Where Does My Dog Come From?
The scientific name for dogs is Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris. Canis lupus was modified to make ‘Canis’ is the genus name, ‘lupus’ the species and ‘familiaris’ a sub-species of ‘lupus’.
Have you ever wondered where your dog actually originates from? Let’s look into this and find out the whole story about our little (or big) furry friends!
The latest and most current genetic evidence indicates that our dogs came from wolf ancestors and that these are now an extinct wolf population. Evidence also shows that our modern day dogs share this ancestor with modern day wolves as they are extremely genetically similar to each other; even more similar than we are to our closest living relative, the chimpanzees.
Domestication means that a particular species has adapted to living in a human environment, and our dogs are truly unique in their story of this; not only are they the first domesticated animal, but they are also the only large predator to have ever been domesticated- isn't that amazing!
How Far Do Our Dogs Date Back?
Currently, the earliest undisputed fossil evidence for a domestic dog is a jawbone which dates back about 14,000 years old in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany. The oldest proposed dog fossil is about 32,000 years old and that was found in the Goyet Cave, Belgium. Therefore, the archaeological record suggests that dogs were domesticated at least 14,000 years ago and potentially 32,000 years ago! No definitive date or range of dates has been agreed upon between scientists and it is still very much a matter of educated opinion among critics. The oldest accepted and proposed dog fossils that we know of are found in the Middle East, across Europe, and northern Eurasia. This suggests that one, or a few of these sites are where domestication happened, but again we can’t be 100% sure.
The Head Count
As of 2013, which was the last head count to my knowledge, researchers estimated that there are around 900 million dogs globally. The super affectionate, trainable and human orientated beasts sitting on our sofas make up less than 20% of that 900 million! Free roaming dogs, made up of village dogs, community dogs and feral dogs, make up around 86% of the population.
How Our Domesticated Dogs Differ
It is important to remember that our dogs as we know them now are very different to how they used to be. It is unlikely that the pet dogs we love so much would be able to survive in the wild, so why is this? We have shaped our dogs to be what we want and specially selected the traits we like and that are desired. A good example of the breeds that we have altered so much are the flat faced bulldogs and pugs, these breeds would struggle to live in the wild now due to these characteristics chosen that actually go against what helps them thrive. Due to the domestication of our dogs, it is very unlikely that any breed we know would be able to survive without us. We have changed their nutritional needs and these now differ very greatly from the population of wolves that once thrived alone in the wild. Due to humans including carbohydrates in a dogs diet, they are now able to digest starch whereas wolves would not be able to digest the dog foods we know.
How Do We Benefit?
Of course we have gained our best friends through domestication but we have also been able to read into them more than ever before meaning we know how they learn. This enables us to be more in tune with their behaviours and help them understand what we want from them by teaching them the things we’re looking for. This understanding also allows us to help with unwanted behaviours as well, for example a dog that jumps up with excitement, we teach an alternative behaviour of sitting which they learn gains them the attention they want.
If you need help with this or any other training needs, head to Sussex County Dog Training website. Although our dogs have gone through the process of domestication, there is still evidence to show that our dogs benefit greatly from activities that dip into their wild side, this is called enrichment. Enrichment has been proven to thicken the brain's cortex and make the dog more able to learn. If you're interested in trying some enrichment with your dog, take a look here.
Blog post by Abi Toone - Sussex County Dog Training.