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What Domesticating Siberian Foxes May Tell Us About Dogs

I recently watched a fascinating segment of the 2009 BBC show “The Secret Life of the Dog”. I’d never seen it, and wanted to share it here. It’s about domesticating foxes in Siberia.

The gist: Over the course of more than 40 years, scientists took normal foxes, which were aggressive toward humans, and looked for the tamest ones.

Then they bred them.

In just a few generations, the foxes — animals that would typically attack humans when threatened — had become completely tame creatures that snuggled the scientists rather than biting their hands.

What’s more, over time, the foxes started to look like…dogs.

Cute dogs.

The tame foxes even developed floppy ears, the color of their coats lightened, and their tails curled.

One theory is that the least aggressive foxes were less fierce because they had retained their juvenile traits into adulthood. And so dogs — domesticated wolves, that is — similarly display the traits of juvenile wolves.

For more, here’s an American Scientist article from 1999 on the experiment. And there’s a Wikipedia page, as well.

I also came across some domesticated fox footage on Youtube taken by someone who appears to own a couple of the creatures. The video becomes extra-remarkable at 1:14:

And finally, in case you’re wondering: It appears that you can purchase your own domesticated Russian fox. (The Cost: $8,900.)

(UPDATE: This post originally contained a link to and embedded clip of the show on YouTube. It’s no longer available there, so I’ve removed them.)

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2 Comments

  1. This is very neat. The foxes in the Youtube video you found are almost surreal.

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