Why Dogs Have Floppy Ears

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But that suggests that those first volunteers were different, less likely to be pumped full of adrenalin and struggling with "fight or flight." The adrenal gland, which supplies the adrenalin that prepares the body to spring into action, begins life in the same area pinpointed by the researchers as the likely source of the "domestication syndrome."

Perhaps those early wolves came up short on adrenalin. The adrenal gland is formed by a group of stem cells called "neural crest cells." These cells also migrate to the various areas of the animal, as it grows from embryo to living beast, where the changes between wild and domestic animals are most apparent.

The new theory suggests this: If all the cells don't reach the ears, they will be slightly deformed, or floppy. If some arrive at the jaw in a weak condition, the jaw would likely be smaller. And some errant cells could cause depigmentation, that white chunk of fur on fido's chest. And so on.

That's the only known theory that cites a single biological cause for the changes seen throughout the domesticated world.

Initially, wild animals were bred only for tameness. In recent centuries they have been bred for many reasons, including cuteness among dogs, and speed among horses.

Surprises like floppy ears were unanticipated, but were they a bad thing?

"I think not," Wilkins said. "In the case of domesticated animals, most of them would not survive very well in the wild if they were released, but in captivity they do perfectly well and while the traits of the "domestication syndrome" are technically defects, they do not seem to harm them.

"And for us, the domestication of animals was a major advance that made the development of our civilizations possible," he added, "or at least they contributed substantially to that."

What would farmers have done without beasts of burden? And how could we get by without our furry friends?

In this particular case, I suspect most of us would agree that the "domestication syndrome" isn't entirely bad. Our dogs even look friendlier.

But one fact should not be overlooked. This was not the intended result.

It's likely there will be many other experiments that will produce surprises, and not all those stories will end happily.

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