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Currently I am binge watching “Game of Thrones” again, and still loving it. The “dire wolf” is very much part of this epic ancient world fantasy.

The dire wolf (Aenocyon dirus) is an extinct canine. It is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America and lived, according to dated remains, between 125 000-9 500 years ago. Dire wolf remains have been found across a broad range of habitats in North America, including plains, grasslands, forested mountain areas, arid savannah and the steppe of eastern Asia.

The dire wolf was about the same size as the largest modern grey wolves (Canis lupus). Its skull and dentition matched those of Canis lupus, but its teeth were larger with greater shearing ability, and its bite force was stronger than any known Canis species. These characteristics are thought to be adaptations for preying on megaherbivores (in North America ground sloths, mastodons, ancient bison, and camels). Its reliance on megaherbivores has been proposed as the cause of its extinction, along with climatic change and competition with other species, or a combination of those factors.

Wolves, whether extinct or still around, are majestic and awe-inspiring creatures. Some people believe that dogs and wolves are still remarkably similar and although dogs are descended from wolves, their evolutionary paths split at least 15 000 years ago. Thus today, wolves are not dogs, and dogs are not wolves.

Modern-day wolves still have larger brains and longer, thicker teeth than dogs; they are able to accomplish things by bringing together their pack and using teamwork; and they still use the same “fight or flight” instincts to get through the day. In nature, traits that interfere with vigour and ability to survive are eliminated, since they reduce the animal’s ability to compete with more robust creatures.

Dogs from ancient times, however, were bred for utilitarian purposes. With no understanding of genetic science, dog breeds accentuated certain behaviours and body form by breeding dogs that shared these features. Variations to suit climate and terrain, and those imposed by selective breeding for a specific function, produced groups of dogs similar in looks and abilities.

Experts postulate that wandering human groups spread out of southwest Asia between 10 000 and 15 000 years ago, accompanied by pariah (scavenger) dogs. Dogs reached the Middle East and North Africa at least 5 000 years ago through migrations and trade. Many followed humans as they traversed the land bridge to the Americas, where a number of Asian pariah dogs interbred with North American wolves.

Images of the oldest recorded breed, the Pharoah Hound (venerated in Ancient Egypt), grace the tombs of the pharaohs. The elegant and dignified Pharoah Hound is probably descended from the small, lithe wolf that once inhabited the Arabian Peninsula.

Today’s Dingo (Australia), descended from the Indian Plains Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes), is the only genuinely primitive breed (in that they are at an early/arrested stage of domestication), not dramatically affected by human intervention in their breeding.

Whether you are into “Game of Thrones” or “The Secret Life of Dogs,” enjoy every moment.

B. Fogle (2013). Dog. Dorling Kindersley Ltd: London.