Long before dogs became our bestfriends and fetched tennis balls for us, they were wolves. More fierce and wild than you can imagine. Researchers have conducted multiple studies to determine the exact origin of dogs and their evolution. Today, almost every household either owns a dog or has owned one at least once in its lifetime. This human and animal bond is the most trusted and loyal, provoking scientists to study how it all came about. Although we have made significant progress in studying the history and evolution of domestic dogs but still, a lot remains to be discovered.
Where and When were dogs domesticated?
By looking at poodles and pugs, one might think that there is no way on earth that they were wolves once but the fact of the matter is that back in the day, they actually did descend from wolves. Experts suggest that gray wolves and dogs some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago diverged from an extinct wolf species. Scientists have a mutual agreement on that point and on what happened next as well. Evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare thinks that the domestication of dogs and the relationship between humans today is not only surprising but quite unique as well.
However, some researchers are not on board with this thought, especially about the origins, stating that our long-haired friends came from southern China to Mongolia to Europe. At the same time, timing is another issue. Many scientists are finding it hard to believe. Researches have pushed back the domestication date, suggesting that dogs were domestic just once atleast nearly 20,000 years ago. Furthermore, Evolutionary ecologist Krishna R. Veeramah collected DNA from two Neolithic German dog fossils dating 7,000 and 4,700 years ago. Studying and tracking the genetic mutation allowed them to yield the new date estimates.
In addition to that, Dr. Veeramah went on to state that the ancient dogs existing in the same time period had similar characteristics to modern European dogs we have today. Plus, considering the fossils of the dogs discovered, it was suggested that the domestication took place only once. The same domestication is what we see and live with today.
On the other hand, another study conducted on the remains of 59 European dogs aged 3,000 to 14,000 years ago suggested that dogs might have been domesticated more than once. When compared with the wolves and modern dog breeds of today, it could be said that the dogs were domesticated in Asia around 14,000 years ago. Moreover, their lineages split into East Asia and Western Eurasian dogs some 14,000 to 6,400 years ago.
Since dog fossils older than the dates mentioned earlier have been found in Europe, researchers state that they have every right to believe that wolves were domesticated twice. Although, the European branch did not survive to contribute enough to today’s dogs. Researchers also suggest that we should consider the ancient DNA evidence along with the archeological record of early dogs to determine and make sure the number of times dogs were independently domesticated.
How did dogs become man’s best friend?
For years, researchers have been trying to study the evolution of domestic dogs and their transformation to man’s best friend. And the majority of them have concluded that instead of wondering about the exact origin and source of domestication. One study suggested that back in the day, humans managed to somehow capture wolf pups, kept them, and trained them. It could be said that the domestication took place at the same time when agriculture was on the rise some 10,000 years ago.
The older fossils found suggest that domestic dogs existed some 14,000 years ago, allowing scientists to fully believe that domestication was in fact a thing back in the day. While other studies have pointed out the fact that domestication took place far earlier, a different theory has provoked the interest of many scientists, which believes that wolves gathered around hunter people and domesticated themselves.
Supporting the theory, many scientists believe that the physical changes taking place in dogs over time such as the curly tails, splotchy coats, and floppy ears suggest that they followed a self-domestication process. This is a direct result of when the friendliest animals of a species come close to humans and the physical changes start to take place. However, these changes are limited to a few generations.
An experiment provided evidence for this theory when some foxes were domesticated in Russia. The experiment involved breeding some foxes that were comfortable being close to humans and also picked up social cues. Therefore, it could be said that while there were wolves that were aggressive towards humans on one hand, on the other, there might be some that were friendly around humans giving them access to hunter-gathered food.
As a result, these dogs had gained a competitive advantage over others and yet again, the physical changes taking place were proof of domestication. At the end of the day, it could be said that we did not domesticate dogs, instead, they domesticated themselves.
Have dogs changed since becoming our best friends?
Although science cannot determine the origin of human/dog partnership but it is obvious that each species have experienced several changes during their long years together. Today, these changes are exceeding far beyond just skin and coats, etc. Several studies have presented theories that how dogs by partnering with humans have worsened over the years.
The reason is that dogs are historically and naturally wild animals. By being close to humans and domesticated for thousands of years now, it has reduced their social ability to communicate with other dogs. Their lifestyle and mentality seem to have reduced when compared to wolves that largely remain wild and less domesticated.
Furthermore, several researchers have tried to study the changes taking place in dogs since becoming our best friends and that has to do a lot with the history of dog breeding as well. Researchers have conducted experiments on wolves and dogs by offering problems to solve. While wolves tried many different ways to solve a problem, dogs on the other hand looked at their owner for help. This is alarming. At the same time, today we breed dogs to produce the next generation exactly the way we want it. Therefore, even before the pups are born, they have been domesticated. Their original personality and traits have been changed to serve the needs of humans.
Although a lot more work needs to be done on the history and evolution of domestic dogs but considering the evidence we have today, it can be surely said that dogs have evolved quite a lot over the years. From ferocious carnivores to fluffy cuddle partners, it is hard to believe that dogs are descendants of wolves. Domestication has brought a significant change in the way dogs serve us and we treat them in return. This process is destined to continue but at the cost of reducing the mentality of dogs as suggested by studies.