Domestication of Dogs: From Predator to Man's Best Friend
Mon, April 19, 2021

Domestication of Dogs: From Predator to Man's Best Friend

The ancestors or predecessors of the dogs that we know today were vicious and violent animals that were hardly cooperative and were even in constant competition with one another / Photo by: Jef Wodniack via Shutterstock

 

Long ago, before we had them as pets, way before our four-legged best friends learned to fetch tennis balls, watch football on the couch, or even showed signs of being trainable, dogs were wild animals. The ancestors or predecessors of the dogs that we know today were vicious and violent animals that were hardly cooperative and were even in constant competition with one another. Scientists today have uncovered the true origins of our relationship with dogs and the background of the very first human-dog partnership and how they have evolved from feral wolves. Here is a quick look at how our furry, four-legged family members became our friends.

 

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs are scientifically known as Canis lupus familiaris, domestic mammal of the family Canidae and from the order of Carnivora. According to Britannica online, dogs are a subspecies of the gray wolf, Canis lupus, with relation to foxes and jackals. Paleontologists and archeologists have determined that about 60 million years ago, a small mammal similar to a weasel lived in parts of Asia. They called this the Miacis, the genus that later became the ancestor of the animals we know today as canids: dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes. These Miacis did not actually leave direct descendants but doglike animals evolved from them. What came after them was a long animal, medium-sized with a bushy tail and coat. This gave rise to and evolved into the gray wolf, which then split into more than 400 distinct breeds. Humans played a pivotal role in creating dogs that fill their needs. Once dogs were found to be faster and stronger than humans, could see and hear better, they were interbred to enhance these attributes. 

Dogs are known to be the most popular domestic animals in the world, with cats following close behind. According to a 2017 survey from pet owners, there are roughly 89.7 million dogs owned in the United States and the numbers are growing. This has increased by 20 million from 68 million in 2000 and continues to grow alongside the increasing American population. As mentioned in Statista, an online portal for statistics, the house penetration rate in dogs has reached almost 50% in the US within the past 50 years. More than this, dogs have lived over 15,000 to 40,000 years with humans as a hunting companion, protector, receiver of adoration, as part of the family, and as a close friend.   

Looking more closely, dogs are regarded differently in different parts of the world. Powerful dogs were developed to protect homes and provide security during travel, and they are popular in Europe. Quick and pleasant-looking dogs were the most preferred among noblemen in the Middle East. Characteristics of loyalty, friendliness, protectiveness, and affection have landed dogs an important position in the family among most of Western society. In ancient Egypt, dogs were even considered to be sacred, during the days of the pharaohs.

Dogs are known to be the most popular domestic animals in the world, with cats following close behind / Photo by: Monika Chodak via Shutterstock

 

How and When Dogs Were Domesticated

The Smithsonian Magazine online, the official journal publication of the Smithsonian Institution of museums, said that one theory argues that early humans had somehow captured wolf pups, kept them as pets, and gradually domesticated them, which could be estimated to date back to the agriculture period thousands of years ago. Additionally, genetic studies found that modern-day domesticated dogs originated in China, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, with gray wolves first domesticated in western Eurasia and were believed to have been attracted to human camps to scavenge for leftover food. These animals eventually became companions that traveled with nomadic humans and a natural selection for domestication occurred, according to Dr. Stephen L. Zawistowski, science adviser emeritus to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Women may have even been the first to make wolves pets, according to Katherine M. Rogers, a professor of English from Brooklyn College. 

It was originally believed that the first domesticated wolves appeared around 15,000 years ago in the Middle East. However, Swedish geneticist Pontus Skoglund published a study in the journal Current Biology describing a 35,000-year-old Siberian wolf bone. From there, Skoglund concluded canine domestication may have first occurred up to 40,000 years ago. According to a 40-year experiment that began in the 1950s conducted by Russian researcher Dmitri K. Belyaev, it takes 6 to 8 generations to domesticate a canine, with scientific evidence supporting the bond between humans and dogs. When people look into each other’s eyes, an emotional bond is formed and the hormone oxytocin is released. A study found that the same happens when a dog and a human gaze into each other’s eyes.

The bond between humans and their dogs has grown much stronger today that the two are now virtually inseparable. What started as a mutual partnership for humans and dogs alike, with food and protection as the underlying motive, has evolved into a relationship that is more complex and deeper.

The bond between humans and their dogs has grown much stronger today that the two are now virtually inseparable / Photo by: Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock