The Evolution of the Dog

Until recently, archaeological findings were the only evidence to pinpoint the beginning of man’s symbiotic relationship with dog. The commonly accepted date of dog’s domestication was placed at 10,000 to 14,000 years ago. However, anthropologist, Dr. Colin Groves, now suggests that the human-dog relationship could be almost as old as modern man, himself.

Basing his hypothesis on a recent DNA research project, Dr. Groves uses the results to support his statement that “humans domesticated dogs and dogs domesticated humans.” Led by biologist, Robert K. Wayne of UCLA, a team of international geneticists studied mutations in the DNA of 162 wolves, 140 purebred dogs of 67 breeds, 5 coyotes and 8 Simian jackals. Finding many more mutations than would have been possible had dog been domesticated 14,000 years ago, they concluded that dog’s domestication took place over 100,000 years ago.

The study further showed that dogs do not share DNA with either the coyote or jackal and have only one common ancestor – the wolf. There is, however, evidence to support the theory that domestic dogs originated from multiple wolf populations over a wide geographic area, this has not yet been proven conclusively.

There is no doubt that dogs are the oldest of all domesticated species and their domestication was based on a mutually beneficial relationship with man. In return for companionship and food, the early ancestor of the dog assisted man in tracking, hunting, guarding and a variety of other purposes. Eventually man began to selectively breed these animals for specific traits. Physical characteristics changed and individual breeds began to take shape. As man wandered across Asia and Europe, he took his dogs with him, using them for additional tasks and further breeding them for selected qualities that would better enable them to perform specific duties.

Valuable insight into the evolution of dogs can be gained by studying a small group of primitive breeds believed to be descended from the Indian Plains wolf. Some members of this group are genuinely primitive, being at an early stage of domestication, while others show the dramatic effects of human intervention in their breeding.

Today, more than 400 breeds of purebred dogs exist throughout the world. Of these, the AKC recognises only 140 while the CKC recognises 162. A further 140 are awaiting CKC recognition. Breeds currently recognised, are categorised into one of seven groups, based on the purpose for which they were developed; although many no longer perform their original function, the history of each breed is an intrinsic part of the standard, helping to set the ideal that breeders strive to attain.

Robert Wayne