Every breed of domesticated dog, from the Chihuahua to the Doberman, is descended from the wolf. Exactly how they became domesticated remains a mystery and we’ll never know exactly how or why they were tamed. It’s become a topic of great debate and something that is hard to determine. When you think about it though, the wolf and man did have something in common – both were hunters and both hunted in packs.
Originally wolves were known to humans as a guard animal, a source of food and fur and were trained to work. In return, humans provided them food and shelter. The same process continues to this day, with many dogs earning their keep by working. Dogs guard homes, herd livestock and help with police and rescue duties. The only difference is the breed.
Since the days of the wolf, humans have gone on to breed hundreds of different domestic dogs – many of which wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving in the wild. Despite the difference in their shapes and sizes, they are all members of the same species – Canis familiaris – and although (thankfully!) their temperaments have changed, they are all related to the wolf.
But how did the wolf turn into one of our most faithful pets and mans best friend?
As I’ve already mentioned, the domestication of the dog is a mystery to a certain extent, but there are some theories as to how this happened. Studies have shown that baby wolves that are reared by humans from an early age can be easily tamed. Many scientists believe that tens of thousands of years ago, humans adopted wolf cubs and tamed them. This then created a new generation of tamer wolves and ultimately this resulted in them becoming more ‘dog like’. Wolves operated in packs and because of this they began to understand how humans took the place of the leader. This meant that wolves soon learnt how to be obedient. The wolves that interacted with humans would then pass these traits on to their offspring. Ultimately it led to tamer wolves being bred, which would eventually lead us to the dog.
A 20th century Russian Scientist, Dmitri Belyaev, believed that domestication was based on tame genes in an animal, and wanted to replicate the domestication of wolves to dogs, using Silver Foxes. He found that after several generations of selective breeding, foxes not only became tamer but also began to take on dog-like characteristics. What’s surprising is that not only did the foxes become tamer; they also developed different characteristics such as floppy ears and shorter snouts. The findings suggest that tameness resulted in changes not only in behaviour, but also in physical changes. I suppose this makes it a little bit easier to understand how the wolf is related to the pug.
However domesticated dogs do still share some behaviours of their wild ancestors. Both are known to defend their territories by weeing up against pretty much anything! They do this to let other animals know it’s their territory. Lots of dogs also bury bones in the garden just like their wild ancestors who would bury a kill to secure food for later feasts.gest that tameness resulted in changes not only in behaviour, but also in physical changes. This makes it a little bit easier to understand how the wolf can be related to the pug.
So we may not know exactly how the domestication came about, but regardless of all this, historians agree that humans domesticated dogs way before any other animal – making them not only mans best friend, but their oldest friend too.