Can you imagine a life without dogs? Probably not. Over thousands of years, dogs have carved a relationship with humans so intimate that they can read our emotions better than even non-human primates can. But this hasn’t always been the case; even the teeniest and fluffiest of Cavoodles are descendants of the wolf, a creature historically loathed by man.
The (brief) History of Man’s Relationship with Wolves and Dogs
In the sixth century B.C., poet and lawmaker Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf slain, triggering a canine killing frenzy. Henry VII successfully completed the eradication of all wolves in England in the 16th century and the Scots even burned forests to make wolves easier to hunt. By the 1930s, only a few hundred of the original population of 2-3 million wolves remained in the United States.
So how did dogs become man’s best friend? When did these wild, carnivorous creatures become Max the Labrador, plate-licker and fetch-player extraordinaire? The answer to this question is complex and still a work in progress. We do know, however, that man’s relationship with wolves and dogs is a special one that spans over 35,000 years.
Researchers are now fairly confident that wolves became domesticated around the time that humans developed agriculture but exactly how this domestication occurred remains a mystery. Let’s take a look at some of the popular theories in the dog world:
1. Wolves simply followed humans around for the benefits (food scraps, shelter, you name it) and basically domesticated themselves. This idea debunks Darwinism as rather than survival of the fittest, it was survival of the friendliest for the first dogs.
2. One bright spark caught a couple of cubs and kept them as pets, unknowingly providing humans for centuries to come with the joy of fur babies. There’s a problem with this theory though; humans thousands of years ago weren’t too fond of carnivores, wiping out animals like sabre-toothed cats (by either eating all the meat or hunting them intentionally), making the possibility of a love for wolves a little unlikely.
3. Humans used wolves for hunting. This theory has merit as dogs are still used in hunting practices around the world today, however, wolves eat a lot (one deer per ten wolves a day) which would mean a lot of furry mouths for our ancestors to feed and share with.
However it began, wolves stuck around. Through domestication, wolves gained floppy ears and wagging tails, evolving into the 340 recognised dog breeds today. Each began with humans needing a dog for a purpose, such as a loud bark to alert the family to intruders. Then humans wanted dogs for hunting, retrieving and pulling sleds giving us English Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers and Samoyeds. Perhaps the best example of modern day intentional breeding is the quest for cuteness: ‘designer’ crossbreeds like the hypoallergenic and shed-free Labradoodle (Labrador cross poodle) have taken the dog world by storm in recent years. Sure, it may be difficult to imagine Audrey the Yorkshire Terrier is the descendant of a wolf but the link is still pretty obvious in dogs like the Siberian Husky and Greenland sled dog. Why? Well, these four-legged friends share a large number of genes with the now extinct Taimyr wolf who were bred with more domesticated dogs.
So there you have it, a history of dogs from wild wolves to Shih Tzus that can respond to eye movements. Think about that next time you take Gus the Dachshund for his bi-monthly wash and blow-dry with strawberry shampoo at your local groomers!
♣ Read how the evolution of dog breeds has negatively impacted the health of ‘purebreeds’ here.
♣ Download our mobile game app, World of the Wild! Click here to download.
♣ Sign up for My Green World’s newsletter here.