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History of Dogs: Domestication

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"Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen." - Orhan Pamuk

Man's Bestfriend

Dogs have been called "Man's Bestfriend" for as long as we can recall, and it undoubtedly isn't an understatement. The relationship between dogs and humans is an extensive and vigorous connection that can be traced back to 40,000 years ago, beginning when man first came in contact with wolves in the newly discovered Eurasia. But that does bring up a question, how exactly were dogs domesticated from wolves?

First Meeting

Imagine this: It's 40,000 years ago in the newly discovered Eurasia. You're relaxing next to the campfire you just set up, feasting on your newest catch with your family. You spot a dark figure in the shadows, making it's way closer towards you. It's a wolf (Canis lupus). The wolf approaches you slowly, stopping in its tracks a good twenty feet away from you. It's slim and ragged and doesn't pose much of a menace. You throw it a piece of meat. The wolf devours it. You do it again. The wolf devours it once more, taking another step towards you. You do it several more times, and each time the wolf moves closer towards you. Once it's close enough, it gives you a sniff and licks the tip of your fingers, trusting you. Ultimately, that wolf starts to settle and live near your campsite. Overtime friendlier wolves settle near your camp, bearing offspring that gained their friendlier traits. This experience was something that many of our ancestors experienced, marking the start of domestication.

When wolves began to settle near hunter-gather camps they began to scavenge on leftover bones and carcasses. Those wolves were more tamer and less aggressive, making it feasible for them to achieve this. Those wolves carried on their traits to their offspring, gaining their tame characteristics, allowing each generation after to next to before more docile. Moreover, after a few generations, humans began to notice the advantages they've could've gained from these animals.

Early Relationships

When wolves began to raise their families near camps they protected their pups from outside threats, like stray wolves or bears, and in the process, defending us. In turn, the wolves had a safe place to raise their pups, as well as a source of low-effort food. This was a symbiotic relationship between man and wolves, which soon gave way to the rise of early dogs. And along the way, we discovered more uses for wolves.

Wolves, naturally, were proficient trackers and hunters. They helped guide our ancestors towards possible menaces or resources and helped take down prey, especially in large groups. Wolves served important jobs around camp as well. They guarded campsites and livestock against potential threats, also herding other animals that were being domesticated at the time. Wolves could have also provided warmth in the cold winter months. And another quite simple reason, just for a true championship.

Moving Around the World

Around 20,000 years ago wolves finally began to turn into dogs (Canis lupus familiarise). And over time they've begun to undergo physical and temperamental changes. When wolves began to transition into dogs they've acquired uneven splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears. Gaining shorter muzzles, and smaller teeth. Their temperament around humans also changed, instead of becoming hostile, they were friendlier than their wild relatives. Turning them into domesticated versions of themselves.

But eventually, humans began to explore and disperse more around the world, and when they came their canine comrades followed. Dogs began to migrate towards the Middle East, and Africa by 15,000 YBP, then fully covering modern Europe in 10,000 YBP. And one of those lineages traveled back to Northern China and incorporated with the dogs there before moving towards the Americas.

But in certain places around the world, dogs began to change and adjust to the new environment they were dwelling in with the influence of humans.

Dogs in Egypt, for example, were bred to have longer legs for speed, along with floppier ears to help them be more aerodynamic and thinner coats to protect them from the heat. They were bred to specifically hunt fast prey like antelope.

Dogs in Central Africa were bred to be small to hunt and track smaller game. Other dogs were bred to be large and powerful, sometimes resembling other animals like lions. Dogs that were bred near the arctic circle has thicker fur to endure the intense frigid temperature, and some were more muscular than others to take down specific prey like bears. Over time more and more dogs were bred together for certain attributes, paving the way for the first early dog breeds.


More Information:

Below are videos that provide more information about the domestication of dogs.

A breif history of dogs

How Dogs (Eventually) Became Our Best Friends

A Brief History of Dogs - How We Domesticated Dogs

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