There are many thoughts and hypotheses, but in reality, we do not have a truly accurate timeframe or location regarding the exact origins of the dog or its domestication history. We do know that its closest ancestor is the wolf, taxonomically it forms part of the group of animals called Canidae, these include wolves, jackals, coyotes, dingoes, and foxes. It is now widely accepted that the modern dog has wolf like traits and is almost certainly derived from wolf stock.
Todayâ€™s domesticated dog is probably a mutated form of the Middle Eastern or East Asian wolf, possibly the latter because there is greater genetic diversity, often a sign of greater antiquity in Asian dogs than in European dogs. Archaeological evidence points to a time-period some 12000 to 15000 years ago when we started creating permanent settlements. This was towards the end of the Mesolithic period and the start of the Neolithic. Some of the earliest of these settlements are to be found in the fertile area now known as Northern Israel. In These Natufian villages is where modern dog may have originally surfaced.
Archaeologists have discovered remains of a burial site at a Natufian village called Ain Mallaha, in which an old man and a young pup are buried together, the mans left hand is cradling the dog. The puppy three to four months old was probably killed to give the man company and companionship on his journey to the afterlife. What is so important about this find is that it is the earliest chronological evidence pointing to domestication. And suggests that humans had starting accepting dogs not just as pariahs and vermin, but as companions and trusted pets,
The mental picture of the noble savage striding across the landscape his stone axe and spear at the ready, his faithful wolf-dog padding along next to him is a compelling vision, we could surmise that he had killed the adult wolf and located the den where the wolf cubs lay. Taking pity on them, he then took them back to his camp. Then through his ministrations and love they became domesticated becoming the forerunners of todayâ€™s modern canines. This fanciful idea is somewhat wide of the mark in the reality stakes.
In essence, you cannot domesticate a wolf, you can to some extent tame it to such a degree that it will accept human contact, but you will never domesticate it. To tame a wolf you need to hand rear it. You would need to start this before the cub was 8 days old, prior to the eyes opening, remember he was born deaf and blind and it takes some time for these senses to develop.
This would build an olfactory and tactile map of its surroundings and the trainer aiding the bonding process by handling. They come to accept our smell and touch far more readily. You would need to stay with that wolf 24 hours of the day until it was at least 16 weeks old, then if you had done everything right it may just accept some human contact. If that wolf then bred with another tame or wild wolf, the pups/cubs would be born wild, in other words the hand rearing would have to continue all over again. That begs the question where did dogs come from and how did they become domesticated, if we cannot domesticate todays™ wolf with all our supposed scientific mastery and conditioning, how did it happen?
Many including myself are of the opinion that they effectively domesticated themselves. They took advantage of an ecological niche and mutated from their wolf cousins to fill that niche. The trigger was our move from early stone age nomadic hunter/gatherer when as I mentioned before we started inhabiting permanent settlements and becoming hunter/farmers, I believe it may have been that change that stimulated the rapid mutation into domestication.
It would appear highly coincidental, that when we started to cultivate crops and domesticate animals, which in turn required permanent or semi permanent settlements, that these animals suddenly appeared. The drawings of animals in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in France show no images of dogs, these paintings were made approximately 31,000 years ago; others cave drawings of less that 31000 years also do not depict any doglike creatures
Wolves have an almost pathological fear of man. You cannot blame them; we have persecuted these noble animals since time immemorial. We have hunted them for their pelts and their meat and have something of a love hate relationship with them. Just look at the bogey man stories of the werewolf that have been passed down over the centuries.
We are fearful of these creatures and rightly so, they can be extremely dangerous, wolves and wolf hybrids do not make good pets, they are unpredictable and immensely powerful. It is illegal in the UK to own or keep a wolf or wolf hybrid without a wild animal licence. The nearest we can get to a wolf is called the Utonagan Pronounced Yewton-Argan two words, which started as a cross between German Shepherds, Huskies, Eskimo Dogs and Malamutes plus a few other odds and ends thrown in . They are stunningly beautiful and look wolf-like, fortunately they do not act like wolves though the ones I have treat have been difficult to handle.
Given the pathological fear wolves have of humans it is quite likely that the incidence and appearance of dogs at the time of our settlements may well have been caused by an abundance of feely available food. Other than sex/reproduction, food is very high on the list of vital resources and we are a constant source of that. These Stone Age dog/wolf mutants must have thought Christmas had come all at once, a steady and constant stream of sustenance not having to hunt for it. Just lying about for all to take. This may have been the key for some of these wolves to lose their fear of man.
Dogs like faeces particularly human ones; it is apparently a probiotic and a valuable source of proteins. In part of the Indian subcontinent you can see village dogs following naked children about waiting for them to defecate so they can claim there prize, in parts of Africa when a baby is born they present it with a puppy as a botty-wiper. To prehistoric dogs our middens, latrines and village dumps must have appeared like manna from heaven.
It was at this time that they must of started to lose the full motor responses to hunt to survive, and started to have the truncated prey drive. Without getting too technical the wolf has a hunting repertoire based on motor patterns in the brain, which look like this:
Where the pointer has motor patterns like this:
Orient>EYE-stalk> Grab-bite> consume.
Note the very shortened pattern with essential parts missing and the capitalised EYE.
In a wolf pack, there is a basic need for some members to locate the prey, some to drive the prey, others to circle and harass, and still others to lie in wait and ambush. Others stay behind and guard the young, It’s only when you have this combination of emotional types that the pack (and the hunt) succeeds. Our modern working dogs are the result of genetic engineering by our forbears, they bred for certain traits, enhancing those traits by breeding like with like.
No one will argue that the HPRs, Retrievers, Spaniels, Collies, Hounds, and Long Dogs have sometimes quite different skills, Take the Bloodhound, that is the tracking orient part of the equation, The Collie is the cutting out the prey from the herd. The Springer the orient chase grab, but not consume (hopefully)
However I am sure many will have seen cockers point and Shepherds retrieve, so they still have a vestige of the total skills of the original role model the wolf. All have been genetically engineered to fill a niche, which must have been invaluable to the hunter farmer gatherers thousands of years ago. They will have been a valuable and important commodity.
On top of their incredible abilities for some breeds to guard hunt retrieve and herd. Dogs also have an amazing knack of inveigling themselves to humans, they are born with the Ahhhhhhhhh factor, large heads and saucer size eyes make then almost irresistible to the primate that is in us all. As part of the primate family, we are hard-wired to want to cuddle something with the head and eye attributes of a pup. That is what makes them so successful in the evolutionary chain.
In what was a very small time-frame some 15000 years, they have gone from zero to 800 million. Paradoxically the wolf population has shrunk to a meagre 400 thousand At one time, the wolf (Canis lupus) had the most extensive range of any land mammal (excluding man), which included the entire Northern Hemisphere north of 13 o – 20 o north latitude. Its range has now been cut back extensively mainly by the actions of man. Many countries that formerly had wolf populations, including Great Britain, Mexico, and Japan, now have none, and in other countries, such as the United States, wolves occupy only a fraction of their former territory.
We still have much to learn about the wolf and even more to learn about the origins background and sophistication of the worlds most successful domesticated mammal Canis lupus familiaris the domestic dog.
© Stan Rawlinson February 2006
This article was written by ©Stan Rawlinson (The Original Doglistener). A professional full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer. You can visit his website at www.doglistener.co.uk for more articles and training information.