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Becoming Man’s Best Friend: The Story of Dog Evolution

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Becoming Man’s Best Friend: The Story of Dog Evolution

It is hard to imagine life without dogs. Pet owners know just how integrated they become in daily experience. But, thousands of years ago, the dog and human relationship wasn’t what it is today. How did dogs evolve to become the pets we know and love?

 

Wolfish Beginnings

It is commonly accepted that modern, domesticated dogs are the descendants of wolves, but nailing down the exact timeline gets a little hairy. Estimates of domestication can range from 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, according to The Atlantic. Other sources say 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Some research postulates that dogs were domesticated from more than one group of wolves, while other studies find that dogs evolved from a single wolf population. For example, a study from Stony Brook University concludes that dogs are descended from a single population of wolves in Europe, according to The Verge. The exact process of domestication is debated as well. Some theories have domestication tied to the rise of agriculture among humans, while others go further back to hunting and gathering-based societies, according to Smithsonian Magazine. In the hunter-gatherer theory, the friendliest of wolves would have cooperated with humans and evolved from there. Theories around the time of agriculture suggest humans may have captured and domesticated wolf pups, according to the report.

Evolving with Us

While discovering the exact origins of dogs may be a tricky science, the physical and behavioral delineation between dogs and wolves today is quite clear. Our modern pets have floppy ears, wagging tails, and a clear dependence on us. The importance of that relationship is not lost on dogs. They have evolved alongside us, developing features designed for interaction with people. Those innocent puppy eyes that we so often (ok, always) fall for are not a spur of the moment talent your dog picked up. A recent study found dogs actually evolved to have specific facial muscles to facilitate communication for humans. Those raised eyebrows and big, sad eyes are mimicking human expression of sadness, aiming to elicit a response from us.

How can we say no to what evolution has perfected over thousands of years? One look and your dog finds a permanent place in your heart and your home. In exchange for their companionship, we care for them with food, shelter, and exercise. They truly are man's best friend. 

 

Written by Carrie Pallardy

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