Interview with researcher Robert Losey

Have you ever shared table scraps with your pup? Research suggests that your former parents probably did too.

Two University of Saskatchewan professors, Robert Losey, Ph.D., and Tatiana Nomokonova, Ph.D., are studying the development of dog diets. Interestingly – but perhaps not surprisingly – researchers found that they generally mirrored that of their human companions.

The study also reveals that former dog parents viewed their puppies as “part of the family,” Losey told DogTime.

Using archaeological evidence from Siberia, the researchers compared the dogs’ diets to what wolves ate during the same period. Their new research shows that the bones and feces of ancient dogs harbor evidence of dog food. Researchers have even found fossilized animal feces buried in human graves.

An intact dog skull with hair still attached from the Ust’-Polui site in the Russian Arctic. Photo courtesy of Losey.

Fossilized animal excrement: an underestimated resource

This research highlights how much can be gleaned from fossilized animal feces, a historically untapped and underappreciated resource.

“Usually in archaeology, human material is hard to come by,” Nomokonova said. Saskatoon CTV News“But nobody fights over dog poo.”

Although excavations in cemeteries across Siberia began in the 1950s, researchers have recently uncovered the amount of information provided by ancient excrement.

Losey in the lab. Photo courtesy of Losey.

Losey said old nails and dog hair buried in permafrost can also reflect their diet, even over a few weeks. For example, if a diet includes hamburgers for a month and then switches to salmon, that change can be seen in their DNA.

Localized model in regimes

Losey said the dogs’ diets showed localized patterns. Dogs that lived with people by the sea had marine diets. At some point in prehistory, agriculture boomed. With him, dogs incorporated cereals into their diet.

“Northern dogs don’t have the ability to digest grain. Even today, some dogs do well with the grain, but others won’t thrive, depending on the type of dog,” Losey explained.

Ancient methods of burying man’s best friend

Our ancestors treated their dogs like members of the family. They placed them in graves and cemeteries just like their other family members.

“Dog graves with humans were discovered around Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. Most of the dog remains we studied were buried with people, and 20-30 dogs had their own graves,” said Losey, who started this research 17 years ago. “Somebody found out I was interested in dogs and told me they had funerals,” he laughs.

diets for dogs

The burial of a 2000 year old dog at the site of Ust’-Polui in the Russian Arctic. Photo courtesy of Losey.

“It speaks to the intimate bond people have with their dogs. We thought that had to apply to their whole life, including how their dogs were treated in life and how they were nurtured by the people they lived with,” Losey said. CTV News.

Most researchers agree that modern dogs evolved from gray wolves during the last ice age, around 15,000 years ago. Yet researchers are struggling to find out where and when wolves became humans’ faithful companions. In fact, the jury was out until the late 1990s, when genetic testing finally confirmed that dogs shared 99.9% of their DNA with gray wolves, the report reported. Science magazine.

The role of food in domestication

The study, which was published in Scientists progressshows that wolves often ate grass-fed animals.

“While wolves are large animals and can effectively hunt these types of prey, our research shows that dogs quickly evolved to have smaller bodies than wolves, and this likely changed their abilities and their diet,” Losey said.

So even thousands of years ago dogs were a different animal from wolves. Not only were they smaller, but Losey says they also had weaker jaws. Additionally, says Losey, “they were probably less efficient at running long distances, had reduced abilities to hunt large prey, and likely relied more on people’s handouts and scavenging.”

So which came first: diet or size?

“We don’t know exactly why there was a tendency to be smaller, but the change in diet and behavior was likely a side event,” Losey says.

Future research

According to University of Saskatchewan websiteLosey and Nomokonova will continue to study dog ​​life in other parts of the world.

“Whenever we see remarkable remains, we get so excited. But the saddest thing is when someone else finds them and we’re usually late to the party,” Losey says with a laugh. We get excited in the lab.

“Right now I’m in Alaska interviewing elders about how they cared for and fed their dogs. And they know more than archaeologists. If I had a sled dog here, I wouldn’t give them grain,” Losey says.

diets for dogs

Losey and his dog Guinness. Photo courtesy of Losey.

Further analysis in these areas helps to explore how cohabitation with humans influences the development of a species. Losey says their research extends to Indigenous communities. They will examine the diets and size of dogs native to North America, particularly the Prairies and the Arctic.

In further research, Losey will explore how Indigenous people cared for their dogs in the past. This includes “how and when” Indigenous people involved dogs in tasks “such as pulling sleds”.

“The most direct benefit for humans is seeing the unique relationships with dogs,” Losey notes. This includes the study of partnerships between humans and animals. Specifically, Losey will investigate how this relationship affected plains migrations and everyday life. He also adds that these discoveries are linked to colonialism – but that’s another story.

As for the benefits for dogs, Losey says looking at native dogs is interesting. “We’ve lost a lot of diversity because of modern breeding practices, and that’s a case against thoroughbreds,” Losey says.

And again, that’s another story.

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