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A Man’s Best Friend: How Dogs Got Domesticated

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There are 525 million dogs in the world, and yet the majority of people are still unaware of where they originated from. Dogs can play many roles in our lives such as a guard dog, a service dog, a therapy dog and more importantly a companion. A general assumption that most people have about dogs is that they came from wolves and that they evolved into dogs over a million years ago. While it is true that they came from wolves, the history of how they evolved into dogs is more complex.

Ever since I got bit by a dog when I was seven, I grew up with an intense fear for dogs and could not understand why dogs became such a significant part of our society. After researching, I discovered that dogs became domesticated around the time humans were beginning to settle down into villages. Also, this interspecies relationship formed when humans and wolves discovered that having each other as an ally provided multiple benefits and humans overtime bred wolves for certain traits.

In the article “Dogs, But Not Wolves, Use Humans As Tools” by Jason G. Goldman, published in the Scientific America, provides background information about how humans played a role in the evolution of wolves into dogs. James Gorman’s article “The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From”, published in The New York Times, motions that dogs became domesticated in East Asia, and due to random breeding between dogs overtime caused there to be conflicting theories. In Gorman’s second article, “Where Did Dogs Come From? There May Be Two Answers.”, published in The New York Times, he claims that dogs came from both East Asia and Middle East since there is enough evidence to support both sides. In “Opinion: We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs, They Domesticated Us”, an article in the National Geographic, by Brian Hare, he believes that dogs chose to be domesticated by humans for survival advantage. The video “Double Domestication for Dogs?” by Science magazine, shows how dogs were domesticated in both Middle East and East Asia and explains the migration pattern of East Asian dogs to the Middle East. In the second episode, ‘Some of the Things That Molecules Do”, of the show Cosmos narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson, he tells a story about how dogs became integrated into human society. In the article “Solving the Mystery of Dog Domestication” published in US Official news, the author revealed how Charles Darwin started the dog wars by verifying that dogs had indeed came from wolves. In Nicholas Wade’s article ‘From Wolf to Dog, Yes, but When?”, he motions that dog had originated in East Asia due to a genetic analysis that showed that dogs in that area have a larger variation of genetic makeup.The article “Research Undermines Dog Domestication Theory” by Nicholas Wade, describes an expedition of a group of scientist that collected data from hundreds of dogs in East Asia.

The first steps that scientists took to find out where dogs originated from was by analyzing the dog’s DNA. “Charles Darwin… wondered whether dogs had evolved from a single species or from an unusual mating… until the late 1990s, [he did] a genetic analysis that finally confirmed that dogs had descended from gray wolves. (The two share 99.9% of their DNA)”(US Official News). His research prompted the start of the investigation about the history of dog, and provided solid evidence that supported the assumption about dog’s lineage with wolves.

After scientists around the world have concurred that dogs do come from wolves, they struggled to agree on exactly when did dogs first became domesticated. There have been many different predictions about the start of dog’s domestication ranging from “30,000 years ago if all dogs originated from a single wolf, or 15,000 years ago if all dogs originated from a population of the same wolves”(Wade, 2002). However, the most plausible time period based on archaeological evidence was 15,000 years ago since that was “the earliest remains [that] were found of dogs”(Gorman, jan 2016).

Scientist and researcher all over the world have been arguing about whether dogs originated from East Asia or Middle East, but the question that arises is what if dogs were domesticated twice in two different places by two different group of wolves? There have been genome studies on dogs from around the world, and “there is a greater genetic diversity [in East Asia] than others”(Wade, 2002). This research implies that all of the earliest domesticated dogs were concentrated in East Asia and they bred with each other, and that lead to dogs today in that area to have a wider variation of genetic makeup. However, “Middle Eastern origin for dogs fits better with archaeological evidence”(Wade, 2010). While it easy to infer that dogs just migrated from East Asia to Middle East, or vice versa, it is not possible since “the bones found in the Middle East were found 1,000 years before migration [of East Asian dogs]”(Science Magazine). That lead a group of scientist to come up with the possible theory that dogs were domesticated twice, “since they think their explanation best suits the available evidence”(Gorman, june 2016). Also, if scientists have “found that wild boars were domesticated twice”(Gorman, June 2016), there is a possibility that wolves were too.

So why did humans start interacting with wolves? Before humans formed villages, they were wanderers, afraid to settle down in fear of other animals that hunted for the same food(Cosmos). However “some wolves were less fearful of humans”(Goldman) and were able to approach humans, and that began the mutually beneficial relationship between wolves and humans. Wolves saw this relationship as valuable, for they would “no longer have to hunt”(Goldman) for a regular meal since they scavenged human’s scraps, and that lead to more offsprings. Additionally, thanks to the wolves who offered protection and security, humans began to settle down.

Another question about dog’s domestication, is that how did the big bad wolf turn into the lovable dog we see today? Not long after wolves became incorporated into human settlements, they were being bred for certain traits such as tameness, trainability, and friendliness(Cosmos). That is why dogs today can have the ability to understand human gestures and be so obedient. In addition, “cuteness became a selective advantage. The more adorable [they] were, the better chance [they] had of survival”(Cosmos). But it was not always a pleasant process for the dogs, for they gave up their right to choose their own mate, and the wolves who were not obedient would be killed or “when times were tough they were used as an emergency food supply”(Hare). As a result of humans breeding for certain traits, it explains why dogs today are no longer physically and psychologically the same as wolves.

The reason why dogs became such an important part of our society was because humans and wolves formed a mutually beneficial relationship and it lead to human settlement and the domestication of dogs. As a result of the human breeding wolves for certain traits, we now have hundreds of different dog species today. After researching about the history of dog, I found that there is still many doubts about where dogs came from since there is so many possible hypothesis and the data collected were only in East Asia and Middle East, so that might have influenced the results. If we want to conclusively narrow down the location of where dogs were first domesticated, then there must be a genetic data from dogs all over the world. This data will not only help all the researchers in the world come to an agreement, but also help us know more about our “best friend”.

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