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Long ago, our relationship with wolves was very different than what our relationship with domesticated dogs is today. We have gone from an adversarial situation, one in which we fought with them for survival to one in which we cohabitate companionably – and sometimes even have closer relationships with our canine friends than we do with our human ones. When and how did this happen?
Long ago, our relationship with wolves was very different than what our relationship with
domesticated dogs is today. We have gone from an adversarial situation, one in which we
fought with them for survival to one in which we cohabitate companionably – and sometimes
even have closer relationships with our canine friends than we do with our human ones. When
and how did this happen?
Scientists have begun to track the
evolution of the relationship
between man and his dog and how
both species changed and adapted
along the way. The oldest domestic
relationship goes back to when dogs
were the wolves we still know today.
Somewhere between 15,000 and
40,000 years ago some of these
wolves went from being wild
competitors to being our constant
companions in what has been
called one of the most extraordinary
events in human history.
There is continued debate about
exactly where and when the
domestication events began to
occur, from Europe to Asia and back
again. However, what is perhaps
more curious is how these events
took place. It is thought that wolves
were adopted and domesticated
with the rise of agriculture. And
friendliness seems to be the key
genetic trait that caused certain
wolves to start to become what we
think of as dogs in only a few
The question of how wolves became
domesticated has also been looked
into by Russian scientists who
created an experiment with silver
foxes. The foxes that showed the
most friendly behavior were bred
and eventually a group of foxes
were created that bore little
resemblance to other, wild foxes.
Domestication has changed dogs
in several ways – as they
interacted with humans they
started to leave behind some of
their pack mentality. They have
also gradually learned to use
humans to solve their problems.
When presented with challenges,
modern dogs look to their human
companions to help them solve it
while wolves work to physically
solve it on their own. Dogs and
humans can also cause
biological bonding that usually
only happens between humans
with close relationships.
The fall of the pack mentality is also notable in how wolves currently differ from dogs.
Dogs are terrible at coordinating while wolves can work together efficiently to solve
problems. This contradicts the theory that dogs are just friendlier wolves. The old
Rudyard Kipling saying that the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the
wolf is the pack still holds true.
Dogs also manifested physical changes from
their wolf counterparts. They have different fur
color and texture and their ears and tails are
shaped differently. How the physical and
biological changes occurred is something
scientists are working to study. One theory
suggests that as wolves that lived in close
proximity to humans actually self-domesticated
and their genes began to change.
Dogs also have specific facial attributes that
wolves do not – they are able to literally make
“puppy dog eyes” while wolves are not. The
idea is that dogs may have developed these
communication abilities based on human
preferences and ways of communicating.
While much is made of the differences between wolves and their
housebound counterparts, there are also many similarities that help us
understand the closeness of the former relationship. Both start out as pups
with playful behavior in need of direction, but because the dogs stay
dependent on humans they can essentially stay in the puppy phase.
Characteristics of guard dogs and hunting dogs can also be very wolf-like.
However it occurred, this much is known – the relationship between humans
and dogs has become a revered one that many people rely upon for
companionship, security and even labor. It’s a unique species to species
bond that has changed the way humans live, work and think about the