 

Combing through the genomes of 60 domestic breeds — including golden retrievers and cocker spaniels — Swedish researchers discovered that dogs have a much easier time converting starches into glucose than modern wolves. This means that at some point in dogs' evolutionary history, packs of wild canids struck up a mutually beneficial relationship with early humans, and learned to subsist on people food — stuff like wheat, barley, corn, rice, and potatoes. In exchange, man earned himself a loyal friend and fierce protector.  

"I think it is a striking case of co-evolution," Erik Axelsson, a geneticist at Uppsala University, tells the Washington Post. "The fact that we shared a similar environment in the last 10,000 years caused a similar adaptation. And the big change in the environment was the development of agriculture."

But why did dogs and humans start hanging out in the first place? That's still a matter of contention. Some researchers think that early humans domesticated wolves they found skulking through the trash in village outskirts. Others think humans captured and raised wolf puppies early in their lives and that over time they and their offspring became tame. 

Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog, thinks wolves started following man around when our ancestors were still nomadic. The theory goes that wolves realized that these weapon-toting, bipedal hunters were very effective killing machines, and began following them, taking whatever scraps were left over from a big kill. (Scavenging consumes less energy than hunting, the thinking goes.) Eventually, a relationship was established, and these furry creatures began to travel with us, evolving smaller skeletal frames and shorter jaws over the centuries. 

"You had populations of dog-wolves that became isolated, and in doing so, they began to inbreed," Derr tells NPR. "And when you inbreed, you get genetic peculiarities that arise, and then those peculiarities become part of the population. If they work or become popular or have some function of beauty or utility, then they were kept by the humans — and that population then spreads those through other populations through breeding."

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The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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