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, but 15.000 years ago a wolf tic decided to have her puppies a little closer to the human settlers. A human, unknown if female or male, grew close to the wolf tic and started feeding her and helping with the care of the wolf puppies. A strong bond grew between them. The puppies grew up among the human settlers and as it was time for them themselves to have puppies, they too grew up with the humans as their second caregivers.
This continued for generations until no one remembered the settler life with the 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 but where 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. Of course the ones with the required abilities, the best hunter or protector, would be bred and generation after generation 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 have 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 where two species living close together and benefiting from that, gradually evolves qualities that makes both species better in working and understanding each other.
But have humans now gone too far in dog domestication?
As people started moving to big cities, having their pets live with them in small apartments. Often leashed when outside and 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 behavior problems not seen before in the history of the dog. Now we have dogs with separation anxiety, OCD, aggression and in general trouble 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 behavior. 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 – not pulling the leash, no barking and absolutely no mingling with other dogs showing the slightest bit of uncertainty or aggression.
We have bred dogs to an extent that they are now a fashion extension – being carried around all day, dressed up with the finest new dog accessories, and 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 that has everyone buying 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, without knowing what type of needs the dog has. This can lead to extensive behavior problems as the humans are incapable of fulfilling their dogs needs as we see more and more off. Many dogs are left in shelters as, 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?
Let me know your responses in the comments 🙂
Want to read more about this subject – check out Debunking the Alpha dog myth
Until next week!