Visitors to the Virginia Living Museum can expect a little bark — without the bite — with its latest exhibit, "Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs."
The attraction explores the history of human-canine relationships and a dog's sensory experiences. It starts with how the more than 140 recognized breeds of dog evolved from the gray wolf.
Wolves were believed to have originated in Germany and central Europe as early as 10,000 BC. This is based on evidence of burial sites in those locations, according to VLM education associate Bo Baker.
"The idea of how that happened is a wolf was looking for food, smelled it and came into human camp looking for a handout," he said. "We realized we had this animal here with keen eyes and ears. They can protect us."
Through breeders and individual's needs, the wolf slowly turned into the 180-plus varieties of breeds recognized by the American Kennel club.
"It's years and years of finding what you like and keeping it," Baker said. "If a wolf is too angry or aggressive, you're not going to keep that one. You get a nice one. Then you find out they can start developing long legs, so you get a greyhound."
Stations in "Wolf to Woof" are divided into a number of interactive displays. One tests how humans and dogs differ in smell via bacon pellets.
"That's all based on their naval cavity," Baker said. "Looking into a dog's, it's all this folding of bone and a lot of surface area. When molecules come in they have a lot of area to pick up the smallest bits of things."
A nearby station allows visitors to stand over a shower-head like cone to hear how dog's barks reflect their mood. Another lets participants hear what termites sound like through the ears of a fox. Other topics explain how dogs are used to rescue, guide and comfort humans and the dangers of illegal trading of furs.
Judy Triska, marketing director of VLM, said the exhibit has helped bring in a new audience.
"It's brought in a different group of folks. People who love their fur babies," she said. "It's not just the zoo lovers. It's those that have domesticated animals."
To tie into the exhibit, VLM will host a number of dog-related events. Peninsula Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals adoption will be at the museum Monday with a few animals to talk about pet adoption. On April 8, guests will have the opportunity to learn and meet service and K-9 dogs.
"Wolf to Woof" runs until May 14. The exhibit was created by Wonderworks Exhibits Co.
Black can be reached by phone at 757-247-4607.
Virginia Living Museum
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Saturday.
Where: 524 J Clyde Morris Blvd, Newport News.
Cost: $20 for ages 13 and up, $15 for ages 3-12, free for 2 and younger.
More info: thevlm.org or 757-595-1900.