What’s the story of the domestic dog?



  1. 0 Votes

    Our domestic dogs are a subspecies of wolf: Canis lupus familiaris. They have been seperate from wolves for over 100,000 years, and the most common theory is that they and early humans began to work together for mutual benefit. Both could provide food and protection to the other in different situations, and dogs began to be used for herding and hunting. It is unknown eactly when this partnership formed but some estimates put it at 30,000 years ago, meaning that the canines that first associated with humans were already significantly different than wolves. Whenever it occurred, humans eventually began making different breeds of dogs by breeding together individuals with desired traits. That is why we have such a variety of shapes, sizes in colors in our domesticated dogs today.

  2. 0 Votes

    The story of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) represents one of the greatest, longest-running experiments in genetics ever undertaken by mankind. Long, long before we even knew what genes were, mankind was skillfully manipulating them in the bodies of our canine companions.

    There’s no definitive understanding of how, precisely, the domestication of dogs began. Any attempt to find said starting point is complicated by the fact that ‘domestication’ is not an easy term to define. Are the alligators which are kept on farms in the southern U.S. ‘domesticated’ in the same way that your housecat (Corporal Whiskers?) is domesticated? It is intuitive to say they are not.

    The currently accepted paradigm (which is currently being challenged), thanks to a slew of evidence, genetic and otherwise, that dogs are descended from wolves, likely somewhere in Asia. In fact, Canis lupus is scientific name of the gray wolf, and the familiaris tacked onto the end denotes all domestic dogs as a mere subspecies, not distinct enough to merit their own species. Efforts to untangle the lineage of the modern dog are complicated by the fact that much evolution has taken place in canine species in recent history, and they tend to be more prone to interbreeding than some other animal groups. (In light of this tendency to interbreed, some scientists think coyotes and jackals also had some genetic input in creating the modern domestic dog.)

    Gray wolves are considered the common ancestor of all modern dog breeds.

    Gray Wolf

    When it comes to pinning down when the domestication occurred, things are even shakier. Wikipedia claims that ‘conclusive’ evidence puts the genetic divergence of dogs from wolves at least 15,000 years ago. It may well have taken place earlier. Also, genetic diverge isn’t necessarily the first step of domestication: wolves may well have been living with and helping man for some time before they began to evolve to better suit this role. (And before mankind actually begin to breed them for specific roles.)

    It is not hard to see how a partnership between mankind and wolves may have benefited both groups. We needed all the help we could get; the world as a harsh place for our ancestors. These canines could provide protection, food and fur, and even be useful as draft animals (read: manual labor).

    Perhaps wolves were attracted to early human civilizations because of easy access to food? Or perhaps mankind took a more proactive role and took wolf-pups to rear in captivity once we understood their potential? The precise route to domestication remains obscured by the intervening millennia.

    In exchange for their cooperation, wolves got taken along for the ride when human culture flourished. As we developed art and architecture, sciences and cities, the dog was with us every step of the way. And the whole time, we were bending their genes to our will.

    Modern dog breed variation runs from toy poodles …

    Toy Poodle Chocolate

    Anybody who doubts that evolution occurs need only look at the differences between a Doberman and a Dachshund. As human progress shifted away from the purely practical to include some things which are purely aesthetic, so did the various breeds of dogs. Today, we have breeds that exist simply to look interesting (I’m looking at you, Pekingese); we have built up an entire sub-culture around the breeding of dogs to adhere to abitrary standards set up for each breed. People devote their entire lives to creating the ‘perfect’ Boston terrier — which is an entirely aritifical concept, as a Boston terrier would never occur in nature.
    … to great danes

    IMG_0059 Gracie

    In fact, many of the traits humans have selected for in dog breeds are the sorts of things that would cause an animal great harm in the wild. Take the mushed faces of some breeds, which cause respiratory problems, for example. Often, since dog breeds were so inbred over thousands of generations, purebreed dogs have a slew of health problems associated with their breed.

    Thankfully, a more thorough, modern understanding of genetics has filtered into the world of dog breeding and breeders are doing their best to counteract the negative effects they bred into these animals in the first place.

    So, next time you’re taking Fido for a walk, no matter what breed or mix he may be, take a moment to admire him in all his symbolic magnificence. Here is a beast which has journeyed with man through much of hour history, being shaped along the  way — and likely shaping us in return. He may poop on the carpet now and then, but he is also a paragon of coevolution in action.


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