I am sitting in the sun on the grass in a pandemic lockdown, looking into the puppy dog eyes of my three-month-old dog as she eagerly watches the tennis ball in my right hand. She tilts her head like mine, mimics the movement of my arm following the ball, and with tails wagging and tongue out, she happily leaps like lighting to catch it.
I ponder what the evolution of the dog is? Have modern-day breeds always existed? Did our caveman ancestors cuddle our fur friends of joy and play fetch with bones?
How in the world do I domesticate and train my dog? Is my dog a genius?
Let’s dive into the history of our intelligent, globally superior favourite pet.
What we do know is that your cute puppy was once a wolf. Dogs evolved from their canine ancestor, a Gray Wolf. To date, scientists are baffled by the timeline where wolves merged into dogs and the art of domestication.
Dog fossils date back as far back as 20,000 to 40,000 years ago in the Neolithic Era, so our fur babies are Stone Age, a friendship that has lasted eons.
In studies by Professor Dr Krishna Veeramah at Stony Brook University, ancient fossils of dogs in Germany were very similar to our modern European dogs, even many of the breeds we have today as pets.
Another interesting study by Brian Hare, Director of Duke University Canine Cognition Center found that wolves have domesticated themselves into dogs, changing not only their behaviour to survive as companions with humans but also their physical features. This self-domestication process of changing eyebrows, floppy ears, splotchy coats, are all a visible byproduct of their "friendly" evolution from wolf to dog. This is evident in the study of domesticated foxes in Russia, who made themselves look adorable over time and pick up on human social cues.
Your dog was once a snarling member of a pack that radically altered its appearance and manner to quite literally become our best friend! Crazy right?
So next time your dog gives you that puppy dog looks when they want your dinner, remember, they are purposely putting on that face to get what they want. Cute, but oh too easy to give in.
There is also a unique bond between dogs and humans; when they look at each other, equally both brains produce the chemical oxytocin, a hormone which is likened to maternal bonding and trust. Dogs are the first animal proven to have this bond with humans, and one of the first animals to domesticate itself with humans, well before humans were herding sheep, cows, pigs and growing crops. It is a beautiful connection between human and dog, and incredible to know a little history; from wolf to friend.