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Domestication in dogs began between 15.000 and 32.000 years ago in South East Asia. Wolves and human settlers had lived side by side for centuries before that. However, 15.000 years ago the story goes that a female wolf decided to have her puppies a little closer to the human settlers. A human, unknown if female or male, grew close to the wolf and started feeding her and helping with the care of her puppies. A strong bond grew between them.
The puppies grew up among the human settlers. When it was time for them to have puppies, they too grew up with the humans as their second caregivers. The dog’s domestication had begun.
This continued for generations until no one remembered the settler life with wild wolves around them. Now it was dogs, sleeping next to their humans inside the hut and eating off the same plates.
They didn’t even resemble the wolf anymore. With domestication they were now smaller with white or spotted fur. Some with hanging ears and some with their tail curled over their bag. Even their faces had become more round. The dog was here.
The dog became beneficial for the humans to have around. They would help with the hunting, protect the settlement and could easily be taught new tasks.
The ones with the required abilities, the best hunter or protector, would be bred. Generation after generation through the dog’s domestication, the dog would evolve and improve their ability to live and work with humans.
But the dogs were not the only ones who evolved. Humans had, over the same generations, learned how to communicate with and understand dogs. A hunter who was not able to understand his dog would often come home empty handed.
This phenomenon is called mutualistic symbiosis. Two species living close together and benefiting from that will gradually evolve qualities that makes both species better in working and understanding each other.
Have humans now gone too far in dog domestication?
People started moving to big cities, having their pets live with them in small apartments. Often leashed when outside. Being left alone for several hours each day as the humans go off to work.
Not many dogs nowadays get the social stimulation they would get, when roaming freely around the farm. This has led to behaviour problems not seen before in the history of the dog. Now we have dogs with separation anxiety, OCD, aggression. In general we struggle both communicating and understanding them properly.
More and more homes live without a dog. The knowledge about dogs found in our ancestors has now vanished and we question our dogs behaviour.
We expect our dogs to learn new commands such as sit, down and stay. They are also expected to behave perfectly when outside with us. No pulling the leash, no barking and absolutely no mingling with other dogs if they show the slightest bit of uncertainty or aggression.
We have bred dogs to an extent that they are now a fashion accessory. Being carried around all day and/or dressed up with the finest new dog clothes and accessories. The consequences are both seen mentally and physically.
Humans have bred dogs such as the French Bulldog – The most popular dog breed in the UK in 2017. With an extensive cuteness factor everyone wants to buy them.
Extensive breeding of one dog breed can not only lead to mental and physical issues for that dog (breeds who cannot give birth by themselves, or cannot breathe due to their short nose). It can also bring out the worst in some people. Only breeding dogs for the money, giving rise to puppy mills and the like.
Finally, it can lead people to just buy that dog because it is popular, not knowing what type of needs the dog has. This can lead to extensive behaviour problems, as the humans are incapable of fulfilling their dogs needs. Many dogs are left in shelters or put down due to extensive health problems from poor or extensive breeding.
Is the mutualistic symbiosis then really true? Or could it be that humans are now affecting the dog’s evolution in a negative way? And that neither can keep up with the pace we humans have set for the dog’s evolution and domestication?
Want to read more about the bond between humans and dogs – check out The relation between humans and dogs – how strong is it really!