Since times immemorial, dogs have been cited, across cultures as exemplars of loyalty and friendship. The great affection that dogs bear for their family is the stuff of fabled legends; But, how did they get here? How is it that dogs came to have so much in terms of emotional attachment for humanoid apes. When did this love across species start to bloom, evolutionarily speaking?
Dog’s ancestry? The wolf?
Evolutionary Science indicates that the divergence of the Gray Wolf, the modern day dog’s direct common ancestor, and the now extinct Taymyr wolf, happened around 75000 years ago. For long it was believed that the domestication of the dog was achieved only once, probably in the middle east or china but new evidence shows that the dog was in actuality successfully domesticated by humans twice; Once in each side of Eurasia. While this is definitely an interesting find, it still doesn’t explain the deep and oftentimes complex bond between us and canines.
How did they evolve?
To understand the reason for the dog’s’ ability to form intricate bonds with us and be inordinately useful to our lives in so many ways, it is important to get some perspective on the sheer magnitude of time they have co-evolved and co-existed with us. Most forms of dating available to us speaks of a time about 26000 years ago, that we started keeping dogs as companions. Let’s not forget – those were pre-agricultural times! Humans were hunter-gatherers and had barely just learned to use tools and make primitive weapons. It is here that dogs started being incredibly useful to us, for hunting, especially. Wolves are wonderful hunters and our modern day dogs descend directly from the wolf. The massive propensity for affection, an emotional need for companionship and unflinching loyalty even in the face of adversity, all are traits intrinsic to the pack mentality of the wolf. This is a fundamental survival instinct burnt into the wolf’s genetic blueprint for the maximum chance of survival.
The human involvement!
An important and defining aspect of the modern dog’s evolution is that it is one of the rare domestic animals that was bred, across centuries and continents, on the basis of behavioural traits rather than physical attributes. Of course, there being thousands of breeds in hundreds of countries worldwide, different traits and features were preferred in different breeds. To begin with, dogs were seen as hunting aides and were bred to be able assistants on hunts to our ancient forebears. Down the centuries, however, they have also been selectively bred to have advantageous traits such as loyalty, camaraderie, and watchfulness. It has been suggested in many reliable quarters that their extraordinary sense of smell and hearing are also genetically desirable traits that were amplified because of the fact that we selectively wanted these traits in our best animal buddies. Dogs have been made, throughout history, to assist us humans in innumerable ways – as shepherds, watchmen, companions, rescue scouts and so on.
Dogs are beautiful creatures to our eyes, interestingly, also because of aesthetic choices of humans that we have selectively bred our pet canines to represent. This is also an indicator of the sheer diversity in cultural notions of beauty