Scientists studying the evolutionary traits of animals at the University of Manchester have concluded that over the course of history, domestic animals that were picked out of the litter for their cuteness were picked over their less desirable uglier brothers and sisters and therefore in domestic dogs, traits that were considered cute were bred and kept in the gene pool.
Evolution, or rather natural selection, is the process by which traits are passed down to future generations because they make an individual in a specific environment more likely to survive and pass on its genetic material than its competitors. Acquisition of food, reproductive compatibility, and ability to avoid danger are all major factors that would be passed down to the next generation as those unable to comply with them would not have sired the next generation.
It has been found that the difference in skull shape from a domestic dog will often vary between breeds more than the skull shape of a domestic breed of cat will from a walrus. In other words, dogs have more physical traits selected by humans than most species do between them. Dog breeds are the ultimate in genetic engineering through human selection, often by monks who are responsible for creating most breeds of dog created before 1800.
The dog, as it’s known today came about with the domestication of the Grey Wolf. Since then, it has been bred to serve a number of purposes. Some, like the Welsh Corgi were bred for their sheep herding abilities. As taller dogs were being kicked by irate herding animals, breeders decided a shorter breed was required, and thus the Pembroke Welsh Corgi was created. Then as time went on, Corgis rarely found themselves in a position to herd sheep, and therefore the primary traits that were passed on, as the researchers in Manchester have discovered were those that humans would find most endearing, such as big eyes or giant floppy ears.
This question also raises the issue of communication. Do dogs cock their head to the side because their species naturally has a propensity to express curiosity in a way that’s easily recognized by humans? Or did the trait come about because humans found it endearing and kept the ones that naturally did it? If the latter is true, then would it be possible to breed dogs to communicate with us? If one phrase, “I’m confused,” can exist in an animal’s coded genetic body language, then perhaps others can likewise be coded in. And how many phrases are required before its vocabulary is called language?
This finding by Manchester scientists also suggests that domestic animals are indeed getting cuter as time goes on. Rarely does there seem to be a story in the world of science that is such unabashedly good news, but it seems like this may be one of those rare cases. And as much as some people are fans of the grey wolf, today’s Corgis are more likely to make you saw “Aww.” As for scientists, this is time and money well spent.