June 18, 2014
What is the Origin of Dogs?
The canine is certainly one of the smartest domesticated animals you’ll find, and its evolutionary ladder had to have carried the species far in order to develop the way it has. At the same time, we don’t know where they truly come from. One of the reasons they are so developed is because humans chose to domesticate dogs before any other animal, as scientists have discovered. Some of the oldest human fossils, including the skeletons of 32,000-year-old corpses, were found buried beside their much-loved dogs.
But what did the early links in the chain look like? Unlike the evolutionary lineage leading up to modern day humans, we aren’t exactly sure what ancient dogs looked like, although modern dogs’ earliest known predecessors have been traced back to the Middle East and Asia.
How Wolves Turned into More Docile Dogs
The general consensus is that modern dogs derive from wolves. People gradually made them softer and less predatory over the years through domestication, which probably explains my housedogs look more big-eyed and cuter than wolves.
You’ll never see a wolf with an innocent face you want to cuddle beside; Liam Neeson in The Grey can back me up on that one.
Wolves are believed to have started out as hunters and guards for humans who took them in. The reason humans were able to eventually tame them was because human hunters left scraps for many wolves, and over time they grew to trust us. As the years went by, these canines didn’t need to hunt for their own food and found humans to be suitable guardians as well, and they evolved into the more domesticated varieties we see today.
How Wolves Turned into Chihuahuas and Other Strange Breeds
Chihuahuas are certainly not intimidating dogs, and it’s clear they could never fare well in the wild when hunting for prey and avoiding predators, but they came from wolves too, right? The simple answer is that yes, they did. Populations of dog-wolves got so close and isolated from the others that they bred more closely as a result. This inbreeding caused genetic mutations to occur and led to the more individualized breeds of dogs that exist today. People have also seen these mutations in animals and bred similar dogs with each other in order to perpetuate these mutations.
Take pugs or Boston Terriers for example. These are dogs that have extraordinarily flat noses, big round heads, and they always remind me of Danny DeVito, like wide little guys that go around snorting and slobbering—no offense to DeVito. All that’s missing is a cigar hanging from their mouths (which I would never advocate you do with a dog!), and you’ve got this breed:
So, basically, dogs came from wolves and we are largely responsible for the large variety of dog breeds that exist. It isn’t just because of accidental genetic mutations, either. The kinds of people who primp their dogs for the Westminster Dog Show are also the ones who have purposefully bred dogs closely in order to maintain certain features, such as short, curled tails and those aforementioned flat facial features. It’s obvious that environment would play a part in different dog appearances as well, but many breeds that exist today are results of generations of domestication.