How did our canine companions become 'man's best friend'?

Posted by ap507 at Nov 15, 2013 12:30 PM |
Article by Dr Daniel Zadik about the origin and domestication of dogs featured on The Conversation UK website
How did our canine companions become 'man's best friend'?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Daniel Zadik from the Department of Genetics has written an article for The Conversation's UK website discussing the origin of domesticated dogs and potential theories behind how the close bond between dog and human came to be.

The reason for this special bond has long been debated. Drawing on evidence from University of Turku academic Olaf Thalmann’s research, Dr Zadik's article examines the idea that dogs could have initially been domesticated in Europe at a time when humans were still hunter-gatherers.

WolfBlog.jpg
Source: Wikimedia Commons; Eastern Timber Wolf in the zoo of Stadt Haag, Austria.
Thalmann’s research and modern genetic tools have now shown that all breeds of dog are likely descended from grey wolves and that dogs existed possibly as early as 36,000 years, long before the advent of farming, which happened 13,000 years ago. This would contradict the theory that dogs were historically bred to help in agricultural duties, such as rounding up cattle.

Based on the tendency for canines to evolve quickly – giving them a propensity to domestication - Dr Zadik argues that it is unlikely that all dog domestication took place in one specific region.

He suggests that it may be too simplistic to definitively state that dogs originated in Europe, as it is likely that the mitochondrial DNA from many examples of domestication and hybridisation has been lost over the millennia, and there is no guarantee that these were all European.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons; Yakut Laika

One theory suggested by Dr Zadik for how canines may have initally been domesticated is through hunters taking and training wolf cubs. It is also possible that less hostile wolves would have slowly been tamed after following humans to feed off their leftovers once humans became the dominant predator.

Dr Zadik concludes by saying: “Whether or not it turns out that our best friend originated in Europe, it has been exciting to watch the story of such a familiar animal slowly come together with each new study.”

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

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