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How Dogs Became Man’s Best Friends (Wolf to Dog Evolution)



How Dogs Became Man's Best Friends (Wolf to Dog Evolution)

Over 30 000 years ago early humans lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers rather than farming; they actively hunted animals and collected food from their natural environment.


When wolves learned that human hunters had a regular food source they moved to the outskirts of hunter-gatherers’ camps to scavenge for leftovers, those wolves that were friendlier and less aggressive were more successful at getting some excess meat;

The wolves got to know the tribe and the humans let them stay nearby.

Aggressive wolves, however, were driven off or even killed by early humans.

As time went on the friendlier and tamer wolves were the ones to survive evolving into domesticated dogs; they settled near our ancestor’s camps and protected us from predators and we threw them a bone.

This was a mutually beneficial arrangement, food scraps for protection,- this continued for generations as these tamer canines passed on their friendliness to their offspring.

The earliest evidence of domesticated dogs

The earliest evidence of domesticated dogs is a remarkably well-preserved two-month-old male puppy named Dogor locals found the remains of this eighteen thousand-year-old pup in the summer of 2018, in a frozen lump of ground near the Inda-Gurka river in Russia.

Parts of the animal are incredibly well preserved including its head, nose, fur whiskers, and mouth but while Dogor was in good condition scientists were unable to confirm if the animal was a dog or a wolf.

This is because Dogor comes from an interesting period in canine evolution when wolves were becoming domesticated and early dogs were beginning to emerge.

Wolves and dogs

How Dogs Became Man's Best Friends (Wolf to Dog Evolution)

Scientists have found that wolves and dogs began to genetically diverge from each other sometime between 27 000 and 40 000 years ago.

As you go back in time, you get closer to the point where dogs and wolves converge – It becomes harder to tell between the two species, by about sixteen thousand years ago wolf dogs were domesticated.

They were no longer wild and self-sufficient like their wolf ancestors, these early dogs evolved to become more contributing members, pulling our sleds, helping us hunt, and even domesticating our livestock species.

We gave them nicknames and buried them with ceremonial objects, some people even mummified their dogs to bring them along into their afterlife.

Mummified dogs dating back 2500 years

Late research has uncovered 8 million mummified dogs dating back to 2500 years we can also see humans had a strong bond with early dogs in the archaeological records with dog burials.

There have been mixed burials in some countries where both humans and dogs are laid to rest together.

The fact that these dogs were buried near humans suggested that dogs were seen as very close companions, even in death.

Prehistoric dog burials

How Dogs Became Man's Best Friends (Wolf to Dog Evolution)
Dogor was well preserved in the permafrost of Siberia – Copyright S Fedorov/Centre for Palaeogenetics – Hurst, Luke

And what makes prehistoric dog burials special is that most of them were deposited and treated in ways that are very similar to how humans are buried.

For example analysis of some prehistoric dogs, and burials revealed that they were carefully placed in a grave some of them wearing decorative collars or were next to other items like spoons which suggests people believe that dogs also had souls and an afterlife.

Domestication of dogs and physical changes

Over thousands of years of domestication, created physical changes in dogs their teeth became smaller, their snouts shortened, and they developed floppy ears, curly tails, and splotchy coats.

Eventually, they looked less like wolves and more like dogs.

how did wolves’ physical features change?

How Dogs Became Man's Best Friends (Wolf to Dog Evolution)

A – 50-year research in which geneticist Dmitri Belyaev tamed silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and sought to answer that question.

In the 1950s, scientists conducted a well-known animal domestication experiment in Russia.

They selected and bred foxes that were friendliest towards people within 10 generations; the foxes showed dog-like behaviors such as seeking out human contact, wagging their tails, and licking people’s hands and faces, they even started to bark.

Their appearance also changed, they developed tails that curled up, spotted coats, and floppy ears similar in appearance to other domesticated animals such as dogs.

What the experiment revealed

Their fur even began to change color becoming lighter gray; what this experiment revealed was that many of the physical features that we see in domestic dogs today might have evolved from humans just picking the friendlier canines during the process of domestication.

Dogs even evolved to eat a more varied diet than their wolf ancestors, in a study published in 2013 researchers were able to isolate the gene associated with a change from the carnivorous diet of wolves to a more starchy diet in dogs.

Domesticated dogs

Domestic dogs have more copies of a gene called amy2b that breaks down starch, the history of the amy2b expansion in dogs suggested the genes responsible for digestion in both humans and dogs probably underwent similar changes.

This means that domesticated dogs living in human settlements would have been fed the kinds of foods that people were eating such as rice or wheat.

Fast forward several thousand years, people began breeding dogs to meet a variety of human needs, and coat textures and colors became more diverse

Many of these changes can be traced to cross-breeding as humans moved around the world with their furry friends and came across new breeds of canids.

Dog breeds today

Today there are hundreds of dog breeds in existence and surprisingly almost all dog breeds we recognize today didn’t exist until relatively recently.

They were developed in the last 150 years during the victorian era, during this time in Great Britain dog breeding intensified and expanded resulting in many of our most recognizable breeds of dogs

The Victorians became passionate about breeding dogs with interesting traits, and designing dogs became a hobby of the middle and upper classes. Kennel clubs were established to oversee the selectively bred specimens.

We kept on creating new breeds with distinct features and inventing dogs to suit our needs, unfortunately, though the selective breeding that caused the hundreds of modern dog breeds has put purebred dogs at risk.

They often fall victim to a large number of breed-specific health problems, bulldogs, for example, were selectively bred to have an even thicker and squatter body.

Problems with the Bulldog breed

Today bulldogs’ unnatural proportions make them incapable of mating or giving birth without medical intervention.

These dogs also suffer from overheating and breathing problems because of their pushed-in face.

So canines were originally drawn to our early human ancestors for food but they eventually bonded with our living and worked alongside us for thousands of years.

Our engagement with them helped them become more docile and friendly around humans which in turn strengthened our relationship with them, keep in mind that dogs are social pack animals who thrive with attention and affection and this made them a prime candidate for human best friends.

Why dogs are Man’s best friend

Over the process of domestication, dogs have learned how to understand us and our emotions, dogs can cue into how we’re feeling by detecting small gestures or changes in facial expressions.

They can pick up nearly imperceptible signals in human body language for example your dog might know you’re frustrated just by the squint of your eyes.

In one study dogs were even able to identify the location of hidden treats simply by following a human gaze, other studies have shown that dogs have evolved muscles around their eyes which allow them to make expressions that particularly appeal to humans.

The study says such puppy eyes helped domesticated dogs to bond with humans it could be evolution’s way of manipulating your feelings, your pooch may try to soften you up by flashing those irresistible puppy dog eyes.

Interestingly, research has also shown that dogs mirror their owner’s stress level, dogs can sense when you are sad or upset and they show empathy to comfort you when you are in distress.

Dogs have become more than our pets they are our constant companions our coworkers and our family.


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