Humans have lived on this earth for more than 6 million years and throughout these years, one thing remained constant- we are smarter. Smarter than anyone, for a long time we had enjoyed the privilege of being on the top of the food chain. But predating tens of thousands of years ago- the scenario was a bit different. Though we were ahead of our time, one species evolved with us, and today can be found everywhere in the world. Being domestically man’s best friend, the puffy pals were not always this tame. They were humans one of their biggest rivals.
So how did this enemy became our best friend? The evolutionary journey of dogs goes beyond domestication and love.
Though we’ll never know the details of how humans and dogs first began to come together, scientists do have their theories. If we trace the lineages of dogs, they evolved from wolves, in fact, Gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. The wild Canis Lupus is the ancestors of today’s friendliest dogs. The first evidence of dogs being domesticated belongs some 40,000 years ago. That means that wolves didn’t evolve into dogs some centuries back, but the procedure started thousands of years ago.
In the paleolithic period, Man would migrate from place to place in search of better food, shelter, and environment, much similar to animals. In one such of their voyage, they settles in Eurasia and wolves were one of their main enemies who would threaten their existence. Wolves were competing men to be on the top of the food chain. But the story didn’t go one way and in many places, these large carnivores were threatened by human hunters in their territories.
The common wolf trait includes that they move and hunt in pacts to pose a greater hand on their enemies. But for some wolves, especially those without pacts, Human camps became their new homes. To combat against their main rival, humans started capturing wolves pups, domesticated them, and kept them as pets. This could have happened literally thousands of years ago. “Survival of the friendliest” suggests that abandoned wolves largely domesticated themselves among hunter-gatherer people. These were the wolves who showed less aggression toward humans. Humans started feeding these wolves and using them for hunting and other livestock activities.
And as the number of such calm wolves increased, these genetic traits were passed on. Gradually breeding tamer wolves near the area of human settlements. Their social structure was similar to men, as they were friendly, loyal, and useful. But the physical changes like splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears came from a process called self-domestication. It’s a byproduct of the natural selection of few species.
Wolves- Men’s Best Friend?
Soon these tamer wolves became a part of human pacts and would follow them place to place to gather food, hunt preys, and guard at night. These new traits made them a core member of the human species and they moved from fringes to our communities. They became human first ever domesticated animals. But in the race of becoming man’s best friend, dogs lost many of their natural abilities. Where on one hand, wolves use to solves their problems on their own by getting physical to it, dogs on the other hand look at their human partners to help them. They are becoming more and more dependent on men.
But this unique relationship has evolved so well with the time that our brains are naturally sunk now. Dogs are much better at understanding our commands and take action, and when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, their bodies release oxytocin which is a hormone of love. A bonding is created as a mother looks at their child, a child into his parents, a lover to his lover, and a friend to a friend. Such intimate is the relationship between the duo.
Comparing to their wild cousins, dogs are shorter, less aggressive, and have comparatively smaller teeth. The dogs that were used for racing and locating the prey evolved into thin and sleek dogs, while the homely dogs used to herd livestock became short and small and dogs placed for guarding evolved into large and muscular dogs. It is the result of human activities that dogs come in all different shapes and sizes.
Later with civilization, these dogs were categorized into breeds. Today, there are more than 339 breeds of dogs based on their appearances. Generations of being pleasing to humans and having submissive traits are the result of neoteny, which can be seen in several other animals, such as cats and horses.
Throughout the years, dogs have helped us in numerous ways, whether it be agriculture, war, hunting, or even guarding. Their loyalty towards their human companions is proof that Dogs are undoubtedly man’s best friend.