When Were Dogs Domesticated?

Dogs have a long history of interactions with humans.
Dogs have a long history of interactions with humans.

The relationship between humans and dogs date to between twenty and forty thousand years ago. The partnership originated based on the human need for help with hunting and herding, an early alarm system, protection, and companionship. In return, dogs received protection, companionship, a reliable source of food, and shelter. It is a fact that dogs originated from wolves but when and where the partnership between humans and dogs first occurred is still subject to debate. Studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of dogs suggest that they split from the wolves around 100,000 years ago. The analysis sheds some light on the domestication process, but researchers are yet to agree on a specific timeline. Some mtDNA analysis suggests that dogs were first domesticated in the Middle East while other suggest East Asia; still, others suggest that dogs were domesticated in Europe.

Two Domestications?

Research published in 2016 suggests that dogs originated from two places: Western Eurasia and Eastern Eurasia. The analysis also indicates that the Asian dogs originated from the Asian wolves around twelve thousand years ago while the European Paleolithic dogs were domesticated independently from European wolves 15,000 years ago. At some point, probably 6,000 years ago, the Asian dogs accompanied humans to Europe and displaced the European dogs. This analogy explains why earlier forensic studies indicated that dogs descended from a single domestication event. The research further states that the European Paleolithic dogs and the ancient American dogs descended from a similar wolf population but were rendered extinct by the arrival of the Asian species. However, some scholars have found evidence to support the migration of early dogs across Europe and Asia, but there is not substantial evidence to suggest that the European species became extinct.

Archaeological Evidence

Bonn-Oberkassel archaeological site in Germany provided the earliest remains of the domesticated dog in Europe. The remains, which also include human remains, dated fourteen thousand years ago. The Predmosti archaeological site in the Czech Republic, Chauvet caves in France, and the Goyet Caves in Belgium hold evidence for the interaction of humans and dogs but not necessarily domestication. Skateholm Mesolithic sites in Sweden (3700-5250 BCE) show evidence of dog burial sites, proving that hunters and gatherers cherished the canines. The Danger Caves in Utah provide the earliest evidence of dog burial in North America dating 11,000 years ago.

Origin of Modern Breeds

Researchers agree that most of the modern breeds of dogs are a result of recent developments. However, the variation in dog breeds is evidence of ancient varied domestication processes. Dogs can be as small as "teacup poodles" or as large as the giant mastiffs. In addition, they also differ in limb, skull, and body proportion. Years of coexistence with humans has developed specialized skills in particular dogs such as herding, scent detection, guiding, and retrieving. Dog breeds began to be developed five centuries ago from a genetic mixture obtained from disparate locations. During the First and Second World Wars, some breeds of dogs were nearing extinction, but they have since been re-established by breeding a handful the surviving individuals or by genetically combining similar strains.


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