The Origin and Domestication of Dogs

How Did Dogs Originate and Become Domesticated

Dog breeds

Dogs have been on earth for millions of years, and according to prehistoric studies, were probably first domesticated between 10 000 and 15 000 years ago. Based on archaeological findings of bones and skeletons in prehistoric middens, it seems that the dog was first domesticated in the warmer parts of Europe and Asia. But ancient remains have been found as far away from the Continent as Australia.

There are various theories about the origin of the dog. For example, some people say that the dog developed from the very wolves that they were later trained to hunt. Some say that the dog originated from wolves that interbred with jackals; while others say that the dog came from some other wild species that was neither wolf nor jackal. The most likely of these three theories is probably the first (the wolf), but there are so many different dog breeds, it is difficult to imagine how they all had the same beginnings.

It is thought that dogs were first “domesticated” and kept by man for food, rather as cattle and sheep are today. Some primitive societies still eat dogs today, so this is probably quite true. But history has shown us that generally, the value of the animal as a hunter, a guard and a draught working animal were relatively quickly recognized. Certainly it seems that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated by humankind – long before cows, sheep, pigs and other now common farm animals.

But how has the dog changed with time? Not knowing exactly where it came from, it is difficult to say.

Even though most of us feed our domesticated 21st century dogs specially prepared dog food from tins or packets, if they are given the opportunity, many breeds will still hunt and most will scavenge. They are naturally carnivorous (or meat eating) animals, with teeth to match. If you prise open a dog’s mouth, you should and see the sharp incisors that are intended for biting and holding onto small prey. You will also see the dog’s dagger-like canines that are used to slash at the prey – or enemy of some sort. There are also teeth that they use to slice into flesh and crunch on bones. This is why it is so important to train dogs correctly. If a badly bred, not properly trained, bad tempered, domesticated dog bites you, there is no doubt that you will know all about it.

African Wild DogThere are still many wild dogs around nowadays, and we know that they live in packs (which are essentially family groups) and that they are really social animals. Even previously domesticated dogs that become feral (or wild) will quickly form packs and live together under one or more leaders, fending for themselves. Since dogs conform to the rules of the pack, this makes them relatively easy to train. This is also probably why so many breeds became working or hunting animals.

If courtship and mating is allowed to happen naturally among dogs, males will be attracted by the smell of a bitch that is in season or on heat (regardless of the breed). Interestingly, male dogs will always try to invite the bitch to mate, but the female won’t submit until she reaches full oestrus. When it comes to giving birth, dogs, like other animals don’t normally need help. They just get on with it according to instinct, just as they would in the wild.

sheep dogsOver the centuries various breeds of dog have been developed by humans, often for specific purposes like hunting or herding other animals. Examples include Sheepdogs and Collies that are used for herding sheep. Sheepdog trials demonstrate the great intelligence and agility of these animals. Cattle herders have included the Welsh Cardigan and Pembroke Corgis, which are little creatures that were known as “heelers”, because they would nip the heels of any stragglers, forcing them onwards with the rest of the herd. However, today the only working cattle-breed in the world is the Australian Cattle Dog, an interesting looking dog that is considered a curiosity in some other countries.

In spite of all the modern inventions relating to transportation, Huskies are still used in Arctic and Antarctic regions to pull sleds. Dogs with above average intelligence are trained for police work and some are trained as guide dogs to lead the blind. This is a far cry from wild packs.

If you look at the different types of dog, you will see that today many breeds that were originally developed for working or hunting are now kept mainly as family pets. Some have become popular showing breeds worldwide, bred especially for this purpose.

Janek Szymanowski is a talented professional photographer and designer who has had more than 30 printed books published, and has contributed to many more. Born in the United Kingdom, he has lived in South Africa for most of his life, and has a wealth of experience that spans a wide range of different media types and styles. Janek illustrates books and designs client media, but also builds websites, including several of his own. He is passionate about inspiring people to be creative and to assist them in learning new crafts.