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Domestication of the Dog

Introduction

Domesticated animals have better chances of survival compared to their wild counterparts. After all, they are capable of breeding under confinement successfully, which increases their chances of survival. For instance, domesticated cats are much more numerous than those in the wild are. Other animals that enjoy such a benefit are domestic chicken and turkey. This can be attributed to the care and protection received from humans as compared to those fending for themselves in the wild. Nonetheless, they should be able to adapt and live by the rules governing the human society for them to be successfully assimilated by man. Domestication of wild animals is often a partnership between the animals and man. Moreover, some, for example, cows and chicken were tamed to provide man with food such as milk, meat, and eggs. On the other hand, others such as dogs were domesticated to protect man and to him help in hunting. These animals eventually grew to become companions to humans. In return, the man provides the animals with food, shelter, and security from their predators. Domestication of dogs, thought to have been initiated thousands of years ago, is an important topic for discussion.

Humans domesticated dogs before plants or other animals (Grimm, 2015). There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the circumstances that led to taming of dogs and when and where they were first domesticated. Dogs are usually pack animals, just as humans, and are led by a dominant male and female. They are friendly to members of their pack (family), while being suspicious of outsiders. Just like humans, they are protective of their young ones and they can communicate easily through body language, sounds, and facial expressions. It is possible that these characteristics enabled them to assimilate into the human mode of life to become ‘man’s best friend’ (Dorado et. al., 2009).

When and Where Was the Dog Domesticated?

The dog is part of the taxonomic group Canidae and it is widely believed that it (Canisfamiliaris) descended from the wild wolf (Canis lupus) (Matznick, 2002; Morey, 2014). Dogs were first domesticated around 14,000 years ago and are believed to have originated from the South Asian wolf. DNA evidence shows that dogs were tamed 14,000 years ago after the divergence from the common wolf, although there is speculation that they may have been tamed as early as 135,000 years ago (Grimm, 2015; Udell & Wynne et. al., 2008). DNA sequencing from samples collected in the Siberian Mountains in the 1970’s suggests that the dogs diverged from the grey wolf 27,000- 40,000 years ago (Fan et. al., 2016). This is believed to be an accurate estimate of when dogs were domesticated since there is archaeological evidence of dog burials in the human societies (Udell & Wynne et. al., 2008), which is a sign of close association between dogs and man.

Different studies claim that domestication occurred either in present-day Europe, Asia or in the Middle East. Its origin is often disputed with some scientists suggesting that dogs originated from the steppe- tundra biome region in the Late Pleistocene age (Skoglund et. al., 2015). Dating of early fossils shows that they existed before the Last Glacial Maximum, which contradicts evidence that shows that dogs diverged from wolves not so long ago. Fossils of dogs have been recovered as far as Israel, China, and Croatia, which shows that they were domesticated before the diversification occurred. These fossils are believed to be from the early ancestors of the wild dogs who were subsequently replaced by a new group due the northward postglacial expansion (Grimm, 2015).

The dog that is currently considered a descendant of the common dogs is a mutated form of the East Asian and the Middle Eastern wolf that came up after the diversification. Asian dogs show greater genetic diversity and antiquity as compared to Middle Eastern dogs, giving more weight to the theory that they originated from the Middle East. Towards the end of the Mesolithic and at the start of the Neolithic period, when it is believed that dogs were first domesticated, the man began living a sedentary life with farming as a major way of life. At this time, they built new settlements in the fertile areas and along riverbanks where the dogs were eventually incorporated into their homes. The earliest settlements are said to have occupied present day Israel and they were known as Natufian villages where it is believed that the earliest domestication of dogs took place.

How Were Dogs Domesticated?

There is a lot of speculation as to how dogs could have been domesticated. Given the evidence that dogs evolved from wolves that are known to exhibit aggressive behavior, it is difficult to understand how man interacted with them initially. Although wolves, just like humans and dogs are pack animals, they have been found to resist human interference and direction of their activities. Therefore, they cannot be relied upon to follow commands faithfully. Unlike dogs and humans, only the dominant wolves in the pack are allowed to breed. As such, sexually mature male and female wolves may be difficult to dominate. Moreover, they may be dangerous when in captivity. Wolves have also been shown to be extremely possessive of their food, unlike dogs. In the event that they secured their prey, their human handlers would have had to fight them to in order to get it (Morey, 2014).

With this in mind, it is probable that the wolves and the early man were in contact during the late Pleistocene age during the hunting and gathering activities of man. Wolves are opportunistic animals and scavengers, and would have probably hung around human settlements and become familiar with their life and hunting practices. With time, some of their puppies may have strayed into human homes as they rummaged through their trash while looking for food. With the animals sure of a source of provisions, they kept returning into the settlements until they were adopted into the household. Since the puppies were exposed to humans at an early age, they became socialized to man. This means that they formed social bonds with people characterized by recognizing a hierarchy with the man as the head, and displaying and acknowledging different social cues such as facial expressions, vocalizations and different body postures (Morey, 2014). Therefore, the puppies that survived to adulthood adjusted to the new social rules and diet provided by man.

It is possible that animals that did not submit to the human rules and those that were not obedient were chased from the settlements as a form of selection for desirable behavioral characteristics. Tame adult wolves that foraged for scraps stuck around the humans who in turn bred tamer wolves that eventually gave rise to the dog. For domestication to occur, man selects animals of preferred traits and allows them to breed to produce their offspring, which brings about rapid evolutionary change (Raisor, 2004).Some studies indicate that taming and breeding wolves have led to the evolution of characteristics that are genetically linked to tameness. With time, the offspring of the wolves began to resemble the modern day dogs by having characteristics such as drooping ears and large amounts of fur and different markings on their skins (Raisor, 2004).

Why Was the Dog Domesticated?

The early man was aware of the potential benefits of having both plants and animals under their control. As such, they made a rational decision to bring them under their control. It is thought that the early man tried to manipulate, raise, and cultivate organisms to enhance their economic characteristics that were useful to him. The wolf was suited for domestication since it lives as a pack animal (Matznick, 2002). It has a gregarious social structure, which made it easy for the man to dominate and subdue it. As the man began to lead a settled life, they needed security from predators and enemies in their homesteads. They also needed help while they were out hunting for their food. At that time, the tools available for humans were clubs, spears, and knives, which were difficult to use. Dogs possess a keen sense of smell, which they can use to identify and to stalk their prey over large distances. They can also be stealthy when approaching their prey, while working as a large group to hunt the animals. These characteristics encouraged the man to think of ways to tame dogs.

Dogs are also characteristically pack animals that identify with a particular social group. Due to their nature, they look up to man as the head of the pack and they can easily identify with the other family members as being part of their social groups. Any other strangers are considered intruders, which is a useful quality when they are kept as guard animals. Due to these characteristics, man domesticated the dog to be used as a guard animal to provide security in the homestead. Moreover, they could alert man of the presence of approaching animals and intruders.

Archaeological data suggests that dogs could have been domesticated as a source of food (Grimm, 2015). Dog meat was considered and is still considered a delicacy in some Asian and Native American cultures (Raisor, 2004). Therefore, they were used as a source of dietary protein. In fact, some archaeological sites have evidence of canine bones that have cut marks, which is a sign of butchering. Dogs were also domesticated to provide warmth during the night, with anecdotal evidence showing that they were used as ‘bed warmers’ during the cold seasons.

There is also evidence that dogs were used as transport animals. At the time of their domestication, the man had not invented the modern equipment that is currently used for transfer of goods. Therefore, with time, man domesticated these animals to provided transport as sled dogs (Udell & Wynne, 2008). The dogs were expected to be fast, agile, and easy to learn.

Dogs were also kept for emotional companionship. They were kept as pets, thus fulfilling the human need to care for others. As the dogs integrated into the human society, the latter developed feelings of attachment towards them and eventually bonded with them. Moreover, as mature, they retain some of the infant behavior such as excitement and wagging tails in pleasure when they interact with humans. Therefore, they are capable of exhibiting emotions similar to those exhibited by humans such as happiness, excitement, and sadness. As such, it is easier for humans to form close bonds and attachments to them (Call et. al., 2003). With time, they were domesticated to provide company and companionship to man.

Conclusion

It is clear that the domestication of dogs took place when man settled down to a sedentary life after the Mesolithic period. This era can be estimated to be between 14,000- 40,000 years ago. Domestication of the dog from the wild wolf may have first occurred in the Middle East and in East Asia before the ancestors diverged and spread to other parts of the world. As man became more sedentary and interacted closely with the wild wolves, he may have noticed some traits that were desirable thus encouraging him to tame the animals. He may have identified the great skill the wolves showed when stalking and hunting their prey, or their ability to detect strangers from a distance and to warn their master.

Either man may have accomplished this by either socializing puppies that had strayed into their settlements or those rescued after their mother was killed. He could also have done so by selecting and breeding the tame and docile wolves that foraged near homes. These animals may have found it easier to obtain food from the scraps thrown out in the settlements as compared to hunting in the wild. This may have encouraged them to live around people, and with time, they were taken in and given shelter and protection. Given that they are pack animals, it was easy to train them since they identified with the concept of having one leader and being obedient to him. With time, the people carried out human selection where they bred them for their preferred characteristics such as tameness, docility, or even aesthetics that gave rise to the modern dog breeds.

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