Are Foxes the New Dogs?

March 19, 2012

 

Last week we wrote about a documentary called Dogs Decoded, which explored the relationship between genetics and the domestication of dogs. There is a really interesting segment of this film that touches on taming silver foxes to make them behave more like dogs and recently, we came across an NPR article that talks about this process in depth. We had to share!
Dmitry Belyaev, a Russian geneticist, began his project in 1954 in attempt to isolate the genes in domesticated dogs that make them so easy to train. We take it for granted that our dogs are so eager to please, but that’s due to thousands of years of breeding! After Belyaev passed away, others continued his project and now, after 50,000 foxes, they’ve almost got it.
Belyaev’s farm houses about 3,000 foxes that are “genetically designed to crave human contact” according to Ceiridwen Terrill, associate professor of Science Writing and Environmental Journalism at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. They even roll over to have their bellies scratched and some can sit and fetch.
Here’s a video of Terrill greeting some tame foxes. They’re pretty adorable.


http://vimeo.com/23809802

While these foxes are genetically tame, whether they’d make good house pets has yet to be seen. Terrill says the only way to be sure of this is to see humans and foxes living together and without the proper socialization she thinks it’s a better idea to go adopt a dog.
All that said, how fascinating is it that scientists have been able to isolate a gene in a completely wild species and breed them to like belly rubs?
Furthermore, would you ever want a little tame fox to be your companion rather than a dog?

 
Sources: Info and main image via NPR, video via Vimeo

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