Dogs are often described as man's best friend. They accompany us not only in everyday life as a family dog, but also support us in a variety of activities, including as working dogs, rescue and tracking dogs, assistance dogs or therapy dogs. A life without dogs is no longer imaginable for many people, but when and where did dogs originate and why is this important for us as dog owners?
In brief, domestication describes a biological process lasting thousands of years in which wild species become domestic animals. This is characterized by the fact that wild species and domestic animals differ genetically. The appearance, behavior, and social structure of domestic animals change compared to the wild species (Feddersen-Petersen 2013). Where and when the domestic dog evolution took place is still controversial today. But one thing is certain, all dogs can be traced back to a wild species, the wolf.
Scientists believe that domestication from wolf to dog began about 15,000 years ago in East Asia (Savolainen et al. 2002). Another study refers to the theory of parallel domestication. According to this theory, dogs descended from two independent wolf populations, one of which lived in East Asia and the other in Europe (Frantz et al. 2016). Even though it is not known for sure today where the first dogs originated, we can still turn to the question of how the wolf became the dog? Humans and wolves both fed on meat and were thus primarily food competitors.
Nevertheless, they entered into a relationship with each other, which suggests that they benefited from each other in some way.
The intriguing question here is
Who Made the First Move - Man or Wolf?
- One possibility would be that less shy wolves approached humans out of curiosity (Coppinger & Coppinger 2002). Humans could have offered these animals scraps of food, for example, and thus bound them to themselves.
- Another idea describes that wolf pups were suckled by women and raised together with their children (Ziemen 2001). Only those pups survived that could be well integrated into the social structure.
Fearfull or aggressive animals were probably killed directly. Through this artificial selection for tameness (the promotion of selected characteristics by humans), creatures were created with which humans could live well together. By the fact that these individuals continued to mate with each other, trustfulness towards humans was promoted, which could have been decisive for the development of our domestic dog.
“People wanted a companion who could quickly accept boundaries and not permanently question every rule that was set up”
But why did humans and wolves choose each other ?
The decisive factor is probably the social similarity between them. Both live in small groups, usually consisting of parents and children, within which they cooperate strongly with each other. Wolves are highly social creatures that live in long-term monogamy, hunt together, defend their territory together, and raise young together. Their high level of cooperation is not limited to their own pack. This was demonstrated in a study by Marshall-Pescini et al. (2017), in which wolves cooperated with conspecifics as well as with humans when it came to jointly accessing a food resource. Thus, it is conceivable that humans and wolves then (later dogs) hunted together for large prey, or that wolves alerted humans to potential enemies. Cooperation between humans and dogs today could thus be based on the wolves' high level of cooperation, both among themselves and across species.
Dogs, on the other hand, which also participated in the above study, showed a different behavior. They too cooperated with humans, but were unsuccessful when it came to cooperating with another dog. The higher-ranking dog claimed the resource for itself and the lower-ranking dog voluntarily kept its distance.
During the domestication process, dogs developed a steeper dominance hierarchy than wolves, characterized by the lower in rank voluntarily withdrawing.
Wolves, on the other hand, discuss frequently and loudly, which makes perfect sense. It would not pay off to support higher-ranking animals in the hunt, only to come away empty-handed when they eat. Everyone is entitled to his share, and even if there is a quarrel, wolves reconcile with each other afterwards, because they depend on each other. In the course of domestication, however, people probably preferred the individuals who did not disagree so often. If I had to explain to my dog every day that the food on the table belongs to me, our living together would look quite exhausting. People wanted a companion who could quickly accept boundaries and not permanently question every rule that was set up (exceptions confirm the rule here, of course).
Dogs are no longer dependent on cooperation with other dogs to survive, because we humans give them a home and provide food freely. Even street dogs take advantage of the people around them. Instead of hunting communally, they feed largely on human waste or carrion as foragers (Butler & du Toit 2002). Unlike wolves, they do not live in fixed groups, but rather in loose associations where members gather for specific events and mother dogs raise their pups alone (Butler et al. 2004)
So what does this mean for us dog owners ?
“If I always tell my dog what he is not allowed to do,
he will eventually stop listening to me”
Dogs are domesticated wolves that are genetically predisposed to turn towards humans, unlike wolves that have a natural shyness towards humans. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from wolves if we want to create a harmonious life with our dog. In every group, in my opinion, a team leader is needed. Compromises are possible, however, important decisions must be made again and again, e.g. when do we cross a street.
- In wolves, this is done by an experienced parent animals,
- in the human-dog team, this is attributed to the human.
But what makes a sovereign team leader anyway? Trust can only come from mutual respect and a willingness to give and take. If I always tell my dog what he is not allowed to do, he will eventually stop listening to me. Making decisions can also mean giving up control, for example, I can let my dog choose the path on a walk.
“staying calm and composed”
“Sovereignty is expressed primarily through mental strength,
not physical strength.”
However, sometimes we humans get caught up in how we appear to the outside world and that everything has to work immediately. Especially since we as dog owners are also often observed by others. We then take this internal pressure into our actions with our dog and forget the joy and serenity in dealing with it. Everything does not always have to work immediately! It is important that we do not give up and remain consistent. Instead of shouting commands after our dog in anger or hopelessness, we can practice staying calm and composed, but still clear and take action if necessary. Sovereignty is expressed primarily through mental strength, not physical strength.
So if I as a dog owner manage to keep a cool head in different situations instead of reacting impulsively, I am able to create a trusting basis for my dog and me. To do this, we can first clearly define for ourselves what our limits are in the first place and what we want in our life together with our dog.
These are always to be adapted individually to the human-dog team and thus already not comparable with other human-dog teams. So we create a safe space for our dog, in which he can move and boundaries are maintained. Should we behave nevertheless once not appropriately, possibly nevertheless over the lines strike (we are also only humans), show us also here the wolves a great option - that, the reconciliation. We can always apologize to our dogs, address them in a friendly manner and also actively offer physical contact.
My dog is happy every time I show a willingness to reconcile after an argument and immediately forgives me. To me, this also expresses sovereignty. Admitting mistakes and instead of suppressing them, communicating openly. Dogs are social beings that need contact and closeness to people and other dogs. So a harmonious coexistence can only happen through a direct dialogue with my dog, but for that I should know my dog well and not only accept its individual characteristics, but also encourage them.