“Wild Dog”, essay by Teja, written 12/10/2007
There is fascinating research out there that suggests wild canids actually helped to domesticate themselves. The theory, in a simplified form, is thus: fearless wolves drifted toward human settlements, scavenging food scraps and breeding amongst themselves, therefore enhancing those traits. Eventually these semi-tame canids created their own distinct population separate from their wild brethren, and they became the “proto-dogs” – affected by human society to some extent, but still not quite our modern companions.
For the last several months, the concept of wild dogs has been somewhat of a confusing matter for me, even though I relate to it strongly. I wasn’t entirely used to thinking of my canine aspect as anything other than full-on wolf, and the realization that I was almost certainly a hybrid required me to retool my perspective a bit. Although I had recognized a truth about myself, I needed to find out what exactly it meant to me. Like any other human being, I needed to articulate it and define it beyond frustratingly vague words and phrases. I began to work from “wild dog,” a term that I have now fully adopted for myself. I liked it and found it appropriate, as it could apply equally well to wolves as well as non-domestic dogs.
I felt wild, but not exactly; I felt “domesticated,” but that wasn’t quite right, either. I would have described myself as feral, and the word was indeed closer, but it implied previous ownership, and a fully domestic heritage.
Then I stumbled across the term “commensals.” These are the animals that linger on the outskirts of human villages: that scavenging dog owned by no one, yet associated with a somewhat domestic life and even adapted to it despite innate wildness. These were the in between dogs; the transition from wolf to pet. These were the pariahs, named after the ostracized group from the Indian social caste. These were ancient canines, but with a legacy that extends to the present.
It clicked. This, perhaps, was why I figured I was a high percentage hybrid; why I had felt in between.
I am a “proto-dog.”
I am extant, and though I make no solid claim otherwise, in some ways I am also extinct. My heritage is both ancient and contemporary; unceasingly primitive, yet capable of surviving for all these thousands of years. There is a timeless qualia to the wild dog, a racial memory that recalls the touch of man but still obeys the wilderness. Even if there isn’t a particular species or type to which I belong, this basic canine essence – aboriginal and unrefined – is reflected within each and every primitive dog. Their shared, collective identity is my own, and I am part of the “great arc of the red dog.”
I feel most at home among the snow and smell of moist mountain earth. But I hail also from the deserts of Israel, the Australian outback, and the marshes of the American southeast – the latter of which is my own backyard. Is this “cladotherianthropy”? I don’t know; in some sense, perhaps. I’m not one to scorn labels, and I appreciate their informational value. But I’m also not inclined to compartmentalize my experiences much further than “therianthrope,” “animal person,” or even just “canine.” I’m a wolf. I’m a dog. And really, I’m just a mutt.
I once wrote that I felt my wolfdog aspect was a very specific experience, and in some ways, it is. High percentage wolf hybrids can be unpredictable: wide behavorial variation is more likely between two hybrids than two wolves, even when comparing littermates. But at the same time, “wolfdog” encompasses a broad concept, ranging from wholly domesticated breeds to high content animals that – much like their primitive cousins – are semi-tame at best.
It’s interesting to look back on the beginnings of my discovery process. I knew I was wolf; I have known that all my life. But I also realized there were missing details, so I did some research and found that dingoes resonated strongly with my sense of canine self. What’s even more intriguing (in looking at it now) is that I considered myself a wolf/dingo hybrid; apart from that time, I have always thought of my animal facets as distinct from each other. Thus, in a way, I feel as though my soul-searching has come full circle: in those early days of getting involved with the community and really digging in deep, my methods weren’t as sophisticated or refined – and so I sought to explain myself the best I knew how (without extended knowledge of pariah dogs, wolf hybrids, etc). Perhaps – and this seems the most likely scenario, knowing what I do now – my confused and somewhat muddled identity of a wolf/dingo cross was merely an expression of something I could not properly name. I felt wolf and I felt dog, but the lupine “angle” was clearer, and so after much deliberation I stopped calling myself dingo altogether. But it was an incredibly valuable experience that ended up providing me with many future insights, and I continue to relate strongly to dingoes today.
Maybe as I continue to grow and learn, I will find one primitive dog that I can identify with above all others. Perhaps it will be the dingo once again; perhaps the Falkland Islands Wolf, or another long gone species. Perhaps I won’t find anything in particular at all, and I can’t say I’m really searching for that, either. My identity feels fluid, centered more around proto-dog-as-concept than a specific canid species; there are pieces of me in all those that claim the pariah type, just as I can see myself in wolves.
And so I return again to my basic equation, only this time with a more satisfying solution. I am a wolf; I am a dog. A rough, crude, antiquated kind of dog, but a wild dog nonetheless.