Canine Origins:

Canine Origins:
September 11, 2018

As long as man roamed the earth, there were wolves. But how did we go from one species of  Grey wolves to over 400 domesticated dog breeds? When did this first begin happening, and who started it? Though there are several theories, the ‘Protodog’ theory is the most popular.

Protodog: The Beginnings

Over a massive time scale of about 800 thousand years, the wolf has thrived in his northern environments. Since the Middle Pleistocene era, these magnificent animals, all but unrivaled in their pack hunting and tracking abilities, endured both the physical and mental stresses of the hunt. This is what they were biologically designed to do, and they were unmatched in their skillsets. It was a very demanding lifestyle.

So, for countless generations, hundreds of thousands of years, theses animals would devote their boundless energies to tracking prey animals, taking those animals down and then hiding or protecting their kills from other predators. If they weren’t able to find prey or another predator gained access to their kills, it could mean starvation.

Early Scavengers

But these wolves weren’t a dull, stupid species, like so many before. They could recognize an opportunity for what it was.

About 14 thousand years ago, a small, select group of Grey wolves noticed a roving band of nomadic humans. More importantly, they noticed the scraps left behind by these early peoples. They began to feed from these leftovers, realizing the simple task of scavenging would be much more convenient and meals came much easier to them. 

Protodog: The First Dogs

Over time, these few wolves began to change, evolving to suit this new lifestyle, developing new characteristics. Their brains, skulls and massive teeth shrank; these animals no longer needed to coordinate intricate hunting activities or tear at tough animal hide. The snout became shorter, and Protodog’s body became smaller. The first dogs were born. 

Early Travels: Dog’s Population Grows

With their heavy, water resistant coats, there’s no doubt these early dogs originated in northern climates. Popular belief likely sets Russia or parts of Northern Asia as the beginning grounds. Suffice to say, the first dogs probably only existed in a northern portion of the world. 

Jump forward about 14 thousand years, to the near four hundred recognized dog breeds covering every single populated corner of the globe. How in the world did we go from one isolated species living in one portion of the world to all of this?

Traveling with Man

Since these first dogs began adapting to a scavenging lifestyle, they almost certainly traveled alongside man. Historians theorize a ‘Bering Land Bridge’ once existed connecting Eastern Siberia to Alaska back when sea levels were lower, which explains perfectly how dogs traveled to North America. 

Many of man’s oldest recorded histories of dogs were created with Ancient Egypt about 5-6 thousand years ago, so we know these animals managed to migrate south west alongside early man, evolving and adapting to changing climates as they went, somehow changing to the short coated hot weather dog, such as the Basenji (african breed), as they went. Unfortunately, we still have a gap of about eight thousand years of nothing.

Domestication and Selective Breeding

Today, artificial selection influences the size, shape, personality, coloring, physical ability, intelligence, and just about anything else that separates the near 400 recognized dog breeds worldwide. But how did we go from one simple species to 400? 

For thousands of years, man simply paired one dog that looked similar to another together, and that was the extent of their breeding. Dogs weren’t really selectively bred for individual talents or physical skills like the advanced breeding practices of today. Dog breeding was more random, and much simpler. Natural selection determined all things listed above; man had little influence.

Celtic Mastiff: First Scent Hound?

Some historians think it wasn’t until the Celtic peoples came along and noticed some of their Mastiff type dogs were better scenting/tracking dogs than the others, and decided it was a good idea to breed the best trackers to produce puppies with those same qualities.

Nine Thousand Year Old Working Dogs

Others think selective breeding stretched back to the hunter-gatherers of frigid Zhokhov Island, north of Russia, about nine thousand years ago. Evidence was discovered indicating they may have bred powerful working dogs similar to the Alaskan Malamutes of today in order to help pull loads (sleds).

Regardless what culture developed the first specific and intentional breed, the science of dog breeding has moved leaps and bounds, almost more than it seems should be possible! Probably a simple, common result of cultural development and largely unrelated between each group of peoples, the practice of dog breeding blew up. 

After all, what animal is better at working tasks? Are there any animals out there more intelligent and willing to work for simple gratification? After all; training a dog, almost any dog, isn’t difficult and doesn’t require years of study and an advanced degree. In fact, there probably isn’t a single species, other than man, with a sense of smell so powerful that wouldn’t just as easily turn on handlers with violent ferocity.

Dogs of Today

Believe it or not, there are over 400 recognized dog breeds on the planet today! Ranging from the 10 pound chihuahua, all the way to the 200+ giant breeds, the 5 foot tall Irish Wolfhound, and the teddy bear like Shiba Inu, today’s dogs seem to come in absolutely every shape and size!

Working Purposes

Throughout most of man’s history with the dog, we focused on our furry companion ability to work alongside us, to make our lives easier. Once selective breeding began, we sought to find the best combinations that would produce offspring with the most suitable traits to any given task. 

The vast majority of breeds that exist today originally performed some sort of function in order to make man’s life easier, though it may be as simple as a lap dog traded amongst nobility for comfort.

The Designer Breed

Recently, however, this began to change; no longer is every dog bred to perform a working function. Some breeds are simply combined because the owner thinks the result will be cute, interesting, or make them money when sold. These new ‘designer breeds’ are in high demand amongst enthusiasts throughout the globe!

Unfortunately, this often leads to health concerns or medical problems due to inexperienced breeding.

Conclusion: The Population Crisis

The pet industry has become an enormous, money making giant! Between breeding, training, pet toys, veterinary care, boarding, transport, sports, and nearly anything else you can think of, there is almost any opportunity for an entrepreneur to profit. Sadly, this has led to over a million healthy and well behaved dogs being destroyed annually in the US alone.

Large scale breeding has become popular- there is opportunity for profit in the breeding and sale of dogs. Though they are often raised in poor conditions, governments allow this to continue due to the revenue it ultimately puts in the economy. The sad fact is- we simply can't support the outrageous number of animals born. Not enough shelters exist to house homeless animals, and the money simply isn't their for their care.

So, in order to combat the problem we ourselves have created, and promote health/safety from overpopulation, excess animals are often simply put to death. We've gone a long way from those first dog species of 14,000 years ago!