Domesticated dogs have been with us for a long time; and that’s all anybody can agree on. Studies of fossils and genetic information seems to create more questions than answers. But it seems to be around 35,000 years.
We know this from genetic testing that dogs evolved from a certain grey wolf that is now extinct. There is evidence that humans were living alongside wolves in the Middle East 75,000 years ago. Another line started in Siberia maybe 23,000 years ago. Why did we become such good friends with these creatures? There is little evidence to go on so speculation is what we have.
The common theory is that wolves started to follow us around because we were leaving food all over the place. Really? We threw food away? This was at a time when humans were hunting small game. I see this as being unlikely and the real reason they may have started to follow us was the *ahem* scat we left behind. This early theory is picturing these doggy forebears as being the dogs we have now. They weren’t. Those wolves were more likely to be driven away by fire, than to be lured to its BBQ aromas.
The newest idea is that wolves didn’t start hanging out with us, we started to hang out with them. Wolves have been working together to take down big game longer than humans have. Perhaps humans observed the cooperative skill of these apex creatures and learned a thing or two. Maybe the humans joined in and weren’t chased away by wolves because we were pathetic naked bipeds that required compassion, not fear. (I love this theory. Thag approaches the wolf pack with his pointy stick and asks to join in. The wolves shrug and wonder what could possibly go wrong. Fast forward 15,000 years and a Pug is wearing onesie sprawled out on a chaise lounge.)
We do know that dogs were the first animals that agreed to be domesticated by humans. They were with us before we started growing crops. It makes sense that we hunted together, we still do. The human social and family structure is more like that of wolves than of chimpanzees. Maybe we learned more from wolves than hunting. Who domesticated whom?
As we settled into an agrarian lifestyle, those wolves stuck around and were bred specifically for jobs and companionship. We know from a Russian fox breeder that the look of dogs comes from breeding for tameness. The genes that are connected to being friendly causes a fox’s coat to become spotted. Their ears don’t point up as they mature giving us the adorable flop eared look of many dogs. And they look us in the eye. That knowing look, that Princess Diana look, that deep gaze we all know. Maybe they know something about their past we haven’t been able to prove or even grasp.
Some mystery is always nice in a relationship.