Monday, 19 March 2012

Domestication Experiment Produces a Silver Fox Suited to be a Pet


An experiment aimed at recreating the domestication of wolves and their subsequent evolution into the modern dog has yielded an unexpected benefit for anyone who has ever wished to be the owner of a pet fox.
Tod from ''The Fox and The Hound'
(Fanpop n.d)

The experiment was begun in 1959 by biologist Dmitry Belyaev, and continues today under the supervision of Lyudmila Trut. Starting with a base population of 30 male foxes and 100 vixens selected from the calmest foxes that researchers on the team could find in fur farms in Siberia, the project initiated a selective breeding program. From the first generation bred from the base population, the tamest kits were selected to breed the next generation and so on. An unaltered group was created as a control, as well as a group bred selectively for aggressive traits. In order to make sure that any changes noted are due to the selective breeding, human contact with the foxes is kept to a minimum. The grading is strict, and the process involves the kits undergoing a series of tests beginning at one month of age, and continuing until they reach sexual maturity at around eight months, when they are assigned into one of four classes, Class III, II, I or IE. Class III is made up of the least domesticated foxes, which are aggressive to or fearful of the handlers. Class II foxes are calm when handled but are not affectionate. Members of Class I were the tamest, until Class IE was established after the sixth generation of foxes displayed behaviors so like that of dogs that they were labeled the “Domesticated Elite”. (
Trut 1999)

Trut with one of the tame foxes in Siberia
(Child n.d)
The researchers were surprised at how quickly the traits of domesticated animals appeared in their foxes. The morphological changes observed in only the ninth generation (1969) included the first kits being born with piebald colouring. This was attributed to the fact that kits were being selected for breeding due to their calm demeanor and receptivity to human contact, and the coat colour of the foxes did not lead to the survival issues that it would in the wild, due to them being unable to camouflage easily. (Ratliff 2011)

More important to the experiment were the behavioral changes. By only the second generation (1960), the kits were more approachable. By the fourth (1964), the kits would wag their tails and approach humans on their own, and even allow themselves to be petted. By the sixth generation (1966) many foxes displayed full affinity to handlers, following them around like dogs and even licking the handlers affectionately. This led to the creation of Class IE. (Trut 1999)
(Glebova 2011)

In recent years the team have begun the process of obtaining permits to sell the surplus foxes as pets. The selling of the surplus elite as pets will help raise funds to continue the research, and is also a welcome alternative for the research team to selling the foxes to fur farms. (Ratliff 2011)

The ongoing experiment has produced many breakthroughs in the study of domestication of wild animals and the researchers also hope to provide insight into human domestication, and the development of our sociality. The research has gone a long way towards answering the question of domestication and how it is achieved.


Trut, L N 1999, Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment, Researcher at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Novosibirsk, Russia, viewed 19 March 2012,

Ratliff, E 2011, Animal Domestication: Taming the Wild, Contributor to National Geographic Magazine, viewed 19 March 2012,

Walt Disney Productions 1981, The Fox and The Hound, image retrieved 20 March 2012 from,

Child D, n.d. Retrieved on 20 March 2012 from,

Glebova N, 2011 retrieved on 20 March 2011 from,

1 comment:

  1. Oooh I so want one! Best pet ever! Close enough to domestic dog evolution that I don't have to feel guilty for taking one out of it's "natural" environment! Sooooooo want one. One boy and one girl so I can decide which personality I like best.