|Wolves and dogs: same family. Photo by Evgeni Dinev.|
According to anthropologists, scenarios that might explain how the association between man and wolves began between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago also suggest that the connection and companionship were beneficial for both. They also indicate the truth to the old adage that dog's are man's best friend.
A submissive jackal or sickly wolf expelled from its pack may have sought refuge elsewhere; or hunters found some tiny pups and may have brought them back to their dwelling for their families to take care of them.
It is believed that wolves started following groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to scavenge on the leftovers or animal carcasses. Some of the less intimidating animals may have become reliant on humans and the hunters probably gave them food and shelter. In exchange, the wolves guarded their livestock, used their superior sense of smell and hearing to help the humans hunt more effectively and alerted them to the danger of savage predators. In this way, dogs significantly boosted the survival rate of early humans.
As man and dog lived side by side and grew to know each other, they developed a mutual trust and liking. When dogs entered homes as playing companions for children, their acceptance as loved family members increased.
Signs of an original family of dogs exist almost worldwide. However, nothing indicates that any foxes, dogs or wolves ever existed as indigenous animals in Madagascar, New Zealand and the islands of Polynesia, West Indies or the eastern islands of Archipelago (Malaysia).
In countries such as Mongolia in the ancient Orient, wild wolf-like dogs roamed around for centuries, with no efforts to entice them to become companion animals or make them more compliant.Little has changed in most Eastern Cities, since dogs still wander around the streets today.
Clearly defined different dog types are only mentioned in studies of higher Egyptian and Assyrian civilizations. In places like Palestine, there was little respect for dogs and they were treated with disdain. Described throughout the Bible as "unclean beasts," the book of Job even scorned the gentle Sheepdog. The only Biblical reference to the companionship between man and dog is found in the Book of Tobit (V. 16) "So they went forth both, and the young man's dog with them."
It’s hard to imagine that all dogs have the same ancestors, considering the huge variety of dog breeds and significant differences in their appearance, size and characteristics. Think for example. how different a St Bernard is from a miniature Terrier or a Japanese Spaniel from a Bull Mastiff!
Yet it's not unlike the discrepancies between a Shetland pony and Shire horse. Dog breeders point out that creating a new dog breed is as simple as combining selected characteristics. This is especially true of mixed breeds such as the cockapoo.
It’s easier to understand the common ancestry of dogs when comparing the skeletal structure of wolves and dogs. You then realize how easy it is to confuse their close resemblance.
A dog's spine comprises 30 vertebrae (seven neck, 13 back, seven loin, three sacral) with an additional 20-22 vertebra in its tail. Both wolves and dogs have a similar outward appearance, with their 13 pairs of ribs, 42 teeth as well as 5 front and 4 hind toes.
They even have the same habits. While wolves naturally howl, they will adapt and acquire barking if constricted with dogs. In the wild, a wolf usually eats meat, but is not averse to consuming vegetables. When feeling unwell, both wolves and dogs tend to eat grass. Yet another similarity is that both wolves and dogs have the same 63-day gestation period.
Many modern terriers and sporting dogs display similar techniques to wolves when hunting in groups. This strategic technique entails splitting up into two groups, with one group following the hunted animal's trail while the other tries to cut off its escape.
It's no coincidence that in all areas one finds original dogs, their appearance, color, size and traits are similar to the indigenous wolves that live there. Scottish naturalist Sir John Richardson remarked in 1829 that the "resemblance between the North American wolves and the domestic dog of the Indians is so great that the size and strength of the wolf seems to be the only difference."
People who query the link between dogs and wolves use the undeniable fact that wolves howl, while domestic dogs bark. Why then do wolf pups, wild dogs and jackals raised by female dogs quickly learn to bark, while dogs that run around wild stop this behaviour?
Whether a dog barks or not does not determine its origins.
Perhaps we should heed the words of anthropologist Charles Darwin, who said it was highly probable that the world's domestic dogs had descended from a variety of species. These included two strong wolf species (c. latrans and c.lupus), two or three other "doubtful" wolf species (from Europe, India and North America), one or two South American dog species and one or more extinct species. Darwin concluded that the modern domestic dog breeds had the blood of all these dog species flowing in its veins.
For a more detailed look into the history of dogs, please read the concise, info-packed book, A Brief History of Dogs.