The Origins of the Domesticated Dog

The origins of today's domesticated dog date back to over 15,000 years ago when early mankind domesticated wolves to assist them. Domesticated wolves played a vital role in early human settlements, performing tasks such as herding livestock, protecting their owners, and hunting. As mankind spread throughout the world, they brought their domesticated wolves with them. As climates and geographies changed, the domesticated wolves began to evolve and adapt to their surroundings, differentiated into the precursors of modern breeds. As mankind's understanding of genetics improved. dogs were selectively bred, further differentiating to the breeds we have today. With it's over 300 breeds, dogs are the most varied mammal spanning from dogs that are less than 6 inches tall to dogs that reach nearly 3 feet. Currently there are over 400 million dogs in the world.

Wolves and dogs share many similarities between each other because they are so genetically similar to each other. Some of the physical similarities they share include having the same number of teeth, panting to reduce body heat, they have similar rituals to show dominance and submissiveness, and they can even be interbred with each other to create dog-wolf hybrids. Some of the differences in wolves and dogs include wolves being generally larger, wolves being excellent hunters, and dogs being much more trainable and relaxed around humans. Wolves also only breed once a year while dogs can breed twice a year.

Wolves are a very social animal and have a complex hierarchy in the pack. The alpha male in a wolf pack is the dominant male who leads the rest of the pack. This same relationship has been passed onto dogs and their relationship with humans. The household becomes the dog's pack and a person often becomes the alpha male. This relationship allows for a strong connection and companionship to form between the dog and the people. Some of the training exercises that are used to express a person's dominance over a new dog include the same signals that wolves use between each other such as initiating eye contact and through exercises that show your physical dominance over the dog.

Related Resources:

Dog DNA Study - A DNA study of dogs from Scientific American discussing the origins of modern dogs.

DNA Comparison of Dogs and Wolves - A scientific paper discussing the DNA differences between dogs and wolves, as well as the origins of dogs.

Dog Heritage - A scientist answers a question regarding the DNA similarities between dogs and wolves.

The Evolution of Fur Color - An article from Stanford that discusses the evolution of the fur color of wolves. While the article is about wolves, some of the theories could also be applied to dogs.

Evolution of the Dog - A piece from PBS about the evolution of the dog, suggesting they may have been domesticated up to 130,000 years ago.

From Early Canids to Today's Dogs - This piece spans the evolution of dogs from 40 million years ago to today.

From Wolf to Woof - A piece from National Geographic talking about the evolution of dogs.

Domestication of Animals by Indians - An article about the domestication of animals, including dogs, of Native Americans.

The Farm Fox Experiment - An experiment where foxes were bred for 40 years for tamability. Discusses their findings as well as how early dog domestication may have progressed.

Pre-historic American Dogs - A piece about the migration of humans with dogs to the Americas and their domestication.

Gray Wolf Behaviors - A piece about the behaviors of gray wolves in the wild.

Using Dominance to Control Dogs - A piece outlining concerns in using dominance theory which uses physical force over a dog to show your dominance.

The Alpha Factor - Discusses the alpha factor and how to exert your dominance over a dog so that it can be controlled to the benefit of both.

History of the Dog - A short page about the history of dogs.

Dog History and Domestication - A nice history of dogs and outlines their path from wolves to modern day dogs.