Dogs Dog Evolution Dog Breeds Early Humans Evolution

Dogs hold a special place in human society, yet it is unlikely that they will ever be as significant to us as we have been to them. Admittedly, without dogs, our lives wouldn’t be nearly so rich. But without humans, dogs wouldn’t exist. The astounding reality is, we made the dog.

But we didn’t do it on purpose. Yes, humans have intentionally bred dogs for various jobs and appearances – for the last few hundred years, we’ve even been doing it on intentionally. Yet, it’s unlikely that we chose the wolf ancestors of our noble and loyal dog friends as our companions. And, technically, it probably wasn’t us those wolves were attracted to, either. In truth, it was probably a lot more like our trash they wanted. We were hunter/gatherers, who threw out plenty of leftovers (just like we still do today), and they were hungry animals who developed a taste for those leftovers.

Those with low adrenaline levels (and, thus, lower propensity for fear) were selectively advantaged in their pursuit of our garbage. Natural selection favored those who were willing to get closer to us, and not be terrified when we came near. But even then, for a long time, those wolves would still have been wolves, not dogs as we know them today. It was only after thousands of years of exposure to humans that a new species departed from its wolf ancestry.

Interestingly, this scenario may not have only been enacted once. It’s conceivable that, all around the globe, whenever humans came into close contact with wolves, a special relationship developed. In Asia, Europe, and America, humans and wolves may have separately followed the same course, creating our common dogs from multiple ancestries.

Eventually, we became fond of them, perhaps for some innate reason, or perhaps even because they kept pests away from our camps. We may never know. But in the end, we began to think of them as our friends – even our best friends!

Once dogs became staples of human cultures, and civilization grew, we noticed that some dogs were better runners, or were more aggressive, or more obedient. And we noticed that the offspring of those particular animals tended to favor their parents. We discovered selecting breeding, and took full advantage. Now a dog may be small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, or may twice the size of its master. Intelligence, temperament, appearance, and abilities are known to differ dramatically between breeds – it’s because we made them that way.

If dogs could talk, I’m sure they’d thank us for their existence, and blame us for the horrible things we’ve done to some of their breeds, the defects we’ve refined in them, along with the strengths we’ve developed. Unfortunately, we, like nature, can’t get everything right. But aren’t we glad we were there to spark the evolution of such a wonderful animal?