Archive for How Dogs Were Created
A deeper look into our pets’ history
Because the domestication of dogs occurred so long ago during prehistoric times, many of our beliefs about people’s early relationships with dogs, wolves, and wild canines are sheer speculation. In some respects, we have not moved very far from the vision of the British writer Rudyard Kipling in 1912 when he offered his theory of the domestication of dogs in his Just So Stories. The story begins with the wild dog/wolf/jackal/coyote hanging around the home of the humans, looking at the food being cooked by the primitive human female, and feeling hungry.
“Then the Woman picked up a roasted mutton-bone and threw it to Wild Dog, and said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, taste and try.’ Wild Dog gnawed the bone, and it was more delicious than anything he had ever tasted, and he said, ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, give me another.’
“The Woman said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard this Cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones as you need.’”
This is still basically the most common view (minus the talking wild dog, of course) of how wolves became our dogs. The commonly believed idea is that some prehistoric human found some wolf pups, took them into her home, fed them and treated them as we treat and care for our pets, and the generations that followed became our domestic dogs.
However picturesque it may be, this idea is wrong. The problem is that wolves are genetically wired to be suspicious and aggressive. A number of scientific studies have attempted to turn wolves into the equivalent of dogs by rearing them from a young age in human homes, and treating them like pet dogs. The most recent of these was done by a team of researchers from Estovos University in Budapest. They took three-day-old wolf pups and home-reared them. They had no more success than many previous studies. The research had to be abandoned when the wolves were about 18 months old simply because these wolves had become too aggressive and were becoming a danger to humans and other pets.
So how do we create a domestic dog when our starting material is a wild wolf? Let’s go back to the beginning, and we will see that it was wild canines, like wolves, that started the process of creating the domestic dog.
The coming of the Ice Age was the turning point. Prehistoric humans had survived as nomads who hunted big plant-eating animals. This was necessary because the hunters’ primitive spears, clubs, and axes were not well-adapted to catching quick-moving small animals. Ultimately, the cooling climate reduced the vegetation that served as food for these large herbivores, their numbers diminished sharply, and many species became extinct.
Faced with the disappearance of large game, some groups of prehistoric humans began to try a new strategy. They formed home camps that were relatively fixed and permanent, where the individual band members could actively share in various tasks, such as the gathering of available food from local plants—an activity that would eventually lead to agriculture. These fixed residential areas led to the growth of garbage dumps around the outer limits of the village, which naturally led to an infestation of opportunistic scavengers. While these included mice and rats, they also included wild canines, such as wolves and jackals, the ancient precursors of dogs.