The Evolution of Dogs: From Wolf to Man’s Best Friend

 Tuesday Feb 18,2020
By  Lancaster Puppies

The origin story that explains how dogs became our loveable, domesticated pets is one that is still heavily debated in the science community. While it is understood that dogs came from wolves, there is not a clear answer as to what major events occurred in the past that ultimately led to the domestication of dogs. However, there are several credible theories out there that could help explain their evolution.

Take a look at some information below on how dogs evolved into man’s best friend.

The Gray Wolf

It is widely accepted that dogs, as we know them today, descended from a single common ancestor: a long-extinct species of wolves. Today, the gray wolf is the dog’s closest living relative. While they are closely related, they are physically quite different. It is easy to see the similarities in body shape and structure between domesticated dogs and wild wolves, but wolves are generally much larger in every way. Their paws are longer and paws bigger, and their nose protrudes more. 

These attributes are all results of wolves needing to be bigger, stronger, and sleeker than their domesticated relatives. Wolves developed a much more streamlined gait that aids them in hunting, and they have stronger teeth for the raw meat that they consume from their prey. In pretty much every single way aside from surface-level physical appearance, dogs and wolves are very different.

Domestication in the Past

Wolf standing among rocks and trees

A recent study suggests that the domestication of dogs is likely to have occurred on two separate occasions, at two different times, in two different parts of the world, and with two different populations of wolves. This is a topic that has been a source of great debate, but only recently are credible theories providing us with possible answers as to when and where domestication happened. 

One theory suggests that these two domestication events occurred in Eastern Eurasia (modern-day Asia) 12,500 years ago and in Western Eurasia (modern-day Europe) approximately 15,000 years ago. The European dogs were then displaced when domesticated Asian dogs were brought over to Europe by humans about 6,400 years ago. 

The Eastern Eurasia domestication event proved to be the dominant event of the two because those domesticated dogs ended up taking the place of Western Eurasian dogs. This is also the reason why, for many years, a lot of people thought there was only one domestication event.

Fossil records exist that show burials of humans that were deliberately buried next to dogs dating back 14,000 years. Studying their diets revealed one similar to that of the humans at that time, which strongly suggests that the humans fed the dogs. It is not certain what role dogs played in the everyday life of humans. It is possible they helped with hunting or cattle herding, but nothing has been concretely proven.

The Domestication Process

There are several theories as to how wolves became domestic. One suggests that humans domesticated young wolf pups before they could associate with their mother, thus allowing them to bond with humans first. However, that theory is not as widely supported as one that implies a “survival of the friendliest” type of natural selection.

Evidence of this transition can be seen in how the dog’s physical features diverged from that of the wolf over time. Floppy ears and distinct, colorful coats, are indicators of what scientists describe as self-domestication. Humans did not have a role in domesticating dogs, despite what outdated theories and pop culture lead you to believe. 

While wolves are predominantly not friendly toward humans, a variation on a molecular level is likely to have caused some wolves to be less aggressive. These wolves are the ones that would gradually become the dogs we know today.

Dogs Becoming Pets

The fact that dogs vary so much from breed to breed is something that can’t be said about most animals that are directly linked to their domestication tens of thousands of years ago. The wide variety of locations and climates that dogs became domestic in led them to develop physically in so many different ways. Long coats, short legs, and big ears are all results of the environment that early domestic dogs lived in.

Another fascinating aspect of dogs’ domestication is how they evolved behaviorally. Being so closely bonded to humans caused them to be, in many ways, in sync with human expressions and emotions. 

In fact, it is believed that dogs and humans advanced simultaneously on both a physical and behavioral level, which may have had an impact on the strong bond between the two. For instance, studies suggest that both humans and dogs underwent similar genetic changes in terms of digestion and metabolism. 

Additionally, scientists discovered a correlation between the development of several brain processes in both humans and dogs. For example, similarities were found in the genes that affect the processing of serotonin. Interestingly, this could explain why dogs can be helped with antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Close up of a person holding a brown dog's pawStudies have observed just how strong and unique a dog/human bond is when observing the chemical makeup of a dog's brain when reacting to the loving gaze of a human. They secrete the same hormone that a human mother and child would in a similar situation. Dogs are proven to show trust toward humans, something that is very rare between species.

In another study where wolves and dogs were tasked with solving a problem, wolves would use trial and error, but dogs would almost immediately seek help from the humans conducting the study. Placing wolves and dogs in similar situations helps us better understand how dogs evolved to become human companions.

While the evolution and domestication of dogs is still heavily debated, nothing changes the fact that the bond between dogs and their human companions is unlike any other. If you’re searching for your newest furry friend, browse dogs for sale on Lancaster Puppies today!

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