The Evolution of Dogs: From Wild to Domesticated
Have you ever wondered where today’s domesticated dog came from? It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when modern day dogs weren’t around, at least in the domestic sense, but hundreds of thousands of years ago, dogs did not live among humans as we experience today. To get a better sense of how and when dogs became domesticated, let’s take a look back and do a brief study of the evolution of dogs and discover how they went from wild animal to domesticated family member.
History of Dogs and Wolves
Based on the research we found, it is believed that the domesticated dog that we know and love today actually evolved from the Gray Wolf. Most archaeological records indicate that the earliest dogs arose during the time of human hunter-gatherers and it is also believed that the dog was the first species to become domesticated.
Over the course of a few millennia, and spanning the continents of Europe and Asia, dogs began to evolve into the loveable, domestic creatures we know today. When did this domestication happen? Well according to an article in National Geographic, it is estimated that dogs have been accompanying humans for about 10,000 years. But who domesticated whom? One would think that humans domesticated the dog based on our modern habits and way of life, however there are some who would argue that dogs actually domesticated us! It is believed that wolves began to adapt to human society long before humans actually settled down and practiced agriculture. Their canine instincts allow them to “read” human behavior and there is speculation that as wolves began to “read” the humans around them, they learned to adapt their behavior. For example, as wolves hung around the outskirts of human, hunter-gatherer camps looking for scraps of food, they began to learn that being aggressive was not the way to win the humans over. However, if the wolves demonstrated a bit more trust and friendliness, the humans tended to show more interest and the relationship between man and dogs grew from there.
Domestication of Dogs
As this domestication continued, humans began to experiment with breeding and again, over the course of the years, the various breeds began to emerge onto the scene. While there are significant differences between wild wolves and domesticated dogs, there are also some traits that our modern domesticated dogs inherited from their wild ancestors. For example:
- Both dogs and wolves defend their territories by marking them with urine. Dogs and wolves urinate on trees, rocks, fences and other places indicating to other dogs that an animal is occupying its territory.
- Many dogs bury bones or toys for safe keeping and future use just like their wild relatives will sometimes bury a kill to eat for later.
- Dogs communicate in ways that their wild relatives do also, a dog’s ears will perk up when they hear a strange noise. Their body and facial expression can communicate a strong message, particularly if a dog feels threatened. Dogs and wolves will also communicate with sounds such as growls, howls, barks and whines.
- Finally, recent research suggests that the concept of a “wolf-pack” is actually a bit misleading. In recent years, animal behaviorists have studied wolves in the wild and found that wolves tend to live in families with two parents and their cubs. The cubs “know” their place in the family until such time that they grow up and form their own wolf family. (sounds a little familiar doesn’t it?) Dogs take a similar path when they come to live with their human families; they quickly learn where they fit in and tend to be content with that status.
Although some aspects of the evolution of dogs is a bit unclear, we do know that their domestication has been good for them and GREAT for their best friends: The humans who love them.