The domestication of the dog: when does it date?


The only domesticated species of the canines – which also includes the wolf, the fox or the coyote – the dog represents a unique case. Back to the most Ancient history of domestication in the world.

The gray wolf, ancestor of the dog

Belonging to the canine family, the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) descends from grey Wolf (Canis lupus). The genetic differentiation between the dog and the wolf appeared more than 100,000 years ago by a phenomenon of pedomorphosis or juvenilization (retention, in adulthood, of characters which are usually only transient during the juvenile phase). The first dogs indeed looked like wolf cubs, their size has decreased, their chamfer has shortened and their frontal angle to the chamfer has changed. It is also observed that the adult dog has a behavior playful much more developed than that of its ancestors, that it would have remained, say scientists, at the stage ofadolescence.

What is domestication?

The domestication of an animal species is the acquisition and transformation of characters and behaviors hereditary in contact with humans resulting from prolonged interaction or a desire to selection. At the end of this process in which man intervenes, the characteristics of a domesticated species are distinguished from those of a wild animal. As such, the absence of fear vis-à-vis humans is a fundamental difference between a wolf and a dog. For example, a Cub continues to fear humans even though they have been raised under conditions similar to a puppy, thus demonstrating the major role ofheredity in canine behavior.

What is domestication used for?

In itself sedentary, man has domesticated animal species for reasons mainly food. The process then concerned animals raised solely for the purpose of being eaten: pork, buffalo, zebu, goose, duck, hen, beef, sheep, goat, camel… From its origin, domestication aimed to facilitate human activities. In antiquity, the Egyptians quickly saw the interest they could derive from cat which rid them of small rodents harmful to their crops. Much later, horses became useful auxiliaries for work in the fields. Domestication thus marked an important stage in the evolution of human societies because it was associated with the development ofAgriculture and sedentarization.

The first traces of the domestication of the dog

The first traces of the dog’s presence date back to the age of Paleolithic. Some key dates:

  • Skull fossilized of a canine was discovered in 2011 in the Razboinichya cave, in Altai (southern Siberia). Researchers identified him as a dog domestice 33,000 years old;
  • In 2008, a fossil the size of a large sheepdog, resembling a Siberian husky, was found in the Belgian cave of Goyet. According to scientists, the fossil dates from 32,000 years ;
  • Dogs and men buried side by side were found at a few Palaeolithic sites in Germany (12,000 years ago), then Neolithic sites in northern Italy;
  • The skeleton of a fossilized canid was discovered in 1976 in Dordogne, as well as two others of the same type in Haute-Garonne and Hauts-de-Seine. Dating at radiocarbon and other clues trace them back to the Upper Paleolithic, confirming the presence of small dogs in Europe at least 15,000 to 11,500 years ago.

The fossilized elements found in Altai and in Belgium tend to show that the domestication of dogs occurred several times throughout prehistoric times, in places different geographic areas.

Background to the domestication of the dog

As seen above, the domestication of the dog dates back more than 35,000 years, in the Paleolithic age, the first and longest period of prehistory. At the time, in a region that is now Siberia, the hunter-gatherers and wolves (ancestors of the dog) discovered several things in common: they belonged to species sociable, shared the same habitat (forest) and hunted the same preys. Hominids quickly saw the benefits they could derive from aptitudes of the animal (keen sense of smell and hearing, speed and endurance). The first associations aimed to use the wolf in hunting activities to search for and catch game and occasionally to keep the camp.

The domestication of the dog from yesterday to today

Passing from the cohabitation at domestication, humans and the canine have come together clearly. The wolf cubs captured very young and raised by men let themselves be tamed all the more easily as they depended on their masters for their food. Spanning thousands of years, the process ofbreeding of these wolves – which gradually changed into dogs – made it possible to select dispositions other than those of hunter. Thus, with the development of sedentarization and agriculture, dogs capable of keeping the dwellings where the livestock have proven to be useful. Selection has gradually led to the appearance of many breeds adapted to various functions. Today watchdog, sled, herd, research, assistance or companion dog, it remains the best and the most old friend of man.

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