February 10, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Humans Evolved from Dogs

A new finding shows dogs performing better on one kind of intelligence test than chimpanzees.  If evolution teaches that human intelligence is the main trait separating us from other animals, and dogs are smarter than apes, shouldn’t the conclusion be that dogs are closer on the family tree?  If not, is it valid for evolutionary biologists to pick and choose the traits that matter?

A new paper in PLoS ONE had the surprising title, “Dogs (Canis familiaris), but Not Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Understand Imperative Pointing.”1  Researchers at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology worked with 32 dogs of different breeds, and 20 chimpanzees at reserves in Germany and Uganda.  They gave them simple tests to see if they could figure out where food was by pointing at it.  Despite rigorous attempts to rule out background causes or other distractions, the dogs scored much higher; the chimps just couldn’t get the message.  Jennifer Viegas at Live Science headlined the story, “Dogs Understand Us Better Than Chimps Do.

An evolutionary rescue device was near at hand.  Viegas wrote, “Chimps … have likely not evolved the tendency to pay attention to humans when trying to achieve goals.”  The authors of the paper did not mention evolution; they only suggested that dogs got this skill by human domestication (i.e., artificial selection).

1. Kirchhofer KC , Zimmermann F , Kaminski J , Tomasello M , 2012 Dogs (Canis familiaris), but Not Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Understand Imperative Pointing. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030913.

Birds are actually smarter than dogs, and dolphins than birds.  So we have to update our earlier report that humans evolved from pigeons (12/26/2011).  The new evolutionary tree is: chimps begat birds, who begat dolphins, who begat people.  Hydrogen begat everything; or was it nothing? (See Evolution News & Views.)

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