Dogs are dogs. While there is virtually no doubt that dogs originated from wolves, they are not wolves, and according to some scientific evidence may have ceased to be wolves as long ago as 100,000+ years. Although that is a short blip geologically, it is, nonetheless, a pretty long time to not be something.
Various studies in the last 20 years have looked at the origins of dogs via their mitochondrial DNA. The results of these studies have raised some interesting theories on the origin of this species. While DNA that determines eye color, curly hair, and earlobe shape, comes half from mom and half from dad, mitochondrial DNA, on the other hand,
comes entirely from the mitochondrial DNA of the mother. In normal sexual reproduction genetic change from one generation to the next is very rapid, as the parental genes are mixed and remixed in new combinations. Mitochondrial DNA, in contrast, can change only by mutation, which takes place quite slowly — at a rate of around one or two percent every 100,000 years. (The Truth About Dogs, Part Two, by Stephen Budiansky, The Atlantic Online, July 1999).
Because it changes so very slowly, it can be used to gauge when dogs and wolves first separated, and the results seem to conclude that it happened about 135,000 years ago! There are indications that dogs split from various wolf populations around the world and that there was some interbreeding between wolves and dogs. But, the split did not occur very often, nor was there a lot of interbreeding. Dogs, it seems, left their wild brethren behind and integrated pretty quickly into human society. It also appears that humans and dogs may have conjoined before humans were fully human.
Archeological evidence tells a different, but not necessarily incompatible story. The earliest canine fossil records seem to Russian plain about 15-17,000 years ago (though others state that it is southern China, which is also the only fossil record that indicates dogs were used as a food source). Recent studies (2011) by paleontologists in the Czech Republic found dogs from the paleolithic period, one of which was buried with a large bone in its mouth that was “clearly placed in the dog’s mouth after death indicat[ing] that a human being was involved in the burial, as no other known animal would be capable of doing such a thing.” (http://phys.org/news/2011-10-evidence-domestication-dogs-paleolithic-period.html). According to Wikipedia, there was a dog found buried with a human in Israel which dates from 12,000 years ago, and a burial site in Germany called Bonn-Oberkassel with joint human and dog interments dating to 14,000 years ago.
Interestingly, there is no western European cave art depicting dogs, perhaps suggesting, that before 16,000 BC dogs were unknown in western Europe. However, not all animals known to early hominids were depicted in cave art, nor do we know the reason cave art was created. So, does the lack of canine portraiture indicate that dogs were unknown to early man, or just not depicted in art for some reason? Dogs did however, make the art scene in Ancient Egypt, appearing on the walls of burial sites dating back to at least 3500 BC.
I have barely scratched the surface of the current debate about the time and place that dogs became dogs and commenced on this journey with their human companions. I think, however, the important thing to remember is that whether you look at DNA or at the fossil record, dogs and man were clearly besties by 10-15,000 years ago, making them the first domesticated animal, and truly deserving of the title: Man’s Best Friend.
Next Week: Why it matters that dogs are not wolves.
Blog Posts by Category
- Training or “Why, Why, WHY?”
- Behavior or “What the heck?”
- Informational or Doggie Demographics
- Care and management or living together in harmony
- Philosophy of training or “Why be positive?”
- Toy Box or stuff that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere
- Plato’s Forms Explained in Terms of Dogs. May 16, 2019
- Puppy Vaccinations: How they work and why your pup needs so many. April 1, 2019
- Does your dog bark, lunge, snarl, or growl when on leash? You are not alone! March 1, 2019
- Aging With Canines February 8, 2019
- Sometimes it is the dog, not the owner. January 16, 2019