Pet Care

The Awesome History of Dogs and Humans

Terry M. Cervantes 

Dogs are known as man’s best friend for a good reason — they have been by our side for tens of thousands of years. But how did they go from wolves to pocket dogs? Let’s dive into a brief history of dogs.

45,000 Years Ago

When ancient people migrated to Europe, they competed with Neanderthals and wolves for food and shelter. Although wolves and humans are natural competitors, archaeologists believe that wolves expelled from their packs found Allies in human gangs. The wolves alerted them to the peril and, in turn, they ate bones and other food scraps — this is the beginning of a beautiful (and generous) friendship.

31,700 Years Ago

Mietje Germonpré and a team of scientists have unearthed the bones of an ancient canid in a cave in Belgium, and their research shows that it is not a wolf. He is more like other prehistoric dogs and is currently the oldest example of wolves evolving into something completely new and different species from their wild ancestors.

15,000 Years Ago

The first bones of domestic dogs appear in the fossil record of Western Europe. These canines are much more similar to the animals that we recognize today as modern dogs, and the evidence has shown that their behavior has also become more dog-like. They have made the leap from tamed animals (wild animals that have become accustomed to human behavior) to companion animals (a multi-generational process of selective breeding to create an animal designed to have the characteristics we want).

12,500 Years Ago

Domestic dogs appear in the fossil record of East Asia. The expert in Paleogenomics and Bioarchaeology Greger Larson from the University of Oxford believes that this is a completely different example of canine domestication. He notes that the minimal evidence of fossils of domestic dogs somewhere between Western Europe and East Asia for another 4,500 years makes it extremely unlikely that they migrated from one place to another. Basically, the dogs are so good that we have domesticated them twice!

It seems that this Asian population of dogs dominated when they spread around the world — genetic studies show that only 10% of modern dogs can trace their ancestry back to Western European breeds.

10,000 Years Ago

The first agricultural revolution began almost 12,000 years ago in the fertile Crescent of the Middle East, when the human population settled down and began to cultivate instead of hunting and gathering. Fast forward 2,000 years and dogs first got jobs when they were bred to adapt to this new farming lifestyle. While dogs previously relied on their natural instincts to hunt and protect their pack, they were now bred for breeding, keeping livestock and other specialized tasks.

9,000 Years Ago

A thriving population of dogs lived in America at least 9,000 years ago. Genetic evidence shows that they did not evolve from American wolves, but from a Population of early ancestral dogs that migrated with humans across the land bridge from Siberia to North America. They have been domesticated here in America over time to create a whole range of Native American dog breeds. (This means the dogs were so good that we domesticated them at least three times.)

Unfortunately, Native American dogs almost completely disappeared and were replaced by European dogs in the 15th century. The closest living relatives of these early American dogs are the American Arctic dogs, including the Alaskan Husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the Greenland dog.

8,000 Years Ago

The historical archives show the first mentions of the Basenji: the oldest breed of dog that still exists today. This African dog still has many characteristics more common to its ancient ancestors than other modern dogs, including the fact that it howls and yodels instead of barking and that it does not have the classic dog smell. They may be the great-great-grandfathers of the canine world, but they are still recognized by the American Kennel Club!

6000 Years Ago

The very first cities were founded by the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia, and dogs quickly became urban companions. Around 3,300 BC, the Sumerians invented the most popular dog accessory: the collar and the leash.

4000 Years Ago

Long before Toto and Lassie arrived on our screens, the Sumerians also gave dogs leading roles in their pop culture. Ancient panels entitled “The show dog” and “why the dog is subject to man” were important literature. (We are still waiting for them to be turned into Coffee table Books.) The Sumerians loved dogs so much that they were the first culture to include them in their pantheon of gods!

2000 Years Ago

When Rome invaded Britain in 43 AD, they were shocked by the strength and ferocity of the British dogs that joined their wrestler on the battlefield. Soon, Europe developed an insatiable market for wild debate dogs that could act on the battlefield and in the Colosseums.

At the same time, the Romans also bred small toy dogs, which became the most fashionable accessory in the city. They were probably raised as cute pets, but that was conveniently around the same time that the black rat Population in Europe went wild — meaning they could be pet dogs and pest control in one.

1400 Years Ago

A French monk named Hubert spent his life raising large hunting dogs that specialized in searching for the smells of various animals. Hubert became Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, and his dogs became the ancestors of today’s bloodhounds.

270 Years Ago

Dogs were given another important task in the 1750s, when the staff of a Parisian hospital for the blind began to train dogs to help their patients. In 1819, Johann Wilhelm Klein, founder of the Institute for the Education of the Blind in Vienna, Austria, published the world’s first manual on the training of guide dogs.

There are countless other notable moments in the history of humans and dogs, but what is clear is that dogs have remained our constant companions for the last 45,000 years or so! Today we celebrate our relationship with our canine companions with joyful celebrations in Nepal, the Iditarod race on one of the most grueling terrains in the United States and star-studded dog shows around the world.

Dogs have a noble history (and many other great events, we’re sure), so break out the popcorn and dog treats and celebrate your pooch and your adorable, hardworking ancestors who came before you.

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Terry M. Cervantes 

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