Ever watch one of those nature shows about wolves, then look at your 10-pound fur baby and think “how did a wolf end up on my bed?” Your little fluff really doesn’t look a whole lot like its sleek, 100-pound ancestor. So, how did it get here?
There are competing theories and much academic infighting regarding the evolution of dogs. We actually don’t know exactly when, where and how Canis lupus morphed into the Canis familiaris we know today. It could be four, ten or as much as thirty thousand years ago. One theory even suggests that two different strains of dogs developed simultaneously: one in Europe and another in the Middle East.
What everyone does agree upon is that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated. Wolves began to resemble dogs within just a few generations: ears got floppier, muzzles shorter and paws became smaller. Early dogs also started to wag their tails. Along with physical traits we now value today, domesticated canines also developed the ability to read our gestures and facial expressions, which is helpful in training. Cave paintings from 9,000 BC indicate that dogs were trained as hunters, kept on leashes and the object of ceremonial burials.
Dog breeds are not a recent phenomenon. Archeologists believe the Canaan Dog is the result of selective breeding as early as 10,000 B.C. Serious attention to creating the perfect dog began in the mid-19th century with the advent of dog breed clubs. To meet the demands of evolving breed standards, physical characteristics became ever more exaggerated and inbreeding was the only way to achieve this. Virtually every “purebred” dog today is the result of inbreeding.
While selective breeding has produced many desired traits, it also has resulted in some undesirable ones. Over 500 genetic abnormalities have been identified because of inbreeding, leading to pain and suffering for dogs and heartache for their owners. For example, 60% of golden retrievers die of cancer. Twenty percent of German Shepherds develop hip dysplasia. English bulldogs can no longer breed naturally and must rely on artificial insemination, and their lifespan has been reduced to only six to eight years.
Hopefully, the AKC and breed clubs will acknowledge the damage and change their standards. In the meantime, whether purebred or mutt, we can rejoice in the dog evolution. From the wild, to our backyard, to indoors and finally, to where they rightfully belong: on our bed.