How Did Dogs Become Domesticated?
Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated by humans, and they’ve been attached to the role of being our loyal companions ever since. But how did these beautiful animals become domesticated in the first place?
In the past 10,000 years, the genetic makeup of most dog skeletal remains has been linked to human settlements, particularly in some areas in the Pacific and the Arctic region. This indicates the unique relationship that has existed between dogs and humans for a very long time.
Gray Wolf Ancestry
The domestication of dogs is thought to have begun with the gray wolf. These animals were likely drawn to human campsites because of the garbage left behind.
There’s speculation that humans in the Pleistocene epoch may have actively sought out wolves to domesticate, but this wasn’t before they hunted the animal for its meat.
Over time, the relationship between humans and wolves shifted from one of predator and prey to that of symbiosis. There’s no universal belief on how this happened, but some experts believed that the abundance of other meat options led to humans no longer needing to hunt wolves.
With the daily struggle for survival, early humans realized they could take advantage of a wolf’s natural propensity to hunt prey and be quite good at it. As a result, they started to breed them for this purpose.
Colder Earth Meant Scarce Resources
There was a time in history when the Earth’s climate began to cool rapidly. This meant less food available for the planet’s top predators: humans and wolves.
The wolves had to adapt by becoming better at hunting prey. This gave rise to a new type of wolf that was more attentive and intelligent. At the same time, it was a struggle for early humans to find food.
These species were exclusively hunter-gatherers, so there was no other option but to find ways to make their hunts more efficient. What was once their source of meat became more valuable to humans as a hunting partner. As such, they began to domesticate wolves to help them in their hunts.
The First Dogs
The first dogs were likely bred for their ability to assist in hunts and serve as watchdogs and protectors of human campsites.
As the relationships between humans and wolves changed, so too did the genetics of the animals. A study found that the genes of modern dogs are more similar to those of gray wolves from Europe and Asia than they are to gray wolves from North America. This suggests that domestication may have occurred independently in different parts of the world.
The Bonn-Oberkassel Dog
One of the earliest examples of a domesticated dog was found in what is now modern-day Germany. This dog, nicknamed “Bonn-Oberkassel,” lived 14,700 years ago and was buried with two humans.
It was first suggested that the remains were of a local wolf species. However, a more definitive study in the 1970s found out that the bones were more of a domesticated dog than a wolf. Further studies revealed that the dog’s cause of death was canine distemper.
The Bonn-Oberkassel dog is widely accepted as the oldest proof of dog domestication, predating the previous estimate by about 4,000 years.
Canines From the Ice Age
Earlier, we discussed the possibility that humans started domesticating gray wolves back when the planet was significantly colder. This coincides with evidence that dogs shared a common ancestry from a wolf species during the Ice Age. Scientists found proof that the domesticated dog lineage spread into five different populations as the ice melted.
The Human Migration Factor
The domestication of dogs is also linked to human migration patterns. For example, when humans started moving from Siberia into the Americas, they brought their dogs with them.
But that’s not to say that the people from the north were the first ones to bring domesticated dogs into the Americas. There’s an abundance of remains that have been found on the continent that date back to 10,000 years ago. This suggests that dogs were domesticated before people from the Arctic region started migrating to other parts of the world.
Born Out of Necessity
The domestication of dogs was most likely born out of necessity. Humans realized that they could take advantage of a wolf’s natural propensity to hunt prey and use them to their benefit. This helped early humans be more efficient in their hunts and survive the harsh conditions of the Ice Age.
From there, the necessity transformed into companionship. Dogs became more than just hunting partners, but also protectors and loyal friends. And as the years went by, they’ve only become more integrated into the lives of their human companions.
In the modern-day, it’s hard to imagine a life without dogs. But it wasn’t too long ago that they were just another animal in the wild. The fascination with a canine’s personality eventually led to people finding ways to crossbreed different types of dogs. Different dog breeds started to emerge and gain popularity in various parts of the world.
So, the next time you see your dog curled up on your couch or taking a walk with you in the park, remember that this domesticated animal has a long and fascinating history that’s deeply intertwined with our own.