Friends Forever? The Origins of the Bond Between Man and Dog
The relationship we have with dogs is unique and is like no other bond between humans and another species. Exactly how that bond was created over time is still up for debate, but recent discoveries have given us a glimpse into the origin of dogs.
A Brief History of Dogs and Humans
It is widely accepted among scientists that dogs evolved from wolves, but the exact time and place where modern dogs originated from is a mystery. From what we know, the evolution from wolf to dog likely took place between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. Some evidence even suggests that dogs’ evolution from wolf began 100,000 years ago.
The oldest discovery of dog fossils to date was a skull found in a Siberian cave in Russia in 1975. In 2013, radiocarbon dating aged the skull at 33,000 years old. According to the report, this species of dog was on the cusp of becoming fully domesticated before the breed died out. The fossil showed the teeth of a wolf, but the rest of the analysis revealed that the animal was most similar to Tibetan Mastiffs, Newfoundlands, and Siberian Huskies.
Curiously, the fossil did not bear any resemblances to other fossils that had been found in Russia at the time. This was significant because it suggested that this dog had it’s first association with humans independently from other breeds. What this meant for researchers was that rather than having one singular birthplace as previous DNA evidence suggested, modern dogs likely descended from multiple groups across Europe and Asia.
Thousands of years later, evidence points to Ancient Egyptians as the first ever dog breeders. The Egyptians would breed their dogs for hunting, guarding and for war.
Ancient China may have been the next region to breed dogs. In China dogs were bred to resemble lions, an important religious symbol in Buddhism. Examples of these are the Tibetan mastiff and the Chow.
In recent history, the 18th century introduced pure-bred dogs a status symbol in Europe. In the 19th century dog breeding became a fashionable hobby among the middle class, and in the 20th century cross breeding became popular. Today, dogs are the most diverse species on earth with over 300 breeds.
Early Interaction Between Dogs and Humans
There are multiple theories as to how dogs and humans initially came to be intertwined as companions. What we know for sure is that groups of wolves underwent thousands of years of evolution before they became the dogs that we know and love today.
The earliest interaction between dogs and humans can most likely be traced back to curious wolves who followed packs of humans to eat their food scraps. As these more daring, yet unthreatening wolves continued to grow more comfortable with humans, they likely started to protect their new friends in a symbiotic relationship.
“The somewhat curious and less fearful ‘first founders’ became even more so as they interbred amongst themselves,” said Susan Crockford, anthropologist and zoo archaeologist at the University of Victoria, for National Geographic.
The first dogs became smaller, had wider skulls and had larger litters than wolves. This process took place initially across China, Europe and the Middle East.
Man’s Best Friend, From the Beginning
The oldest known grave with both a dog and humans buried together was found in 1914 in Bonn, Germany. 114 years later, a new study revealed that the remains date back 14,000 years to the Paleolithic era. The dog was just a puppy, and the study shows that the puppy was domesticated and well-cared for. It also showed that the puppy became sick at 19 weeks old and died at 28 weeks.
The fact that the puppy survived for 9 weeks while dealing with a serious illness was evidence that these early humans were caring for the dog as best they could.
“We suggest that at least some Paleolithic humans regarded some of their dogs not merely materialistically, in terms of their utilitarian value, but already had a strong emotional bond with these animals,” said Liane Giemsch, who co-wrote the study on the puppy, for National Geographic.
Normally natural selection involves survival of the strongest, and sometimes meanest members of a species. In dogs though, the opposite may have occurred. In an essay from their book The Genius of Dogs, Dr. Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods write about how dogs adopted us, and not the other way around. When wolves started approaching humans to eat their food scraps, rather than survival of the fittest, it was survival of the friendliest. The wolves that were aggressive towards humans were likely killed off, but those that posed no threat could continue to hang around camp.
What this eventually led to was both physical and psychological changes as these friendlier wolves evolved into domesticated dogs. As they became more attuned to human gestures and showed their usefulness as protectors and hunters, the bond between dogs and humans continued to grow stronger.
“Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.” - The Genius of Dogs
Modern Day Dogs
It’s fascinating to think that modern dogs are the result of a relationship that has been nurtured for tens of thousands of years. We should never take for granted how truly incredible dogs are at listening, learning, and sometimes seemingly reading our minds.
There is so much potential waiting to be unlocked in every dog, and there are so many dogs that need our help to even have a chance of showing that potential.
If you’re on the fence about whether to adopt a dog, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help you every step of the way on your adoption journey.
Dogs do not equate indulgence with love. They interpret it is a weakness in their human pack members’ ability to keep them safe, leaving the dog no choice but to step up and be in charge. The result is a highly stressed dog and an unhappy dog parent.