Domestic dogs : Evolution from wolves to man’s best friend

Domestic dogs evolution

Have you noticed, wherever you find humans in the world, you will also find dogs. From the arctic tundra to the tropical regions, on the streets and in our homes, humans and dogs share a bond that in rooted deep in ancient history. If we stretch back to a thousand years, we can see that dogs have been our canine helpers and protectors, our companions and most trusted friends since ancient times. Dogs are a part of our society, our culture, our homes and families, but how did we get here ? Where did domestic dogs come from ? To answer these questions, we will have to travel several thousand years back in time to meet the wolves and know the evolution of the domestic dogs.

The Grey Wolf

In every nook and corner where you find people today, you are likely to find another species nearby: Canis Lupus Familiaris, simply known as dogs.

One theory of canine evolution is that man’s best friend – the dog has evolved from the ancient grey wolf.

This may not really come as a surprise for some of you. But what makes the story of man’s best friend so interesting is that they all evolved from a creature often seen as one of our oldest rivals: Canis Lupus, or the ancient grey wolf.

Around 100,000 years ago, when our Palaeolithic ancestors first settled in Eurasia, wolves were one of their main rivals at the top of the food chain.

These mighty wolves were able to exert pressure over 300 lbs. in one bone-crushing bite and sniff out their prey more than a mile away. So, these predators didn’t have much competition.

Just like our ancestors, these wolves also lived and hunted in nomadic groups. They used their social skills and tactics to take down large creatures together.

They were persistent and effective in their hunts until they were set against their new invasive neighbours, the humans.

Facing their powerful rivals with spears, the wolves found themselves at a crossroad.

For most of the wolves, these thriving humans posed a serious threat to their territory. But for some wolves, especially the ones without any packs, human hunting camps offered new opportunities.

Wolves that displayed less aggression could come closer to the humans gathered in camps and feed on the leftovers. These less docile scavengers gradually outlived their aggressive siblings.

Soon, these tamer wolves started breeding and settling in areas near human population.

Overtime, humans found these friendlier wolves to be useful in activities like tracking and hunting prey, protecting territories from other wild animals, and much more.

By around 15,000 years ago, these friendlier canine generations were domesticated. They became dogs that helped us hunt and pull our sledges.

When we began farming, dogs were brought with us to our fields and were given nicknames. These domestic dogs soon evolved to feed on farm scraps.

They were venerated for exceptional hunts and loyalty, and mourned and buried at funerals.

From a wild canine to a furry companion, this is how man and his best friend became inseparable.

Also read – Role of war dogs in ancient history and in the modern military units

Origin of domestic dogs

Evolution biologists believe that the ancient canines share their ancestry with modern European dogs.

After testing the rate of change in DNA from the oldest specimen to the newest, the scientists were able to conclude the domestication of dogs to be between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago.

History narrates that the ancient wolves and early men used to live near each other for thousands of years, crossing paths in the woods, and hunting some of the same animals like antelopes, deer, rabbits, etc.

Much like humans, ancient wolves lived in small family groups where they developed social skills like communication, cooperation, and learnt to build pack mentality and companionship.

They needed these social skills to depend on each other while hunting creatures and perform other group activities.

Scientists believe that these similarities built the basis for the evolution of the domestic dogs in motion.

Most ancient wolves were afraid of humans and so, that group of canines evolved into what we today know as modern grey wolves.

But some ancient wolves were less fearful and more courageous and confident. These brave wolves ventured in closer to humans at hunter-gatherer camps, scavenging bones and leftovers, or sharing kills.

The wolves that stayed closer to humans were friendlier, tamer, and less aggressive, and so humans let them live nearby.

As these wolves found a regular food source, they flourished and had many pups. They passed on their friendliness and other social skills to their young ones. 

These canines protected their offspring and hence the area they lived in. The humans in return fed the canines who were protectors of their territory.

Gradually, these canines started to adapt to human existence before humans settled down in societies.

Generation after generations, these canines began to change in body shapes and sizes. A crucial step in the process of domestication, proto dogs were much smaller and less aggressive than wolves.

Other than friendliness, these smaller canines also had different physical traits like shorter snouts, smaller jaws and teeth, and floppy ears. Their body coat had various blends of spots and they gradually developed curled up tails.

Eventually, these canines appeared less like wolves and more like dogs. 

Also read – Top 10 American breeds of dogs you will definitely want to know about

The world’s first dog

One of the most important transformation in history is the domestication of wolves to become dogs.

And when this amazing thing happened somewhere between 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, between wolves and human hunter-gatherers the first dog emerged.

The archaeological records of fossils and DNA analysis show the remains of the Bonn-Oberkassel dog buried beside humans 14,200 years ago to be the first undisputed dog, with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago.

Scientists are very sure that the domestication of dogs happened before the development of agriculture and the DNA points that it happened in Europe.

Additionally, according to a new study done by an international team of scientists, it is believed that the world’s first known dog was a large and toothy canine that lived 31,700 years ago and lived on a diet of horse, musk ox and reindeer.

Oldest dog breeds in history

As some of the earliest known breeds of dogs in the world began to emerge around 4000 years ago, we can only imagine how much we can guide the evolution of dogs.

Thanks to our evolution biologists and archaeologists, we can now trace back through the history of canine evolution and learn about some of the oldest dog breeds in history.

What really interests me is that you can find these early dog species in lots of different environments around the world from the frozen regions to the deserts. Indeed, dogs are highly adaptable creatures.

The five oldest dogs in ancient history are:

Saluki – Believed to have emerged in 329 BC, Saluki is the world’s most ancient domesticated dog breed. Saluki dogs were honoured and adored as royal dogs in ancient Egypt so much that they were mummified after death. There are cave paintings and carvings of a dog found in Sumer (present-day southern Iraq) dated back to 7000 BC which closely resembles a Saluki.

Samoyed – Bred by the Siberian Samoyed people to hunt, pull sledges and herd reindeers, the Samoyed dates back to 1000 BCE.

Basenji – A bark-less dog used to hunt by ancient Egyptians.

Shar pie – The large wrinkly ancient dog breed Shar pei is believed to have originated in China about 200 BC.

Chow Chow – The black tongue Chinese legend war dog Chow-Chow, said to fought alongside with the Mongolians, is known to date to the Han dynasty around 206 BC–AD 220.

Also read – Top 10 Indian breeds of dogs I Bet You Didn’t Know About

How did dogs become different breeds?

After domestication, dogs helped humans to guard their camps, huts and living areas by warning of approaching enemies. They also

Dogs were loyal, inseparable and eager to please, but humans wanted more. They began breeding dogs according to special traits.

For instance, the fastest dogs with the keenest nose were bred together to get trackers dogs called hounds that helped track game through the forest.

They bred the larger dogs together to create strong canines to pull sledges.

9000 years, even bigger dogs were bred to hunt polar bears in Siberia. By this time, people were already learning to guide the evolution of dogs.

A lot of modern breeds existed only around 500 years ago by artificial selection, but all these dog breeds have descended from those proto wolves 30,000 years ago.

But the question of how did dogs become different breeds still haunts you, right?

Well, a 50-year Russian experiment using silver foxes can answer that question.

Experimenters researched on the defensive reactions of these silver foxes to humans, choosing the ones that only showed more tameness and breeding them.

Their pups were kept among humans, and surprisingly within only four generations these foxes behaved like domestic dogs, licking their masters, wagging their tails, and even barking in excitement.

What was more surprising was their physical changes. After only few generations of selecting for tameness alone, these domesticated foxes had floppier ears and curlier tails, traits common in other domesticated animals.

Their fur coat also began changing colour, becoming lighter in shade.

Selecting these canines based on tameness resulted in decrease of adrenaline. Since adrenaline shares a biochemical channel with melanin, the hormone responsible for skin and fur pigmentation, the outcome was lighter coats.

This experiment showed that many such physical traits that we see in domestic dogs might have developed from humans just picking friendlier pups.

Besides this, the ancient dogs were large in size and with societies and regional developments in time certain humans wished for portable and more compact breeds.

Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Pugs, all bred in China were miniature dogs that could be carried on the go.

Likewise, we kept on inventing dogs of new breeds with distinct features until eventually, we created hundreds of dog breeds.

Now there’s something for everybody. From bulldogs to cocker spaniels, from Pomeranians to noble mutts, dogs have become more than just our pets.

They are constant companions, protectors, co-workers, our family and beyond. They are our link to paradise.

Researchers study them, doctors take help from them, artists draw inspiration from them, and kids beg to bring them home.

The bond of trust and love between dogs and humans began 15,000 years ago. I really wonder, where will it go from here?


Isn’t it cool to know that our badass cavemen ancestors were petting wolves, sharing meals, and just hanging out.  

From sharing food at campfires in the past to fetching the ball in the park in modern times, dogs and humans have evolved together.

When you come home at the end of the day, they are there to bark and jump around to lick your face and sometimes pee in excitement.

But one look in those puppy eyes that say- Oopsie, my bad! I love you so much, and it easy totell dogs are truly our best friends, because it’s always been that way.

Share this very interesting article with all the dog lovers out there

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