How Dogs Became ‘Man’s Best Friend”
We all know that dogs are man’s best friend, but what makes this species so special? Why aren’t cats’ man’s best friend? Or any other animal for that matter? In order to understand this unique relationship dogs have with humans, we must explore the history of dogs. Learning about this history will help us understand this unique and special bond between pets and people. It may even make you look at your own dog differently!
We have all heard that dogs descend from wolves, right? Well, that’s pretty hard to believe considering some weigh 3 pounds while others exceed 100… In addition to size, dog’s coats, temperaments, and intelligence vary too. So with this obvious and extreme diversity, how could every dog descend from the same species?
From Wolves to Dogs, A Story of Evolution
Well, it’s true. Although the origin of dogs is a highly debated topic, new discoveries give us better insight into this mystery. Experts such as James Serpell from the Veterinary School in Pennsylvania, say that due to genetic, and behavioral evidence, we can tell that dogs all came exclusively from the gray wolf around 14,000 years ago (Melina, 2010).
While their descent is the same, dogs hold the exclusive title as the most diverse mammal in the world, which is why their evolution from wolves is so interesting!
How did this evolution start? Experts, such as Dr. Carr of Cornell University, say that wolves began to hang around nomadic societies before farming even began (Carr, 2016). The wolves enjoyed the constant food supply humans provided with their trash while humans discovered that the more wolves around, the less vermin and less disease (Carr, 2016). Because of this, so called “dog lovers” who kept the wolves around the camp site were healthier and lived longer, strengthening this relationship (Carr, 2016). The nicest wolves were rewarded and therefore stuck around, breeding with other friendly wolves, & creating generations of friendliness. This is when the idea of domestication started. Simultaneously, humans began to promote the breeding of smaller wolves, in order to ensure their own safety in the case of an attack. This selective breeding began the physical diversity in dogs that we all see today.
In all, wolves and humans worked together to help each other survive, and those who embraced this, tended to survive longer. Without the works of ancient humans, wolves would just be wolves, and there would be no such thing as a dog.
So this all makes sense! We know where dogs come from. However, it sure is easier to see how a husky came from a wolf, than a Chihuahua. In fact, there are over 350 registered dog breeds today and they are all totally different (Flam, 2011)! So now we have to wonder, how and why did dogs as we know them, become so diverse?
Diversity in Dog Breeds
I’ve already mentioned how dogs helped humans in many different ways. But not every dog had the same strengths and weaknesses! People noticed this and slowly began selective breeding for certain traits.
The centuries spent on this selective breeding is why you are able to have such a variety in your pet. People are now able to choose specific breeds that fit their lifestyle.
With further domestication came more loyalty and obedience, making complex training a possibility. They were taught to pull sleds, retrieve prey, follow scent trails, rescue people, and much more. Dogs were selectively bred for size and personality to assist people with these tasks and over time, this process created hundreds of distinct breeds with consistent traits.
The American Kennel Club recognizes 8 groups of dogs today: Herding, Hound, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Terrier, Toy, Working, and Miscellaneous. Each of these groups were designed to categorize breeds with similar purposes.
While most dogs are no longer used for the purposes they were originally bred for, that does not make this topic less important. Breeds allow people to select a dog special to their needs, whether that’s a running buddy, a hunting buddy or a cuddle buddy! In fact, the idea of dogs as companions has completely taken over the world of dogs and breeding.
I mean, we have better technology and systems in place now than we used to, which makes many original breed purposes obsolete. So is companionship all that dogs have to offer now?
Dogs at Work Today
Today, dogs still have jobs in society. They are used for therapy, scent tracking, police work, eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf, seizure detectors, stability, anxiety and PTSD, and much more!
Dog service is becoming the difference between life and death for some people, and a sense of independence for others. Animal-Assisted Therapy is now even recognized as an alternative medicine (Whiteman, 2014).
Dogs are working in more complex ways than ever. A recent study by the Pine Street Foundation found that dogs are even able to smell out cancer! Most dogs however, are being used for much simpler purposes. Dogs being used for emotional therapy is a rising epidemic. Even insurance companies are starting to recognize it!
There is a reason why people and dogs have been connected for centuries. There is much more to a dog than just the affection they so eagerly lend. They are intelligent and capable of performing jobs in society, like people!
When considering the complex and long history of how dogs came to be, you can only imagine how much more they have to offer us in the future! From scavenging wolves, to the selective bred workers, dogs have provided humans with tools to help us grow. Today, their jobs are getting more and more important as we continue to find new ways that they can help us. I don’t think we have to wonder anymore, why dogs truly are man’s best friend.
dogtime. (2016). A Brief History Of Breeding. Retrieved from http://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/915-breeding-history
Melina , R. (2010, August 4). How Did Dogs Get To Be Dogs? Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/8405-dogs-dogs.html
Carr, K. E. (2016, April). Where Are Dogs From? Retrieved from http://quatr.us/economy/dogs.htm
Flam, F. (2011, October 31). The Unique Diversity of Man’s Best Friend. Retrieved from http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/evolution/132897588.html
Whiteman, H. (2014, June 12). Animal-assisted therapy: is it undervalued as an alternative treatment? Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278173.php