Watch advertisements for canine products and you’ll notice a theme. In commercial after commercial we are shown images of a majestic wolf juxtaposed with a friendly family dog and told that we must buy this product because it would be good enough for a wolf….and your dog has a wolf inside him!
It is true that today’s wolves and our domesticated dogs share a common ancient wolf ancestor, but domestic dogs diverged from their wild cousins thousands of years ago. In that time everything from their physical stature, brain structure, and digestive system to their social behavior have changed. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of many myths about wolves and frequent equation of wolves with domesticated dogs has lead to potentially damaging trends when it comes to our care for and training of man’s best friend.
Luckily for those who want to do right by their canine family members, scientific research in the past few decades has provided us with a great deal of knowledge on which to base our relationships with our dogs going forward. While some of the finer details of canine history are still debated by scholars, the latest genetic research suggests that dogs diverged from a now extinct subspecies of wolf 30-40 thousand years ago making them the first domesticated animal. Our partnership with dogs started before we settled in villages and before we learned to farm. They travelled with us on our hunts and helped us find game. They provided protection from potential threats, both animal and human. And as is true today, all they wanted in return was kindness….and food.
The partnership between dogs and humans is one that likely shaped the course of human history, which is probably no surprise to anyone who has shared their life with the descendants of those first dogs.
For more information on the evolution of dogs and how they differ from wolves, you can read the articles linked below.
For an in depth read on canine evolution from its beginning to the present and the roles dogs play in our lives today, I highly recommend the book, Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger.