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How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  611 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Tucked away in Siberia, there are furry, four-legged creatures with wagging tails and floppy ears that are as docile and friendly as any lapdog. But, despite appearances, these are not dogs—they are foxes. They are the result of the most astonishing experiment in breeding ever undertaken—imagine speeding up thousands of years of evolution into a few decades. In 1959, biolo ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 23rd 2017 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 26th 2016)
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  611 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Jan Rice

Monument to Academician D. K. Belyaev and Tame Fox by Sirozha, from Belyaev's Wikipedia page

Lee Alan Dugatkin spoke at my local book festival last Labor Day weekend, and since the tame-fox research had figured in prior reading, I bought the book, which the author said was the first to tell the whole story. The story begins in 1952, when then 35-year-old scientist Dmitri Belyaev visited commercial fox fur farms in the Soviet Union to start pilot projects and gets officially underway in 1958 when
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Hello yes I'd like to adopt a fox
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dugatkin constructs a fascinating popular science and biography of the fox domestication project in 1960s-90s USSR. The story traces the two geneticists who devoted much of their life to the project, Dmitry Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut, as well as several of the foxes who "evolved" into the domesticated pets.

I liked how Dugatkin set the stage of Soviet science, state-sponsored research, and the ways that Balyaev and Trut went about setting up and maintaining the experiments through decades of polit
Egor Mikhaylov
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Поразительно, конечно, что для того, чтобы узнать подробности эксперимента, проходящего в двух часах езды от моего дома, мне пришлось ждать русского перевода американской книги.
Angie Boyter
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Dedicated scientists, adorable animals, and the realities of Soviet-era scientific research

I have been intrigued by recent reports about research into how wild animals evolved into the companions beloved of so many people today throughout the world. How to Tame a Fox showed me that the tale is even more interesting than I had thought!
How to Tame a Fox tells the story of genetics researchers in Novosibirsk who have been breeding foxes since 1959 to try to learn if they could develop a domesticat
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Given that this was co-authored by Dugatkin, I was expecting this to be a popular science book, with coverage of what has been learned scientifically from the great fox domestication project started by the brilliant Dmitri Belyaev. Something that is needed badly given that much of the early work in this project was only published in Russian. Instead, this was a history of the project and a biography of Belyaev. Overall, the history is interesting in its own right, and it is amazing Belyaev and T ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: red
The entire list of all the experiments that science has ever performed, if it were ever made, would be...large. But, if we limit it to only those experiments which get written about in a book (textbook or popular science or other), it would still be fairly long. If we ranked them by how often they get mentioned, then the ones at the top would probably be things like Milgram's mock electrocutions, Pavlov's ringing of bells to make dogs salivate, and the Michelson-Morley experiment that showed the ...more
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Carolyn
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) struck a wonderful balance between the history of scientific study in Cold War era Russia and the science of animal behavior that was truly revolutionized with the famous fox experiment. The fox experiment itself is fascinating, and sorely under reported in the US. I'm so happy there's an English language book out about it now so that it might be better understood and appreciated.

The fox experiment is an ongoing study to unders
Saturday's Child
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Of course the idea of owning a domesticated fox really appeals to me so I found this to be a most interesting book. That the original foxes came from a fur farm is upsetting, as fur farms should not exist. While this book did not say it, I can’t help but wonder was the idea to breed and tame these foxes as much about being able to assist with increased and better fur production as it was for scientific purposes? It is amazing that in just a few generations these foxes have become almost like a d ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book more than my heart can say. I expected a short, fluffy story about the history of the fox experiment but instead I got an amazing education in science, animal behavior, Soviet history and politics, as well as a thrilling tale of heartbreak, setbacks, and triumph over adversity. The science in this book was mind-blowing (and accessible to the lay person) - it's pretty amazing the things we (humans) have discovered through this experiment and the proving of one man's hypotheses. B ...more
Lis Carey
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
In the 1950s, a Russian biologist named Dmitry Belyaev began a dangerous experiment in fox domestication. It was dangerous not because of the foxes, but because of the primacy in Russian science of Trofim Lysenko, an agronomist who rejected Mendelian genetics. Belyaev and his partner, Lyudmila Trut, persisted anyway, working with Russian commercial silver fox farms. Initially, they presented their work as an effort to increase the productivity of the fox farms. Many domesticated animals can bree ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
“How to Tame a Fox,” is both a fascinating look into the power of evolution, as well as a lovely story about the ferocious devotion of the scientists involved in this project.
Domestication of animals has been a critical factor in the development of human society, but as the authors note, not all animals are capable of being domesticated. For instance, one can domesticate a horse, but not a zebra. Why?
The story begins in the 1950s with the unusual idea of domesticating foxes. This would essenti
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although it may not seem like it, this account of the Russian fox experiment is extremely biased. In between Dugatkin's ass-kissing descriptions of Dmitri Belyaev and Lyumila Trut and his gratuitous reiteration of how darn cute the foxes are, there is some decent information about how the domestication syndrome works. Moreover, as a biology-oriented person, it is hard to read Dugatkin's use of the word "pup" over and over when in fact young foxes are called fox kits, not fox pups. This detail sh ...more
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
"How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)" tells the story of one of the most ambitious biology experiments of all time and weaves in a bit of Soviet-era history, too. Lee Alan Dugatkin brings the reader to Siberia, where a charismatic scientist decides to explore the process of domestication. Starting in the late 1950s, Dmitri Belyaev set out to discover what it would take to produce a tame fox. All these years later, his project is still going. His protégée Lyudmila Trut, leader of the experiment f ...more
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. Going through the history of how the experiment for taming foxes began and to where it is today. I laughed and I certainly cried my eyes out at certain parts. The book is easy to read, and not the least bit boring in my opinion.
I've met Lee Alan Dugatkin in person and he is very nice and passionate about this book and these foxes.
Definitely recommended.
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Most amazing and interesting book! Read right through it. Exceeded expectations by far.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Overall I really enjoyed the book.Let's be honest, .I kinda want a fox too! While I did find it amazing how quick they were able to domesticate the foxes, I kept coming back to the question of just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it. While it was also interesting to get more detail on their personal views, it did little to enhance the actual scientific details over the 60 page study.
Marco Maia Carneiro
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Don't take the low rating as a sign this is a bad book. I've had wrong expectations and ended a tad disappointed.

How to Tame a Fox is a good book, but more than 70% is the story of how the two Russian scientists struggled to start the project of studying taming an animal. A good story, but I was expecting a more technical book, this is mostly biographical.

The story is well told and the process and discoveries are tantalizing. I'd have loved to know more about how the process developed.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is everything I've ever wanted; I knew about this study long before this book was in the works, and I'm endlessly delighted that it was created. It tells the full story, not just of the experiment, but of the people involved and the context of the world around them. Love, love, love this book and what this study teaches us about domestication.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Story is so-so. not what I expected, this was far more about a breeding program in Russia during the Stalin regime and the cold-war era. Had very sciency parts but the book was aimed more at "dog-lovers" with too many mentions of how cute the foxes were.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm not normally into nonfiction but I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a good job. I'm not even a dog person (though I do like foxes). I found learning about how to domesticate a species captivating. The political elements were also intriguing. Listened to the whole thing within a day.
I'm so happy I picked this up on Audible's daily deal. Really fascinating look at one od the most important studies of genetics and evolutionary in recent years. Doesn't just pontificate on dogs and domestication, but people, too. Also, there's a little bit of sad stuff with some poachers and then when the Soviets were crumbling and they ran out of money.
Susan Grodsky
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't read books on biological topics very often so this was a bit out of the ordinary for me. But I'd heard about these tame foxes and seen a picture of one sitting on the couch in someone's apartment. It was such a jarring image: a fox, a wild animal, resting his front paws on a silken pillow in a luxurious living room.

I have to confess that one astonishing aspect of this story was the exemplary characters of the two main researchers, Dimitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut. Dedicated, brave, har
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A very inspiring story about an important and insightful experiment on the mechanism and genetics of domestication using foxes that has run for almost six decades in Siberia. This book is easily accessible for non-scientists and gives a good feeling for the motivation, struggles and main changes in the foxes. There are two frustrations though: Firstly, we find out a lot about Dimitri Belyayev who established the experiment but less about Lyudmilla Trut who has run it for most of its life. As a c ...more
Rating: 4.75. A fascinating history of a long term (60+ years) experiment still ongoing in the Siberian regions of Russia. During the height of Stalin's power, a geneticist named Dmitry Belayaev decided to see what would happen if he bred silver foxes (prized for their pelts) for tameness. He had several questions that went against the Lysenko-derived view of biology (very "hot" under Stalin), but was able to frame them in a manner that he was able to run his experiments with minimal (usually) p ...more
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pets
Well-written, fascinating account of a life-long science experiment that not only tamed foxes, but helped explain domestication and evolution as well.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A story of how two Russian biologists began a 60-year program to demonstrate domestication in silver foxes and replicate the domestication of dogs. Started in 1959, Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut began the selective breeding of the foxes, and within a decade a group of tame puppy-like foxes would emerge.

After Belyaev's death in late 1985, co-author Trut would continue the work and benefit by modern science to explain the working of hormones in the domestication process; by behavioral analyses
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at a decades-long experiment in domesticating foxes in order to understand how other animals (chiefly dogs) have been domesticated. The initial theory was that selecting solely for tameness in animals might set off a cascade of other changes, and that seems to be what has happened with the foxes. In addition to becoming so tame that they actively seek out human companionship (fox snuggles!) they also evolved droopier ears, more rounded snouts, and different fur patterns (incl ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever wondered how people domesticated wolves into dogs, this is a book for you. Even if you never gave it a thought, this is a book worth reading. It is the story of how Dmitry Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut bred 57 generations (so far) of foxes for tameness and the scientific knowledge that has come and is still coming from these foxes.

Much of this science story reads like a novel. The study did not fit with the Russian establishment view of genetics so the true nature of the research g
Gerri Leen
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first saw this experiment mentioned in a special on dogs and was mesmerized by the short segment. I was thrilled to find a longer exploration of the experiment highlighted in Nature magazine. Such an intriguing story, with appealing main actors in the history of the study. I did feel like this ended rather weakly, trailing off rather than a true end (although to give the author credit, it is an ongoing study so maybe there wasn't a better way to end it). Still and all a fascinating book and on ...more
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Born in 1962 Lee Alan Dugatkin is a professor and distinguished university scholar in the department of biology at the University of Louisville. His main area of research interest is the evolution of social behavior.
“Easy dosen't matter to Lyudmila. Easy has never mattered. Possible is what matters.” 0 likes
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