The history and evolution of the modern day dog

I have for many years had a real fascination for the history of the species I have chosen as my lifelong passion, and while studying at college we did briefly touch on the evolution and history of the modern day dog.
Since leaving college in 1978, I have read many books and attended many talks about its evolution. A lot of the topics and lengthy talks were filled with dates, facts and figures, too many to make for light, interesting reading. But I thought you might find a few of the facts I learned interesting, without getting too deep and complicated. It is thought that the domestic dog has inherited some complicated behaviour traits from their closest ancestor, the wolf. Wolves were and still are pack hunters, with a very complicated and intricate body language.
The complex social communication traits dogs have inherited from the wolf may explain why they are so trainable and playful, and have the ability to fit in perfectly into domestic life. The dog is probably one of the most successful species that is on the planet still to this day. The name dog comes from the Latin Canis lupus familiaris: canis = dog, lupus = wolf, familiaris = of a household or domestic. The term Canis can also be used for a wider range of the species, such as the members of the Genus Canis, or true dogs, which includes the wolf, coyote and jackal. The word we know as dog comes from Middle English ‘dogge’ or from the Olde English ‘docga’, a powerful dog breed.
The common terms used in the reproduction of the canine (from the word ‘canis’) are: males are known as dogs, females are bitches, the offspring of the dog and the bitch are known as a litter, the father is called a sire and the mother is called the dam. Normally the offspring are known as puppies or pups; this is what they are known as until they reach 12 months of age. The actual process of giving birth to the litter is known as whelping. There are some conflicting theories about just how long the dog has been around.
The most common thought is that the dog was first domesticated around 8,500 years ago, but others state that this could be as long ago as 15,000 years. It is believed the dog was first domesticated in Europe and Siberia. It is known that it was due to human interaction that first led to the domestication of the dog, which up until this time had been a wild animal. It is believed that the emigrants from the Siberian area used dogs to help them move to North America, via the Bering Strait, with the use of sled dogs. This is thought to have happened some 12,000 years ago. Having said this, the earliest archaeological evidence of dog-like canids in North America dates back just 9,400 years.
There is so much reading about the evolution and history of the domesticated dog that it can be a little complicated to follow accurately, but the general consensus of opinion from archaeological evidence suggests the domesticated dog diverged from the wolf roughly 15,000 years ago. There has been a great deal of genetic and DNA studies carried out, and the data collected suggests dogs first diverged from wolves in East Asia and these dogs then quickly migrated through the rest of the world, reaching the Americas in 8,000 BC.
In the studies carried out, the group of dogs that have shown the greatest genetic variability and are the most similar to the wolf are mainly the Asian and African breeds, including the Basenji, Lhasa Apso and the Siberian Husky. The wolf and their descendants, namely the early dog, would have gained significantly by living in harmony within the human camps. They would have been more secure, with less risk of attack from other packs or predators, and have a greater access to food with less effort, so less calorie intake was needed.
The secure environment gave them the opportunity to reproduce, and survival of the offspring was highly increased. The humans’ upright stance gave them the advantage of greater range of view to spot possible predators and prey. And the wolf and early dog would have also been a help to man when trying to bring down very large prey. They were excellent in clearing away food scraps and this in turn improved sanitation. The other benefit to the humans ranged from providing warmth, and the acute hearing and sense of smell would give humans advanced warning against predators and strangers.
Anthropologists do believe that the most significant advantage to having wolves/early dogs in their camp would be their extremely sensitive sense of smell, giving the human a much greater chance of finding prey. The thought is that the shared living between human and wolf/early dog did in fact greatly improve the chance of survival of the early human groups. And that the early domestication of the dog may have been one of the key factors that led to human success.
I hope you have found this information interesting. The dog has done an awful lot for the human species and we should do everything in our power to ensure that our canine friends are treated with the respect and care they so deserve. We as a species do, from time to time, forget the role that the dog has played in our evolution. It is evident that we all owe the Canis lupus familiaris a lot more than we could ever repay. Until next month …
[email protected] Sue Ogden is a professional dog groomer living in the Algarve. In her regular column, she provides readers with information on how best to care for their pets. Trained in the UK, she studied nursing, breeding, grooming, nutrition and kennel management. 910 851 140