An Animated History of Dogs, Inspired by Keith Haring

That quiv­er­ing teacup Chi­huahua…

The long-suf­fer­ing Labrador whose child-friend­ly rep­u­ta­tion has led to a life­time of ear tug­ging and tail pulling…

The wheez­ing French bull­dog, whose own­er has out­fit­ted with a full wardrobe of hood­ies, tutus, rain slick­ers, and paja­mas

All descend­ed from wolves.

As anthro­pol­o­gist and sci­ence edu­ca­tor David Ian Howe explains in the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son, A Brief His­to­ry of Dogs, above, at first glance, can­is lupus seemed an unlike­ly choice for man’s best friend.

For one thing, the two were in direct com­pe­ti­tion for elk, rein­deer, bison, and oth­er tasty prey wan­der­ing Eura­sia dur­ing the Pleis­tocene Epoch.

Though both hunt­ed in groups, run­ning their prey to the point of exhaus­tion, only one roast­ed their kills, cre­at­ing tan­ta­liz­ing aro­mas that drew bold­er wolves ever-clos­er to the human camps.

The ones who will­ing­ly dialed down their wolfish­ness, mak­ing them­selves use­ful as com­pan­ions, secu­ri­ty guards and hunt­ing bud­dies, were reward­ed come sup­per­time. Even­tu­al­ly, this mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial tail wag­ging became full on domes­ti­ca­tion, the first such ani­mal to come under the human yoke.

The intense focus on pure­breds did­n’t real­ly become a thing until the Vic­to­ri­ans began host­ing dog shows. The push to iden­ti­fy and pro­mote breed-spe­cif­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics often came at a cost to the ani­mals’ well­be­ing, as Neil Pem­ber­ton and Michael Wor­boys point out in BBC His­to­ry Mag­a­zine:

…the improve­ment of breeds towards ‘per­fec­tion’ was con­tro­ver­sial. While there was approval for the greater reg­u­lar­i­ty of type, many fanciers com­plained that stan­dards were being set on arbi­trary, large­ly aes­thet­ic grounds by enthu­si­asts in spe­cial­ist clubs, with­out con­cern for util­i­ty or the health of the ani­mal. This meant that breeds were chang­ing, and not always for the bet­ter. For exam­ple, the mod­ern St Bernard was said to be a beau­ti­ful ani­mal, but would be use­less in Alpine res­cue work.

Cat-fanciers, rest assured that the oppo­si­tion received fair and equal cov­er­age in a feline-cen­tric TED-Ed les­son, pub­lished ear­li­er this year.

And while we applaud TED-Ed for spark­ing our curios­i­ty with its “Brief His­to­ry of” series, cov­er­ing top­ics as far rang­ing as cheese, numer­i­cal sys­tems, goths, video games, and tea, sure­ly we are not the only ones won­der­ing why the late artist Kei­th Har­ing isn’t thanked or name checked in the cred­its?

Every canine-shaped image in this ani­ma­tion is clear­ly descend­ed from his icon­ic bark­ing dog.

While we can’t explain the omis­sion, we can direct read­ers toward Jon Nelson’s great analy­sis of Haring’s rela­tion­ship with dogs in Get Leashed:

They’re sym­bol­ic of unan­swered ques­tions, preva­lent in the 80s: “Can I do this?” “Is this right?” “What are you doing?” “What is hap­pen­ing?” Dogs stand by peo­ple, bark­ing or danc­ing along, some­times in pre­car­i­ous sce­nar­ios, even involved in some of Haring’s explic­it­ly sex­u­al work. Dogs are nei­ther approv­ing nor dis­ap­prov­ing of what peo­ple do in the images; their mouth angle is neu­tral or even hap­py. In some cas­es, human bod­ies wear a dog’s head, pos­si­bly stat­ing that we know only our own enjoy­ment, unaware, like a dog, of life’s next stage or the con­se­quences of our actions.

Vis­it Eth­no­cynol­o­gy, David Ian Howe’s Insta­gram page about the ancient rela­tion­ship between humans and dogs.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Preda­tor to Sofa Side­kick

Dis­cov­er David Lynch’s Bizarre & Min­i­mal­ist Com­ic Strip, The Angri­est Dog in the World (1983–1992)

Pho­tos of Famous Writ­ers (and Rock­ers) with their Dogs

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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