A Very Concise History of Dogs:
Is "Man's Best Friend" Our Most Successful Engineering Feat?
"The domestic dog exists precariously in the no-man's-land between the human and nonhuman ... neither person nor beast," writes biologist James Serpell according to National Geographic.
The DNA of dogs and gray wolves differs by just 0.2 percent -- at the most.
Dogs are, in fact, a rare breed of animal, dependent on human proximity for their very existence, yet depended on themselves for companionship and other skills ranging from hunting to herding.
When dogs actually became "man's best friend" is still very much a mystery, one that may never be solved. What IS known is that dogs most certainly evolved from the gray wolf, although "evolved" is used loosely considering the DNA of gray wolves and dogs is nearly identical -- their DNA differs by, at most, 0.2 percent.
Dogs have been domesticated for at least 10,000 to 15,000 years, based on the earliest evidence of remains, and it's likely that dogs were domesticated at varying times in history, and in different places around the world.
From there, things get sketchy. Some experts believe that dogs became "dogs" when humans took in a lone wolf pup. Raising it in close proximity to humans would have somewhat tamed the pup, and from there people naturally favored those that were least aggressive and good at begging for food.
Other experts, according to National Geographic, believe the opposite: that dogs latched on to humans by hanging around their trash heaps. Those that stuck around when the people came near were most likely to survive, and they became increasingly tame over time.
It's thought that most dog breeds emerged in the last 500 years as the result of intensive breeding by humans.
How Did Different Dog Breeds Emerge?
Canis familiaris, the domestic dog, is the most diverse species in the world, according to Animal Planet. Even some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, distinctive breeds had already begun to emerge.
Interestingly, there is some research that suggests the first dogs were tamed from wolves living near China less than 15,000 years ago.
In fact, a study published in the journal Science found that all dogs probably comes from three female dogs, known as the "Eves" of the dog world.
"It looks as if 95% of current dogs come from just three original founding females," Matthew Binns, head of genetics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, UK told BBC News.
The researchers concluded that intensive breeding by humans over the last 500 years is responsible for the dramatically different dog breeds of today.
"Even before the development of trade as we know it now," said Carles Vila, of Uppsala University, Sweden in BBC News "humans had to be exchanging dogs."
Get Rid of Your Best Friend's Worst Enemies: Fleas and Ticks
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The reasons exactly why or how are still not known, only that the "speed at which they seem to have multiplied and diversified indicates they played an important role in human life," BBC News reports.
"There must have been something advantageous about those dogs that made them extremely successful and allowed them to spread all over the world," Vila said.
Looking for the Right Dog for You?
Originally dogs were bred specifically to assist humans in various ways. Now, they all fall into one of several breed categories, which include:
Nowadays, most people aren't looking for a dog to herd cattle or hunt badgers ... they're looking for a dog that will curl up by their feet, play fetch and provide a source of unconditional love. Still, everyone has their own favorite breed or preference for small dogs, large dogs, curly-haired dogs, spotted dogs and the like. To help you determine which dog breed is right for you, don't go by looks alone. Visit the American Kennel Club's complete breed list or Animal Planet's dog breed directory to learn more about each breed's unique characteristics -- or consider adopting a rescued pet instead.
How Can Having Pets Improve Your Health? Let Us Count the Ways...
Rescued Pets: What You Need to Know When Adopting a Rescued Pet
National Geographic Wolf to Woof: The Evolution of Dogs
Molecular Evolution of the Dog Family
BBC News November 22, 2002
Science November 22, 2002