The Domestication of Wolves
As close friends, partners, and members of our family, dogs make up a huge part of our daily lives. Although it’s hard to imagine these days, the relationship between dogs and humans has not always been so amicable. Scientists and historians are still debating the true origins of dogs’ domestication by humans. What they can all agree on is that today’s dogs descend from wild wolves. It’s easy to see how a Husky may have come from a Gray Wolf, but the lineage of Chihuahuas and Poodles is a bit tougher to fathom!
Let’s take a look at the two leading theories of how we met our best pals. By examining where dogs came from and how they got here, we may be able to appreciate our relationships with them that much more.
Though zoologists can’t seem to come to one conclusion about how dogs and humans became so close, they’ve narrowed it down to a couple of likely possibilities. One reason for the controversy is that the process of dog domestication was not a single event, but rather a complex series of generations that were bred together for thousands of years. Trying to backtrack all of this cross-breeding can become a headache in itself. That being said, the domestication process probably began between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago in the Middle East.
While it’s true that not even a clear date can be surmised, a more solid pair of hypotheses can be made for how the domestication happened. A longstanding belief among scientists is that humans approached wolves first. Considering that ancient humans were primarily hunter-gatherers at this time, they probably would’ve encountered their fair share of wolves in the wild. Perhaps they captured some young cubs and trained them to hunt. On the other hand, there is also a chance that the friendly wolves decided to spend time with humans for food or companionship.
Russian zoologist Dmitri K. Belyaev was the first to popularise the idea that humans initiated the domestication of wolves into dogs. Instead of studying dogs directly, however, Belyaev worked with foxes. He hypothesised that by selecting especially tame animals to breed would create more “domesticated” subsequent generations. This process would attempt to weed out the more aggressive specimens and result in a new species of domestic foxes.
For over 40 generations, the foxes were rated on their tameness and selectively bred into a much more domestic group of animals. By creating a family of foxes that had evolved traits not found in the wild (such as whimpering for attention and licking their ears), Belyaev was able to put forth circumstantial evidence that wolves could’ve gone through the same process with humans thousands of years ago. This indicates that ancient humans might have selectively adopted tame wolves into their own clans, thus resulting in modern day dogs.
A Modern Hypothesis
Belyaev’s experiment proved that it is indeed possible to breed a wild species into a domestic one using purely genetics and limited human exposure. However, new fossil evidence suggests that the process of domestication may not have relied entirely on human breeding efforts. Instead of humans approaching wolves in order to adopt them, it might’ve happened the other way around.
If you’re an ancient wolf scavenging for food, you may find yourself becoming a bit jealous of the local human tribe. After all, they have warm fires every night and cook tasty-looking meat. Why not go hang out with them? This could’ve been the thought process that caused friendlier wolves to approach humans and trade their companionship and hunting skills for some grub.
After finding fossils dating from 40,000 years ago, a study found that dogs could’ve first split from ancient wolves around this time. If true, this would indicate that the taming of dogs was more likely a passive process rather than selective breeding.
Why Not Both?
Of course, both of these methods are equally plausible for the origins of wolf domestication. No matter which one came first, we know that dogs were eventually bred ad infinitum in human populations. In the same way, there are plenty of cases in which otherwise “wild” animals have befriended humans. All in all, we can always rely on our canine companions. Whether we chose them or they chose us, our relationships with them today reflect a powerful symbiotic bond that goes back thousands of years.
Do a Favour for Your Best Friend!
Though we cannot yet be certain exactly how dogs came to be our best friends, we do know that many of the biggest-selling pet foods on the market do not satisfy the dietary requirements that dogs have developed throughout their evolution. Learn more about raw meat diets for dogs (and the scientific evidence supporting such a diet) by visiting our home page here at Rawmate!