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The Listen Dog Blog

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From Wolves, To Man's Domesticated Best Friend

By listendogtraining, Apr 1 2016 10:50AM

There is a great deal of genetic, behavioural and anatomic evidence to support the argument that the dogs we share our lives with today, are descendants of the wolf – or more precisely, a small sub-species of wolf. The wolf, for example has the same number of chromosomes as our domestic dog, whereas the number of chromosomes in other canids, like foxes and jackals is different; dogs and wolves both have 78 chromosomes, whilst the red fox has only 38, and the jackal has 74.


According to Stephen Budiansky, it was in fact the dog that chose to befriend us all those thousands of years ago; they loitered around the heat of the camp fire and begged for food, and thus the relationship between man and dog began. Anthropologist and Zooarchaeologist Susan Crockford believes it is likely that the domestication of dogs began when curious wolves began to investigate the camps of Stone Age people, who left butchered carcasses and edible remnants littering their camps . Human and wolf remains have, in fact, been found together dating as far back as 400,000 years ago. It is believed, however that a sub-population of wolves, that had developed to be less fearful and more submissive in order to sustain a relationship with humans would have gained themselves an evolutionary advantage over the original wolf.


In villages in South America, Africa and Asia, where free-ranging dogs still exist, the original relationship between humans and dogs that existed all those thousands of years ago can still be witnessed: the dogs loiter around the villages; foraging and living more or less directly off the waste of the villagers, and leaving the livestock untouched. They show no real fear of the people and will occasionally beg for food, or run away if directly threatened.


From here, the development of different breeds began simply – dogs were selected by the humans within the villages they lived symbiotically with, based on their behaviours, to serve certain purposes. For example, the dogs that barked more were selected to guard, and the dogs that could run faster were selected to hunt. Selective breeding of dogs with desired traits and capabilities caused basic divisions between hunters, herders and guard dogs; these divisions have developed on from then – quite considerably over the past 200 years – to include pointers, retrievers, lap dogs and more. Certain traits of the wolf have been improved upon in the dog (increased fertility and a longer period of socialisation, for example) in order to benefit our breeding and training of them.


This does not mean however, that we should treat the pet dogs we share our lives with today, as wolves. The idea that wolves dominate one and another and therefore we should ‘dominate’ our dogs in order to avoid anarchy in our homes has been long-since discredited, and with good reason (which I’ll explore in depth in a later blog post… link to follow!), however it’s interesting to delve into the ancestry of our quirky labradors, pugs and beagles, and learn that they all originated from the same melting pot of canine genetics, once upon a time!



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