Where did dogs come from and how were they domesticated? (Part 1)

There has been much speculation about the ancestry of the domestic dog. Many theories suggest that due to the diversity of the domestic dog there must have been other canids such as Jackals and Coyotes in the ancestral line. However evidence based on the work done on mapping the DNA of the domestic dog is conclusive – it is clear that all domestic dogs have a common ancestor in the grey wolf (Villa et al 1997 Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog). However whilst we are able to determine that the DNA analysed is from primarily Eurasian grey wolves, none of the wolves that have been studied over the last 70 years or so can be considered to be the ancestors of the domestic dog. (Bradshaw 2012, In defence of Dogs) There is no doubt however that both current day wolves and domestic dogs had a common ancestor many thousands of years ago.

There is much supposition of how the wolf evolved into the domestic dog and whilst many of the hypotheses are credible they are currently just that – hypotheses. No one can be sure how the dog became domesticated.

However there is clear evidence that early humans had some interaction with wolves/dogs as far as 30,000 years ago. In the Goyet Cave in Belgium there is evidence of a canine skull carbon dated to around 31,000 years old. This canine skull is structurally different to a wolf skull, the brain cavity is smaller and the teeth are also smaller. In the Chauvet Cave in South France there is evidence of a child’s footprint alongside a dog footprint preserved in mud, the painting and torch marks on the cave walls have been dated to 26,000 years ago. This dog’s footprint is dissimilar to a wolf in that it has short middle toes – much like the current domestic dog.

The two main hypotheses in the evolution of the dog are:-

  • Humans ‘adopted’ orphaned wolf cubs which were subsequently tamed
  • that wolves as scavengers were likely to live near human settlements stealing from campsites,

Part 2 looks at these two theories on the evolution of the dog.

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