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Evolution of Dogs

The title may seem strange.  We know that dogs come in a wide variety of breeds and that these are deliberately selected by humans.  However, remember that the word “evolution” simply means “change”.

100,000 Years?

Genetic comparisons between Wolves and Dogs suggest that most Dogs have been domesticated for about 100,000 years.  They also have developed to be able to read the facial expressions of humans to a remarkable degree.  In fact they appear to be superior at understanding human expressions even to Chimpanzees which actually share many of our expressions.

In the last 100,000 years, humans have had about 4,000 generations, but Dogs had had about 50,000 generations, so there has been considerable scope for dogs to both be selected deliberately by humans and to be naturally selected.  Sometimes these different things will work together.  For example if a dog was dangerous to people it would often be destroyed and not used for breeding.  This dog might have been dangerous because it was misunderstanding human expressions.

Apart from evolving a remarkable affinity with humans, Dogs also needed to be able to breed.  Sometimes this need may have actually conflicted with the breed requirements, and until caesarean operations for Dogs became more possible, some shaped dogs may have simply not been able to have puppies.

Sub Species

The great majority of our Dogs are of the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris.  This means that they are still in the same species as the wolf.

Canis lupus familiaris was descended from wolves that lived with humans 100,000 years ago, and the relationship gradually changed to the present relationship of humans to Dogs.

There is a second subspecies of Dog; Canis lupus dingo.  This is the subspecies that the Dingo (The feral Dog of Australia) comes from.  This was domesticated more recently than other Dogs; perhaps only about 20,000 years ago in Asia.  This breed has the reputation as being more difficult to reliably tame.  We can speculate that this is partly because it has not had a close association with people for as long as other Dogs.

The Dingo will freely interbreed with other dogs and is one of the ancestral breeds of at least one common breed; the “Australian Cattle Dog”, also called the “Blue Heeler”.
Hunters and Gatherers
When the ancestors of our Dogs first became partners of our own ancestors, Humans were almost certainly hunters and gatherers, probably living in fairly small tribes.  Most mammalian predators are nocturnal.  Two major ones that hunted a lot in the day time were Dogs and Humans.  Together, these two species can do things that neither can do seperately and both would have benefited from the association.  At that time, the Dogs would mostly be breeding naturally, but even then, people would not have tolerated a dog that attacked them, so there would be a major advantage to Dogs that were less agressive to people.
Eventually the Hunters and gatherers would have developed into farmers and herders.  Here dogs could help in different ways and perhaps people started getting more control over the breeding of the Dogs.  Dog breeds have been developed both to control animals, as the Collie does, and to protect the flocks and herds from wild predators.
As Humans settled even more and towns and cities developed Dogs have been selected in many different ways and now there are a very large number of Dog breeds.
New York, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2001) -- A tired search dog rests at the World Trade Center in New York City.
U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres.









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Photo by Tina Barber 
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