Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Wolves Became Dogs

There are a bunch of scientists who keep trying to figure out how some wolves turned into dogs, and when it first happened.  And the answer is that nobody knows for sure.  But that doesn't stop the scientists from trying to puzzle it out.  And the way they are trying to puzzle it out is with something called DNA.

DNA stands for some really long words that I don't want to have to look up, so I will just tell you that DNA is little tiny stuff that we all have inside us, and you can't even see it unless you have really fancy equipment of some kind, like way fancier than a magnifying glass.  And DNA is all part of the genes that you inherit from your sire and dam, and it's genes that mostly make you the way you are.

So these scientists have been trying to untangle these strings of DNA so they can see what's in them, and then they compare the DNA of one species to the DNA of another species to see if they have some stuff in common.  And when they first started doing this with dog DNA and wolf DNA, they thought that dogs all evolved from wolves in east Asia.

But now some scientists did another study, and they decided that most dogs have more in common with wolves from the Middle East, so that must be where wolves first started hanging out with people and became dogs.

Of course, not all the scientists agree with this latest news about the canine ancestors from the Middle East, so there are still a bunch of arguments going on.  And these arguments will probably go on for a long time to come because nobody really knows for sure how wolves turned into dogs.  If people back in the old days had kept better records, we wouldn't be having this problem, but it's too late now to go back and make them write everything down.

Anyway, the dog breeds that are the very oldest of all are the ones from Africa and Asia and the Middle East.  Which means that basenjis are one of those really, really old breeds!  And some other ones are shar-pei and chow-chow and saluki, just to give you some examples.

There are several theories about how wolves might have got to be tame and turned into dogs.  One idea is that the wolves followed the human hunters around and ate the remains of what they killed.  Or maybe wolves hung out around people's camps and ate the bones and other garbage.  And they might have started being sort of like watchdogs and letting people know if there was danger.  So in that way, wolves and people might have started being friends.

Another theory is that people might have adopted wolf puppies and raised them.  This would have made the puppies get used to humans, and they would have learned to depend on the people for food.  And the more the wolves were around humans, the more they got to be like dogs, because dogs can read people's faces and gestures, and wolves can't do this.

But no matter how it happened, the interesting thing to know is that dogs were the very first animal to be domesticated by people, even before cows or sheep or chickens.  Dogs were even hanging out with people before people started making farms and growing their own food.

Some scientists think that all this domestication of wolves stuff happened about 10,000 years ago.  Or maybe it was 12,000 or 15,000 years ago.  Anyway, it was about the same time that people settled down and stopped being hunter-gatherers.  And maybe dogs had something to do with the fact that people could stop wandering around all the time because dogs helped people and they guarded them and their houses and other animals.

And then eventually, people started picking out which dogs they wanted to mate with which other dogs.  And probably the first thing they chose was to make dogs smaller than wolves.  Then after that, they began to choose dogs for what they could do, like herding or guarding or hunting or running fast.  And this is how breeding got started, and it has led to lots of different breeds, including some really weird-looking ones.

But some breeds are still called "primitive" breeds, which means that people haven't messed too much with how they look and act.  I am proud to say that basenjis are one of these primitive breeds, and I think that is part of what makes us basenjis so clever and so very good-looking!


  1. Very interesting!! Now I'm hoping Piper you will find out how the term "dogs are a person's best friend" came about. Of course they are....wonder how/when that term came about? Actually I think the term was..."dogs are a man's best friend" but as you and your siblings know....women are as good providers, friends, etc., than any man. Yeah, Yeah...I know the word, "man" was probably used in referring to all "mankind" but I like the term, "person" better!! Enough of my yakking....thanks for the info.
    Love, AP/Dodi/Di