Canine Evolution

dog evolution

The origin of the domestic dog includes the dog’s evolutionary divergence from the wolf, its domestication, and its development into dog types and dog breeds. The dog is a member of the genus Canis, which forms part of the wolf-like canids, and was the first species and the only large carnivore to have been domesticated. The dog and the extant gray wolf are sister taxa, as modern wolves are not closely related to the population of wolves that was first domesticated.

The genetic divergence between dogs and wolves occurred between ,–, years ago, just before or during the Last Glacial Maximum. This timespan represents the upper time-limit for the commencement of domestication because it is the time of divergence and not the time of domestication, which occurred later. The domestication of animals commenced over , years ago, beginning with the grey wolf (Canis lupus) by nomadic hunter-gatherers. The archaeological record and genetic analysis show the remains of the Bonn–Oberkassel dog buried beside humans , years ago to be the first undisputed dog, with disputed remains occurring , years ago. It was not until , years ago that people living in the Near East entered into relationships with wild populations of aurochs, boar, sheep, and goats.

Where the domestication of the dog took place remains debated, with the most plausible proposals spanning Western Europe, Central Asia and East Asia. This has been made more complicated by the recent proposal that an initial wolf population split into East and West Eurasian groups. These two groups, before going extinct, were domesticated independently into two distinct dog populations between , and , years ago. The Western Eurasian dog population was gradually and partially replaced by East Asian dogs introduced by humans at least , years ago. This proposal is also debated.

Canid and human evolution

Six million years ago, towards the close of the Miocene era, the earth’s climate gradually cooled. This would lead to the glaciations of the Pliocene and the Pleistocene, which are commonly referred to as the Ice Age. In many areas, forests and savannahs were replaced with steppes or grasslands, and only those species of creature that adapted to these changes would survive.

In southern North America, small woodland foxes grew bigger and better adapted to running, and by the late Miocene the first of the genus Canis had arisen – the ancestors of coyotes, wolves and the domestic dog. In eastern Africa, a split occurred among the large primates. Some remained in the trees, while others came down from the trees, learned to walk upright, developed larger brains, and in the more open country learned to avoid predators while becoming predators themselves. The ancestors of humans and dogs would ultimately meet in Eurasia.

Human hunter-gatherers did not live in fear of nature and knew that they posed a formidable risk to any potential predators. Today, the Ju’wasi people of Namibia share their land with prides of lions. Both species coexist with respect and without fear or hostility in a relationship that may go back to the dawn of modern humans. The lion is a much larger and far more dangerous predator than the wolf. Early modern humans entering Eurasia and first encountering packs of wolves may have been assisted in living among them because of the traditional beliefs of their African ancestors. In historical times, mutual respect and cooperation with canids can be found in the stories and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, East Asia, North America, and Australia.

They were individual animals and people involved, from our perspective, in a biological and cultural process that involved linking not only their lives but the evolutionary fate of their heirs in ways, we must assume, they could never have imagined.
— Mark Derr

The domestication of animals commenced over , years before present (YBP), beginning with the grey wolf (Canis lupus) by nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was not until , YBP that people living in the Near East entered into relationships with wild populations of aurochs, boar, sheep, and goats. A domestication process then began to develop. The grey wolf most likely followed the commensal pathway to domestication. When, where, and how many times wolves may have been domesticated remains debated because only a small number of ancient specimens have been found, and both archaeology and genetics continue to provide conflicting evidence. The most widely accepted, earliest dog remains date back , YBP to the Bonn–Oberkassel dog. Earlier remains dating back to , YBP have been described as Paleolithic dogs, however their status as dogs or wolves remains debated. Recent studies indicate that a genetic divergence occurred between dogs and wolves ,-, YBP, however this is the upper time-limit for domestication because it represents the time of divergence and not the time of domestication.

Time of genetic divergence

The domestication of animals commenced over , years before present (YBP), beginning with the grey wolf (Canis lupus) by nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was not until , YBP that people living in the Near East entered into relationships with wild populations of aurochs, boar, sheep, and goats. A domestication process then began to develop. The grey wolf most likely followed the commensal pathway to domestication. When, where, and how many times wolves may have been domesticated remains debated because only a small number of ancient specimens have been found, and both archaeology and genetics continue to provide conflicting evidence. The most widely accepted, earliest dog remains date back , YBP to the Bonn–Oberkassel dog. Earlier remains dating back to , YBP have been described as Paleolithic dogs, however their status as dogs or wolves remains debated. Recent studies indicate that a genetic divergence occurred between dogs and wolves ,-, YBP, however this is the upper time-limit for domestication because it represents the time of divergence and not the time of domestication.

Time of genetic divergence

The date estimated for the evolutionary divergence of a domestic lineage from a wild one does not necessarily indicate the start of the domestication process but it does provide an upper boundary. The divergence of the lineage that led to the domestic horse from the lineage that led to the modern Przewalski’s horse is estimated to have occurred around , YBP but the archaeological record indicates , YBP. The variance can be due to modern wild populations not being the direct ancestor of the domestic ones, or to a divergence caused by changes in the climate, topography, or other environmental influences. The evolutionary divergence time for the wolf and dog is indicated to have occurred somewhere between ,-, YBP but this does not imply that domestication occurred during this period

During the Late Pleistocene glaciation, a vast mammoth steppe stretched from Spain eastwards across Eurasia and over the Bering land bridge into Alaska and the Yukon. The Late Pleistocene was characterized by a series of severe and rapid climate oscillations with regional temperature changes of up to °C ( °F), which has been correlated with megafaunal extinctions. There is no evidence of megafaunal extinctions at the height of the Last Glacial Maximum, indicating that increasing cold and glaciation were not factors. Multiple events appear to have caused the rapid replacement of one species by another one within the same genus, or one population by another within the same species, across a broad area. As some species became extinct, so too did the predators that depended on them.

Diagram of a wolf skull with key features labelled

The origin of dogs is couched in the paleobiogeography of wolf populations during the Late Pleistocene. The earliest fossils of Canis lupus were found in what was once eastern Beringia at Old Crow, Yukon, Canada and at Cripple Creek Sump, Fairbanks, Alaska. The age is not agreed but could date million YBP. Considerable morphological diversity existed among grey wolves by the Late Pleistocene. These are regarded as having been more cranio-dentally robust than modern grey wolves, often with a shortened rostrum, the pronounced development of the temporalis muscle, and robust premolars. It is proposed that these features were specialized adaptations for the processing of carcass and bone associated with the hunting and scavenging of Pleistocene megafauna. Compared with modern wolves, some Pleistocene wolves showed an increase in tooth breakage that is similar to that seen in the extinct dire wolf. This suggests that these either often processed carcasses, or that they competed with other carnivores and needed to quickly consume their prey. The frequency and location of tooth fractures found in these wolves compared with the modern spotted hyena indicates that these wolves were habitual bone cracker

Phylogenetic tree – extant grey wolf populations, with divergence times calculated using an assumed mutation rate of Skoglund (.x−) or Lindblad-Toh. The dog is a genetically divergent subspecies of the grey wolf, with substantial divergence between the dog lineages as nearly as distinct from one another as wolves are from dogs, which may reflect more admixture and wolf ancestry retained in their genome.

Genetic studies indicate that the gray wolf is the closest living relative of the dog, with no evidence of any other canine species having contributed. Attempting to reconstruct the dog’s lineage through the phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequences from modern dogs and wolves has given conflicting results for several reasons. Firstly, studies indicate that an extinct Late Pleistocene wolf is the nearest common ancestor to the dog, with modern wolves not being the dog’s direct ancestor. Secondly, the genetic divergence between the dog and modern wolves occurred over a short period of time, so that the time of the divergence is difficult to date (referred to as incomplete lineage sorting). This is complicated further by the cross-breeding that has occurred between dogs and wolves since domestication (referred to as post-domestication gene flow). Finally, there have been only tens of thousands of generations of dogs since domestication, so that the number of mutations between the dog and the wolf are few and this makes the timing of domestication difficult to date.

In , the whole genome sequencing of modern dogs and wolves indicated a divergence time of , YBP. In , another study indicated ,-, YBP. The first draft genome sequence of a Pleistocene canid was published in . This Taymyr Peninsula wolf belonged to a population that had diverged from the ancestors of both modern wolves and dogs. Radiocarbon dating indicates its age to be , YBP, and this age could then be used to re-calibrate the wolf’s mutation rate, indicating that the genetic divergence between dogs and wolves occurred before the Last Glacial Maximum, between ,–, YBP. When this mutation rate was applied to the timing of the study, that study gave the same result of ,–, YBP.

Place of genetic divergence

Most genetic studies conducted over the last two decades were based on modern dog breeds and extant wolf populations, with their findings dependent on a number of assumptions. These studies assumed that the extant wolf was the ancestor of the dog, did not consider genetic admixture between wolves and dogs, nor the impact of incomplete lineage sorting. These pre-genomic studies have suggested an origin of dogs in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. More recently, the field of Paleogenomics applies the latest molecular technologies to fossil remains that still contain useful DNA.
The ,-year-old upper-right jaw of a Pleistocene wolf found in the Kessleroch cave near Thayngen in the canton of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is the sister to / of modern dogs

In , a study sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of fossil canids and these were then compared with the mitochondrial genomes from modern wolves and dogs in a phylogenetic tree. The study found that there exists more genetic variation between the fossil canids than exists between all modern wolves and dogs. The analyses included the oldest fossils proposed as early dogs dating back as far as , YBP. However, these Goyet Cave canids were found to have formed an ancient and extinct sister group to modern dogs and wolves. The authors propose that these dog-like fossils were either an early domestication attempt that left no descendants among modern dogs, or that they were a specialized wolf ecomorph whose morphological features were part of the Late Pleistocene wolf diversity.

An earlier study of the Razboinichya Cave canid that was based on a segment of its mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) had concluded that it was an early dog. This fossil was included for the analysis of its complete mitochondrial genome and on the phylogenetic tree was assigned a much more basal position. The study inferred from the tree that dogs and wolves split ,-, YBP and therefore the beginning of domestication occurred in the time of hunter-gatherers rather than in the time of farmers. The tree also confirmed that the ancient dogs of the Americas originated in Eurasia.

The phylogenetic analyses revealed that three of the four major mDNA clades of dogs relate most closely to the ancient canids from Europe rather than those from China or the Middle East, which supports a European origin of modern dogs. No modern wolf population related closer to dogs than the ancient canids from Europe, indicating that the wolf population that was the ancestor of the dog is extinct

In , a study recovered mDNA from ancient canid specimens that were discovered in arctic northeastern Siberia (which was once western Beringia). These specimens included the mandible of a ,-, YBP Canis c.f. variabilis (where c.f. is a Latin term meaning uncertain). Phylogenetic analyses of these canids revealed nine mDNA haplotypes not detected before. The Canis c.f. variabilis specimen clustered with other wolf samples from across Russia and Asia. The mDNA haplotypes of one , YBP specimen and some , YBP specimens matched with those of geographically widely-spread modern dogs. One , YBP canid was distinct from wolves but was only a few mutations away from those haplotypes found in modern dogs. The authors concluded that the structure of the modern dog gene pool was contributed to from ancient Siberian wolves and possibly from Canis c.f. variabilis.

Two origins

Dogs show both ancient and modern lineages. The ancient lineages appear most in Asia but least in Europe because the Victorian era development of modern dog breeds used little of the ancient lineages. All dog populations (breed, village, and feral) show some evidence of genetic admixture between modern and ancient dogs. Some ancient dog populations that once occupied Europe and the New World no longer exist. This implies that some ancient dog populations were entirely replaced and others admixed over a long period of time. European dog populations have undergone extensive turnover during the last , years which has erased the genomic signature of early European dogs, the genetic heritage of the modern breeds has become blurred due to admixture, and there was the possibility of past domestication events that had gone extinct or had been largely replaced by more modern dog populations.

Siberian huskies and other northern breeds can trace at least some of their ancestry (.–.%) back to the Taimyr wolf, which indicates the possibility of more than one domestication event.

In , a study compared the mitochondrial DNA and whole-genome sequences of a worldwide panel of modern dogs, the mDNA sequences of ancient European dog specimens dated ,-, YBP, and the nuclear genome sequence of a dog specimen that was found in the Late Neolithic passage grave at Newgrange, Ireland and radiocarbon dated at , YBP. A genetic analysis of the Newgrange dog showed that it was male, did not possess genetic variants associated with modern coat length nor color, was not as able to process starch as efficiently as modern dogs but more efficiently than wolves, and showed ancestry from a population of wolves that could not be found in other dogs nor wolves today. As the taxonomic classification of the “proto-dog” Paleolithic dogs as being either dogs or wolves remains controversial, they were excluded from the study. The phylogenetic tree generated from mDNA sequences found a deep division between the Sarloos wolfdog and all other dogs, indicating that breed’s recent deriving from the German Shepherd and captive gray wolves. The next largest division was between eastern Asian dogs and western Eurasian (Europe and the Middle East) dogs that had occurred between ,-, YBP, with the Newgrange dog clustering with the western Eurasian dogs.

The Newgrange and ancient European dog mDNA sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups C and D but modern European dog sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups A and B, indicating a turnover of dogs in the past from a place other than Europe. As this split dates older than the Newgrange dog this suggests that the replacement was only partial. The analysis showed that most modern European dogs had undergone a population bottleneck (reduction) which can be an indicator of travel. The archaeological record shows dog remains dating over , YBP in western Eurasia, over , YBP in eastern Eurasia, but none older than , YBP in Central Asia. The study proposes that dogs may have been domesticated separately in both eastern and western Eurasia from two genetically distinct and now extinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs then made their way with migrating people to western Europe between ,-, YBP where they partially replaced the dogs of Europe. Two domestication events in western Eurasia and eastern Eurasia has recently been found for the domestic pig.

The hypothesis is that two genetically different, and possibly now extinct, wolf populations were domesticated independently in eastern and western Eurasia to produce paleolithic dogs. The eastern Eurasian dogs then dispersed westward alongside humans, reaching western Europe ,–, years ago where they partially replaced the western paleolithic dogs. A single domestication is thought to be due to chance, however dual domestication on different sides of the world is unlikely to have happened randomly and it suggests that external factors – an environmental driver – may have forced wolves to work together with humans for survival. It is possible that wolves took advantage of resources that humans had, or humans may have been introduced to wolves in an area in which they didn’t previously live.

The study indicates that the western Eurasian wolf and dog populations genetically diverged ,-, YBP. Immediately after this divergence, the dog population outnumbered the wolf population, and later the dog population underwent a population reduction to be much lower.
Two origins disputed

In , a study compared the nuclear genome sequences of three ancient dog specimens from Germany and Ireland with sequences from over , dogs and wolves. These Neolithic dog specimens included a dog sample from the Early Neolithic site in Herxheim, Germany dated , YBP, one from the Late Neolithic site of Kirschbaum (Cherry Tree) Cave near Forchheim, Germany dated , YBP, and a dog from Newgrange, Ireland dated , YBP. The study found that modern European dogs descended from their Neolithic ancestors with no evidence of a population turnover. There was evidence of a single dog-wolf divergence occurring between ,-, YBP, followed by a divergence between Southeast Asian and Western Eurasian dogs ,-, YBP and this indicates a single dog domestication event occurring between ,-, YBP. The dogs indicated ancestry that could be found in South East Asian dogs. Additionally, the Cherry Tree Cave dog showed ancestry that could be found in the Middle East, India and Central Asia. The study did not support a dual domestication event, and detected admixture between the ancestors of modern European and Southeast Asian dogs.

A study of mDNA sequences shows that the pre-Neolithic dogs of Europe all fell under haplogroup C. The Neolithic and Post-Neolithic dogs from Southeastern Europe that are associated with farmers fell under haplogroup D. In Western and Northern Europe, haplogroup D became diluted into the native dog population. This implies that haplogroup D arrived in Europe , years ago from the Near East along with pigs, cows, sheep, and goats. Later in , another study looked at the y-chromosome male lineage of the ancient fossils of the Herxheim, Kirschbaum, and Newgrange dogs along with other canines. The study identified six major dog yDNA haplogroups, of which two of these include the majority of modern dogs. The Newgrange dog fell into the most commonly occurring of these haplogroups. The two ancient German dogs fell into a haplogroup commonly found among dogs from the Middle East and Asia, with the Kirschbaum dog sharing a common male lineage with the extant Indian wolf. The study concluded that at least different male haplogroups existed in ancient Europe, and that the dog male lineage diverged from its nearest common ancestor shared with the gray wolf sometime between ,-, YBP.

Morphological divergence

The questions of when and where dogs were first domesticated have taxed geneticists and archaeologists for decades. Identifying the earliest dogs is difficult because the key morphological characters that are used by zooarchaeologists to differentiate domestic dogs from their wild wolf ancestors (size and position of teeth, dental pathologies, and size and proportion of cranial and postcranial elements) were not yet fixed during the initial phases of the domestication process. The range of natural variation among these characters that may have existed in ancient wolf populations, and the time it took for these traits to appear in dogs, are unknown

There are a number of recently discovered specimens which are proposed as being Paleolithic dogs, however their taxonomy is debated. These have been found in either Europe or Siberia and date ,-, YBP. They include Hohle Fels in Germany, Goyet Caves in Belgium, Predmosti in the Czech Republic, and four sites in Russia: Razboinichya Cave, Kostyonki-, Ulakhan Sular, and Eliseevichi . Paw-prints from Chauvet Cave in France dated , YBP are suggested as being those of a dog, however these have been challenged as being left by a wolf.
Razboinichya Cave “Altai dog” that is dated , years old
Paleolithic dog specimens (taxonomy debated) Years BP Location Finding
,-, Hohle Fels, Schelklingen, Germany Paleolithic dog
, Goyet Caves, Mozet, Belgium Paleolithic dog
, Razboinichya Cave, Altai Mountains, Central Asia Paleolithic dog
,-, Kostyonki-, Voronezh, Russia Paleolithic dog
, Predmostí, Moravia, Czech Republic Paleolithic dog
, Chauvet Cave, Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, France Paw-prints
, Ulakhan Sular, northern Yakutia, Siberia Paleolithic dog
,-, Eliseevichi-I site, Bryansk Region, Russian Plain, Russia Paleolithic dog

There are also a number of later proposed Paleolithic dogs whose taxonomy has not been confirmed. These include a number of specimens from Germany (Kniegrotte, Oelknitz, Teufelsbrucke), Switzerland (Monruz, Kesslerloch, Champre-veyres-Hauterive), and Ukraine (Mezin, Mezhirich). A set of specimens dating ,-, YBP have been confidently identified as domesticated dogs, based on their morphology and the archaeological sites in which they have been found. These include Spain (Erralla), France (Montespan, Le Morin, Le Closeau, Pont d’Ambon), and Germany (Bonn-Oberkassel). After this period, the remains of domesticated dogs have been identified from archaeological sites across Eurasia.

Possible dog domestication between ,-, years ago is not clear due to the debate over what the Paleolithic dog specimens represent. This is due to the flexibility of genus Canis morphology, and the close morphological similarities between Canis lupus and Canis familiaris. It is also due to the scarcity of Pleistocene wolf specimens available for analyses and so their morphological variation is unknown. Habitat type, climate, and prey specialization greatly modify the morphological plasticity of grey wolf populations, resulting in a range of morphologically, genetically, and ecologically distinct wolf morphotypes. With no baseline to work from, zooarchaeologists find it difficult to be able to differentiate between the initial indicators of dog domestication and various types of Late Pleistocene wolf ecomorphs, which can lead to the mis-identification of both early dogs and wolves. Additionally, the ongoing prehistoric admixture with local wolf populations during the domestication process may have led to canids that were domesticated in their behavior but wolflike in their morphology. Attempting to identify early tamed wolves, wolfdogs, or proto-dogs through morphological analysis alone may be impossible without the inclusion of genetic analyses.

A domestication study looked at the reasons why the archeological record that is based on the dating of fossil remains often differed from the genetic record contained within the cells of living species. The study concluded that our inability to date domestication is because domestication is a continuum and there is no single point where we can say that a species was clearly domesticated using these two techniques. The study proposes that changes in morphology across time and how humans were interacting with the species in the past needs to be considered in addition to these two techniques.

..."wild" and "domesticated" exist as concepts along a continuum, and the boundary between them is often blurred — and, at least in the case of wolves, it was never clear to begin with.
— Raymond Pierotti

Dog domestication
“ … Remove domestication from the human species, and there’s probably a couple of million of us on the planet, max. Instead, what do we have? Seven billion people, climate change, travel, innovation and everything. Domestication has influenced the entire earth. And dogs were the first. For most of human history, we’re not dissimilar to any other wild primate. We’re manipulating our environments, but not on a scale bigger than, say, a herd of African elephants. And then, we go into partnership with this group of wolves. They altered our relationship with the natural world. … ”
— Greger Larson

The earlier association of dogs with humans may have allowed dogs to have a profound influence on the course of early human history and the development of civilization. However, the timing, geographic locations, and ecological conditions that led to dog domestication are not agreed.

There is clear evidence that dogs were derived from gray wolves during the initial phases of domestication and that no other canine species was involved. The wolf population(s) that were involved are likely to be extinct. Despite numerous genetic studies of both modern dogs and ancient dog remains, there is no firm consensus regarding either the timing or location(s) of domestication, the number of wolf populations that were involved, or the long-term effects domestication has had on the dog’s genome.

Genetic studies suggest a domestication process commencing over , YBP, in one or several wolf populations in either Europe, the high Arctic, or eastern Asia. The remains of large carcasses left by human hunter-gatherers may have led some wolves into entering a migratory relationship with humans. This could have led to their divergence from those wolves that remained in the one territory. A closer relationship between these wolves — or proto-dogs — and humans may have then developed, such as hunting together and mutual defence from other carnivores and other humans. Around , YBP agriculture was developed resulting in a sedentary lifestyle, along with phenotype divergence of the dog from its wolf ancestors, including variance in size. In the Victorian era, directed human selection developed the modern dog breeds, which resulted in a vast range of phenotypes. Each of these domestication phases have left their mark on the dog’s genome.

Genetic studies support two population bottlenecks having occurred to the dog lineage, one due to the initial domestication and one due to the formation of dog breeds.

Time of domestication
Watercolor tracing made by archaeologist Henri Breuil from a cave painting of a wolf-like canid, Font-de-Gaume, France dated , years ago.

An apex predator is a predator that sits on the top trophic level of the food chain, while a mesopredator sits further down the food chain and is dependent on smaller animals. Towards the end of the Pleistocene era, most of today’s apex predators were mesopredators and this included the wolf. During the ecological upheaval associated with the close of the Late Pleistocene, one type of wolf population rose to become today’s apex predator and another joined with humans to become an apex consumer.
Further information: Mesopredator release hypothesis

In August , a study undertook an analysis of the complete mitogenome sequences of modern and ancient dogs. The sequences showed an increase in the population size approximately , YBP, which broadly coincides with the proposed separation of the ancestors of dogs and present-day wolves before the Last Glacial Maximum (refer first divergence). A ten-fold increase in the population size occurred after , YBP, which may be attributable to domestication events and is consistent with the demographic dependence of dogs on the human population.

Humans and wolves both exist in complex social groups. How humans and wolves got together remains unknown. One view holds that domestication as a process that is difficult to define. The term was developed by anthropologists with a human-centric view in which humans took wild animals (ungulates) and bred them to be “domestic”, usually in order to provide improved food or materials for human consumption. That term may not be appropriate for a large carnivore such as the dog. This alternate view regards dogs as being either socialized and able to live among humans, or unsocialized. There exists today dogs that live with their human families but are unsocialized and will threaten strangers defensively and aggressively no different from a wild wolf. There also exists a number of cases where wild wolves have approached people in remote places, attempting to initiate play and to form companionship. One such notable wolf was Romeo, a gentle black wolf that formed relationships with the people and dogs of Juneau, Alaska. This view holds that before there could have been domestication of the wolf, there had to have been its socialization.
Commensal pathway
Mammoth bone dwelling, Mezhirich site, Ukraine

Animal domestication is a coevolutionary process in which a population responds to selective pressure while adapting to a novel niche that included another species with evolving behaviors.

The dog is a classic example of a domestic animal that likely traveled a commensal pathway into domestication. The dog was the first domesticant, and was domesticated and widely established across Eurasia before the end of the Pleistocene, well before cultivation or the domestication of other animals. It may have been inevitable that the first domesticated animal came from the order of carnivores as these are less afraid when approaching other species. Within the carnivores, the first domesticated animal would need to exist without an all-meat diet, possess a running and hunting ability to provide its own food, and be of a controllable size to coexist with humans, indicating the family Canidae, and the right temperament:p with wolves being among the most gregarious and cooperative animals on the planet.

Ancient DNA supports the hypothesis that dog domestication preceded the emergence of agriculture and was initiated close to the Last Glacial Maximum , YBP when hunter-gatherers preyed on megafauna, and when proto-dogs might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early hunters, assisted in the capture of prey, or provided defense from large competing predators at kill-sites. Wolves were probably attracted to human campfires by the smell of meat being cooked and discarded refuse in the vicinity, first loosely attaching themselves and then considering these as part of their home territory where their warning growls would alert humans to the approach of outsiders. The wolves most likely drawn to human camps were the less-aggressive, subdominant pack members with lowered flight response, higher stress thresholds, less wary around humans, and therefore better candidates for domestication. The earliest sign of domestication in dogs was the neotenization of skull morphology and the shortening of snout length that results in tooth crowding, reduction in tooth size, and a reduction in the number of teeth, which has been attributed to the strong selection for reduced aggression. This process may have begun during the initial commensal stage of dog domestication, even before humans began to be active partners in the process.

Montage showing the morphological variation of the dog.

A maternal mitochondrial, paternal Y chromosome, and microsatellite assessment of two wolf populations in North America and combined with satellite telemetry data revealed significant genetic and morphological differences between one population that migrated with and preyed upon caribou, and another territorial ecotype population that remained in a boreal coniferous forest. Though these two populations spend a period of the year in the same place, and though there was evidence of gene flow between them, the difference in prey–habitat specialization has been sufficient to maintain genetic and even coloration divergence. A study has identified the remains of a population of extinct Pleistocene Beringian wolves with unique mitochondrial signatures. The skull shape, tooth wear, and isotopic signatures suggested these were specialist megafauna hunters and scavengers that became extinct while less specialized wolf ecotypes survived. Analogous to the modern wolf ecotype that has evolved to track and prey upon caribou, a Pleistocene wolf population could have begun following mobile hunter-gatherers, thus slowly acquiring genetic and phenotypic differences that would have allowed them to more successfully adapt to the human habitat.

Even today, the wolves on Ellesmere Island do not fear humans, which is thought to be due to them seeing humans so little, and they will approach humans cautiously, curiously and closely.

Post-domestication gene flow

Since domestication, dogs have traveled alongside humans across most of the planet, often hybridizing with local wild canids. This has resulted in complex patterns of ancient and recent admixture among both the wild and the domestic canids.

Some studies have found greater diversity in the genetic markers of dogs from East and Central Asia compared to Europe and have concluded that dogs originated from these regions, despite no archaeological evidence to support the conclusions. One reason for these discrepancies is the sustained admixture between different dog and wolf populations across the Old and New Worlds over at least the last , years, which has blurred the genetic signatures and confounded efforts of researchers at pinpointing the origins of dogs. Another reason is that none of the modern wolf populations are related to the Pleistocene wolves that were first domesticated. In other words, the extinction of the wolves that were the direct ancestors of dogs has muddied efforts to pinpoint the time and place of dog domestication.

Phylogenetic classification based on the entire mitochondrial genomes of the domestic dog. These resolve into mDNA Haplogroups, most indicated as a result of male dog/female wolf hybridization.

There is evidence of admixture between dog and regional wolf populations, except on the Tibetan Plateau and in the New World wolves. This admixture has occurred throughout history and as dogs expanded across the landscape. There are some dog populations that show recent admixture with wolves.

Phylogenetic analysis shows that modern dog mDNA haplotypes resolve into four monophyletic clades with strong statistical support, and these have been designated by researchers as clades A-D. Other studies that included a wider sample of specimens have reported two rare East Asian clades E-F with weaker statistical support. In , a study found that haplogroups A, B and C included % of dogs and are found universally distributed across Eurasia, indicating that they were the result of a single domestication event, and that haplogroups D, E, and F were rare and appeared to be the result of regional hybridization with local wolves post-domestication. Haplogroups A and B contained subclades that appeared to be the result of hybridization with wolves post-domestication, because each haplotype within each of these subclades was the result of a female wolf/male dog pairing.

Haplogroup A: Includes -% of dogs. Haplotypes of subclades a–a are derived from post-domestication wolf–dog hybridization.

Haplogroup B: Includes -% of dogs. haplotypes of subclade b are derived from post-domestication wolf–dog hybridization.

Haplogroup C: Includes -% of dogs.

Haplogroup D: Derived from post-domestication wolf–dog hybridization in subclade d (Scandinavia) and d (South-West Asia). The northern Scandinavian subclade d hybrid haplotypes originated -, YBP and are found in all Sami-related breeds: Finnish Lapphund, Swedish Lapphund, Lapponian Herder, Jamthund, Norwegian Elkhound and Hällefors Elkhound. The maternal wolf sequence that contributed to them has not been matched across Eurasia and its branch is phylogenetically rooted in the same sequence as the Altai dog (not a direct ancestor). The subclade d hybrid haplotypes are found in .% of South-West Asian dogs.

Haplogroup E: Derived from post-domestication wolf–dog hybridization in East Asia, (rare distribution in South-East Asia, Korea and Japan).

Haplogroup F: Derived from post-domestication wolf–dog hybridization in Japan. A study of dog specimens found only one dog whose sequence indicated hybridization with the extinct Japanese wolf.

It is not known whether this hybridization was the result of humans selecting for phenotypic traits from local wolf populations or the result of natural introgression as the dog expanded across Eurasia.

In , a study found a small amount of dog ancestry in % of Eurasian wolf specimens looked at, that hybridization had occurred across a wide number of timescales and not just recently, however in contrast there was almost no admixture detected in the North American specimens. There was introgression of the male dog into the wolf, but also one hybrid detected which was the result of a male wolf crossed with a female dog. Wolves have maintained their phenotype differences from the dog, which indicates low-frequency hybridization. The conclusion is that phenotype is no indication of “purity” and the definition of pure wolves is ambiguous. Free-ranging dogs across Eurasia show introgression from wolves. Another study found that the β-defensin gene responsible for the black coat of North American wolves was the result of a single introgression from dogs in the Yukon dated between ,-, years ago. The study proposes that early Native American dogs were the source.
The Greenland dog carries .% shared genetic material with the , years BP Taymyr wolf specimen.

Taimyr wolf admixture

In May , a study compared the ancestry of the Taimyr- wolf lineage to that of dogs and gray wolves.

Comparison to the gray wolf lineage indicated that Taimyr- was basal to gray wolves from the Middle East, China, Europe and North America but shared a substantial amount of history with the present-day gray wolves after their divergence from the coyote. This implies that the ancestry of the majority of gray wolf populations today stems from an ancestral population that lived less than , years ago but before the inundation of the Bering Land Bridge with the subsequent isolation of Eurasian and North American wolves.:

A comparison of the ancestry of the Taimyr- lineage to the dog lineage indicated that some modern dog breeds have a closer association with either the gray wolf or Taimyr- due to admixture. The Saarloos wolfdog showed more association with the gray wolf, which is in agreement with the documented historical crossbreeding with gray wolves in this breed. Taimyr- shared more alleles (i.e. gene expressions) with those breeds that are associated with high latitudes – the Siberian husky and Greenland dog that are also associated with arctic human populations, and to a lesser extent the Shar Pei and Finnish spitz. An admixture graph of the Greenland dog indicates a best-fit of .% shared material, although an ancestry proportion ranging between .% and .% is consistent with the data. This indicates admixture between the Taimyr- population and the ancestral dog population of these four high-latitude breeds. These results can be explained either by a very early presence of dogs in northern Eurasia or by the genetic legacy of Taimyr- being preserved in northern wolf populations until the arrival of dogs at high latitudes. This introgression could have provided early dogs living in high latitudes with phenotypic variation beneficial for adaption to a new and challenging environment. It also indicates that the ancestry of present-day dog breeds descends from more than one region.:–

An attempt to explore admixture between Taimyr- and gray wolves produced unreliable results.:

As the Taimyr wolf had contributed to the genetic makeup of the Arctic breeds, a later study suggested that descendants of the Taimyr wolf survived until dogs were domesticated in Europe and arrived at high latitudes where they mixed with local wolves, and these both contributed to the modern Arctic breeds. Based on the most widely accepted oldest zooarchaeological dog remains, domestic dogs most likely arrived at high latitudes within the last , years. The mutation rates calibrated from both the Taimyr wolf and the Newgrange dog genomes suggest that modern wolf and dog populations diverged from a common ancestor between , and , YBP. This indicates that either dogs were domesticated much earlier than their first appearance in the archaeological record, or they arrived in the Arctic early, or both.
Positive selection
Reduction in size under domestication – grey wolf and chihuahua skulls.
The wolf’s family portrait reveals a diversity of form among breeds of domestic dogs.

Charles Darwin recognized the small number of traits that made domestic species different from their wild ancestors. He was also the first to recognize the difference between conscious selective breeding in which humans directly select for desirable traits, and unconscious selection where traits evolve as a by-product of natural selection or from selection on other traits. Domestic animals have variations in coat color as well as texture, dwarf and giant varieties, and changes in their reproductive cycle, and many others have tooth crowding and floppy ears.

Although it is easy to assume that each of these traits was uniquely selected for by hunter-gatherers and early farmers, beginning in Dmitry Belyayev tested the reactions of silver foxes to a hand placed in their cage and selected the tamest, least aggressive individuals to breed. His hypothesis was that, by selecting a behavioral trait, he could also influence the phenotype of subsequent generations, making them more domestic in appearance. Over the next years, he succeeded in producing foxes with traits that were never directly selected for, including piebald coats floppy ears, upturned tails, shortened snouts, and shifts in developmental timing. In the s, a researcher used a set of behavioral, cognitive, and visible phenotypic markers, such as coat colour, to produce domesticated fallow deer within a few generations. Similar results for tameness and fear have been found for mink and Japanese quail. In addition to demonstrating that domestic phenotypic traits could arise through selection for a behavioral trait, and domestic behavioral traits could arise through the selection for a phenotypic trait, these experiments provided a mechanism to explain how the animal domestication process could have begun without deliberate human forethought and action.

The genetic difference between domestic and wild populations can be framed within two considerations. The first distinguishes between domestication traits that are presumed to have been essential at the early stages of domestication, and improvement traits that have appeared since the split between wild and domestic populations. Domestication traits are generally fixed within all domesticates and were selected during the initial episode of domestication, whereas improvement traits are present only in a proportion of domesticates, though they may be fixed in individual breeds or regional populations. A second issue is whether traits associated with the domestication syndrome resulted from a relaxation of selection as animals exited the wild environment or from positive selection resulting from intentional and unintentional human preference. Some recent genomic studies on the genetic basis of traits associated with the domestication syndrome have shed light on both of these issues. A study published in suggested that there have been negative genetic consequences of the domestication process as well, that enrichment of disease-related gene variants accompanied positively selected traits.

In , a study identified regions of the dog genome that were associated with phenotypic variation among breeds in traits studied, which included body, cranial, dental, and long bone shape and size. There were quantitative trait loci that explained most of the phenotypic variation. Indicators of recent selection were shown by many of the genomic regions that were associated with traits that define a breed, which include body size, coat characteristics, and ear floppiness. Geneticists have identified more than genetic loci and genes associated with coat color variability. Knowing the mutations associated with different colors has allowed the correlation between the timing of the appearance of variable coat colors in horses with the timing of their domestication. Other studies have shown how human-induced selection is responsible for the allelic variation in pigs. Together, these insights suggest that, although natural selection has kept variation to a minimum before domestication, humans have actively selected for novel coat colors as soon as they appeared in managed populations.

In , a study looked at over pig genome sequences to ascertain their process of domestication. A model that fitted the data included admixture with a now extinct ghost population of wild pigs during the Pleistocene. The study also found that despite back-crossing with wild pigs, the genomes of domestic pigs have strong signatures of selection at genetic loci that affect behavior and morphology. The study concluded that human selection for domestic traits likely counteracted the homogenizing effect of gene flow from wild boars and created domestication islands in the genome. The same process may also apply to other domesticated animals.

In , a whole genome study of the DNA differences between wolves and dogs found that dogs did not show a reduced fear response but did show greater synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity is widely believed to be the cellular correlate of learning and memory, and this change may have altered the learning and memory abilities of dogs in comparison to wolves.


Unlike other domestic species which were primarily selected for production-related traits, dogs were initially selected for their behaviors. In , a study found that there were only fixed genes that showed variation between wolves and dogs. These gene variations were unlikely to have been the result of natural evolution, and indicate selection on both morphology and behavior during dog domestication. There was evidence of selection during dog domestication of genes that affect the adrenaline and noradrenaline biosynthesis pathway. These genes are involved in the synthesis, transport and degradation of a variety of neurotransmitters, particularly the catecholamines, which include dopamine and noradrenaline. Recurrent selection on this pathway and its role in emotional processing and the fight-or-flight response suggests that the behavioral changes we see in dogs compared to wolves may be due to changes in this pathway, leading to tameness and an emotional processing ability. Dogs generally show reduced fear and aggression compared to wolves. Some of these genes have been associated with aggression in some dog breeds, indicating their importance in both the initial domestication and then later in breed formation.

In , a study identified genes that differed between modern dogs and modern wolves. As the differences in these genes could also be found in ancient dog fossils, these were regarded as being the result of the initial domestication and not from recent breed formation. These genes are linked to neural crest and central nervous system development. These genes affect embryogenesis and can confer tameness, smaller jaws, floppy ears, and diminished craniofacial development, which distinguish domesticated dogs from wolves and are considered to reflect domestication syndrome. The study proposes that domestication syndrome is caused by alterations in the migration or activity of neural crest cells during their development. The study concluded that during early dog domestication, the initial selection was for behavior. This trait is influenced by those genes which act in the neural crest, which led to the phenotypes observed in modern dogs.

Dietary adaption

The difference in overall body size between a Cane Corso (Italian mastiff) and a Yorkshire terrier is over -fold, yet both are members of the same species.

AMYB (Alpha-Amylase B) is a gene that codes a protein that assists with the first step in the digestion of dietary starch and glycogen. An expansion of this gene in dogs would enable early dogs to exploit a starch-rich diet as they fed on refuse from agriculture. In a study in , the data indicated that the wolves and dingo had just two copies of the gene and the Siberian Husky that is associated with hunter-gatherers had just three or four copies, whereas the Saluki that is associated with the Fertile Crescent where agriculture originated had copies. The results show that on average, modern dogs have a high copy number of the gene, whereas wolves and dingoes do not. The high copy number of AMYB variants likely already existed as a standing variation in early domestic dogs, but expanded more recently with the development of large agriculturally based civilizations. This suggests that at the beginning of the domestication process, dogs may have been characterized by a more carnivorous diet than their modern-day counterparts, a diet held in common with early hunter-gatherers. A later study indicated that because most dogs had a high copy number of the AMYB gene but the arctic breeds and the dingo did not, that the dog’s dietary change may not have been caused by initial domestication but by the subsequent spread of agriculture to most – but not all – regions of the planet.

In , a study of the dog genome compared to the wolf genome looked for genes that showed signs of having undergone positive selection. The study identified genes relating to brain function and behavior, and to lipid metabolism. This ability to process lipids indicates a dietary target of selection that was important when proto-dogs hunted and fed alongside hunter-gatherers. The evolution of the dietary metabolism genes may have helped process the increased lipid content of early dog diets as they scavenged on the remains of carcasses left by hunter-gatherers. Prey capture rates may have increased in comparison to wolves and with it the amount of lipid consumed by the assisting proto-dogs. A unique dietary selection pressure may have evolved both from the amount consumed, and the shifting composition of, tissues that were available to proto-dogs once humans had removed the most desirable parts of the carcass for themselves. A study of the mammal biomass during modern human expansion into the northern Mammoth steppe found that it had occurred under conditions of unlimited resources, and that many of the animals were killed with only a small part consumed or left unused.

Natural selection

Dogs can infer the name of an object and have been shown to learn the names of over , objects. Dogs can follow the human pointing gesture; even nine-week-old puppies can follow a basic human pointing gesture without being taught. New Guinea singing dogs, a half-wild proto-dog endemic to the remote alpine regions of New Guinea, as well as dingoes in the remote Outback of Australia are also capable of this. These examples demonstrate an ability to read human gestures that arose early in domestication and did not require human selection. “Humans did not develop dogs, we only fine-tuned them down the road.”:

A dog’s cranium is % smaller than an equally heavy wolf’s, and the dog is less aggressive and more playful. Other species pairs show similar differences. Bonobos, like chimpanzees, are a close genetic cousin to humans, but unlike the chimpanzees, bonobos are not aggressive and do not participate in lethal inter-group aggression or kill within their own group. The most distinctive features of a bonobo are its cranium, which is % smaller than a chimpanzee’s, and its less aggressive and more playful behavior. In other examples, the guinea pig’s cranium is % smaller than its wild cousin the cavy, and domestic fowl show a similar reduction to their wild cousins. Possession of a smaller cranium for holding a smaller brain is a telltale sign of domestication. Bonobos appear to have domesticated themselves.: In the farm fox experiment, humans selectively bred foxes against aggression, causing domestication syndrome. The foxes were not selectively bred for smaller craniums and teeth, floppy ears, or skills at using human gestures, but these traits were demonstrated in the friendly foxes. Natural selection favors those that are the most successful at reproducing, not the most aggressive. Selection against aggression made possible the ability to cooperate and communicate among foxes, dogs and bonobos. Perhaps it did the same thing for humans.: The more docile animals have been found to have less testosterone than their more aggressive counterparts, and testosterone controls aggression and brain size. One researcher has argued that in becoming more social, we humans have developed a smaller brain than those of humans , years ago.

Dog and human convergent evolution

As a result of the domestication process there is also evidence of convergent evolution having occurred between dogs and humans. The history of the two is forever intertwined. Dogs suffer from the same diseases as humans, which include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and neurological disorders. The underlying disease pathology is similar to humans, as is their responses and outcomes to treatment.
Parallel evolution

Montage showing the coat variation of the dog.

There are patterns of genes which are related by their function and these patterns can be found in both dogs and humans. This fact can be used to study the coevolution of gene function. Dogs accompanied humans when they first migrated into new environments. Both dogs and humans have adapted to different environmental conditions, with their genomes showing parallel evolution. These include adaptation to high altitude, low oxygen hypoxia conditions, and genes that play a role in digestion, metabolism, neurological processes, and some related to cancer. It can be inferred from those genes which act on the serotonin system in the brain that these have given rise to less aggressive behavior when living in a crowded environment.

In , a study found that dog domestication was accompanied by selection at three genes with key roles in starch digestion: AMYB, MGAMand SGLT, and was a striking case of parallel evolution when coping with an increasingly starch-rich diet caused similar adaptive responses in dogs and humans.

Behavioral evidence

Convergent evolution is when distantly related species independently evolve similar solutions to the same problem. For example, fish, penguins and dolphins have each separately evolved flippers as a solution to the problem of moving through the water. What has been found between dogs and humans is something less frequently demonstrated: psychological convergence. Dogs have independently evolved to be cognitively more similar to humans than we are to our closest genetic relatives.: Dogs have evolved specialized skills for reading human social and communicative behavior. These skills seem more flexible – and possibly more human-like – than those of other animals more closely related to humans phylogenetically, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and other great apes. This raises the possibility that convergent evolution has occurred: both Canis familiaris and Homo sapiens might have evolved some similar (although obviously not identical) social-communicative skills – in both cases adapted for certain kinds of social and communicative interactions with human beings.

The pointing gesture is a human-specific signal, is referential in its nature, and is a foundation building-block of human communication. Human infants acquire it weeks before the first spoken word. In , a study compared the responses to a range of pointing gestures by dogs and human infants. The study showed little difference in the performance of -year-old children and dogs, while -year-old children’s performance was higher. The results also showed that all subjects were able to generalize from their previous experience to respond to relatively novel pointing gestures. These findings suggest that dogs demonstrating a similar level of performance as -year-old children can be explained as a joint outcome of their evolutionary history as well as their socialization in a human environment.

Later studies support coevolution in that dogs can discriminate the emotional expressions of human faces, and that most people can tell from a bark whether a dog is alone, being approached by a stranger, playing, or being aggressive, and can tell from a growl how big the dog is.

In , a study found that when dogs and their owners interact, extended eye contact (mutual gaze) increases oxytocin levels in both the dog and its owner. As oxytocin is known for its role in maternal bonding, it is considered likely that this effect has supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding. One observer has stated, “The dog could have arisen only from animals predisposed to human society by lack of fear, attentiveness, curiosity, necessity, and recognition of advantage gained through collaboration….the humans and wolves involved in the conversion were sentient, observant beings constantly making decisions about how they lived and what they did, based on the perceived ability to obtain at a given time and place what they needed to survive and thrive. They were social animals willing, even eager, to join forces with another animal to merge their sense of group with the others’ sense and create an expanded super-group that was beneficial to both in multiple ways. They were individual animals and people involved, from our perspective, in a biological and cultural process that involved linking not only their lives but the evolutionary fate of their heirs in ways, we must assume, they could never have imagined. Powerful emotions were in play that many observers today refer to as love – boundless, unquestioning love.”
Human adoption of some wolf behaviors
“ … Isn’t it strange that, our being such an intelligent primate, we didn’t domesticate chimpanzees as companions instead? Why did we choose wolves even though they are strong enough to maim or kill us? … ”
— Wolfgang Schleidt

In , a study proposed that immediate human ancestors and wolves may have domesticated each other through a strategic alliance that would change both respectively into humans and dogs. The effects of human psychology, hunting practices, territoriality and social behavior would have been profound. Early humans moved from scavenging and small-game hunting to big-game hunting by living in larger, socially more-complex groups, learning to hunt in packs, and developing powers of cooperation and negotiation in complex situations. As these are characteristics of wolves, dogs and humans, it can be argued that these behaviors were enhanced once wolves and humans began to cohabit. Communal hunting led to communal defense. Wolves actively patrol and defend their scent-marked territory, and perhaps humans had their sense of territoriality enhanced by living with wolves. One of the keys to recent human survival has been the forming of partnerships. Strong bonds exist between same-sex wolves, dogs and humans and these bonds are stronger than exist between other same-sex animal pairs. Today, the most widespread form of inter-species bonding occurs between humans and dogs. The concept of friendship has ancient origins but it may have been enhanced through the inter-species relationship to give a survival advantage.

In , a study compared the behavior and ethics of chimpanzees, wolves and humans. Cooperation among humans’ closest genetic relative is limited to occasional hunting episodes or the persecution of a competitor for personal advantage, which had to be tempered if humans were to become domesticated. The closest approximation to human morality that can be found in nature is that of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Wolves are among the most gregarious and cooperative of animals on the planet, and their ability to cooperate in well-coordinated drives to hunt prey, carry items too heavy for an individual, provisioning not only their own young but also the other pack members, babysitting etc. are rivaled only by that of human societies. Similar forms of cooperation are observed in two closely related canids, the African wild dog and the Asian dhole, therefore it is reasonable to assume that canid sociality and cooperation are old traits that in terms of evolution predate human sociality and cooperation. Today’s wolves may even be less social than their ancestors, as they have lost access to big herds of ungulates and now tend more toward a lifestyle similar to coyotes, jackals, and even foxes. Social sharing within families may be a trait that early humans learned from wolves, and with wolves digging dens long before humans constructed huts it is not clear who domesticated whom.

Bison surrounded by gray wolf pack

On the mammoth steppe the wolf’s ability to hunt in packs, to share risk fairly among pack members, and to cooperate moved them to the top of the food chain above lions, hyenas and bears. Some wolves followed the great reindeer herds, eliminating the unfit, the weaklings, the sick and the aged, and therefore improved the herd. These wolves had become the first pastoralists hundreds of thousands of years before humans also took to this role. The wolves’ advantage over their competitors was that they were able to keep pace with the herds, move fast and enduringly, and make the most efficient use of their kill by their ability to “wolf down” a large part of their quarry before other predators had detected the kill. The study proposed that during the Last Glacial Maximum, some of our ancestors teamed up with those pastoralist wolves and learned their techniques. Many of our ancestors remained gatherers and scavengers, or specialized as fish-hunters, hunter-gatherers, and hunter-gardeners. However, some ancestors adopted the pastoralist wolves’ lifestyle as herd followers and herders of reindeer, horses, and other hoofed animals. They harvested the best stock for themselves while the wolves kept the herd strong, and this group of humans was to become the first herders and this group of wolves was to become the first dogs.

First dogs

The dog was the first species and the only large carnivore to have been domesticated. Over the past years, dogs have undergone rapid phenotypic change and were formed into today’s modern dog breeds due to artificial selection imposed by humans. These breeds can vary in size and weight from a . kg (. lb) teacup poodle to a kg ( lb) giant mastiff. The skull, body, and limb proportions vary significantly between breeds, with dogs displaying more phenotypic diversity than can be found within the entire order of carnivores. Some breeds demonstrate outstanding skills in herding, retrieving, scent detection, and guarding, which demonstrates the functional and behavioral diversity of dogs. There have been major advances in understanding the genes that gave rise to the phenotypic traits of dogs. The first dogs were certainly wolflike, however the phenotypic changes that coincided with the dog–wolf genetic divergence are not known.

Bonn–Oberkassel dog

In , on the eve of the First World War, two human skeletons were discovered during basalt quarrying at Oberkassel, Bonn in Germany. With them were found a right mandible of a “wolf” and other animal bones. After the end of the First World War, in a full study was made of these remains. The mandible was recorded as “Canis lupus, the wolf” and some of the other animal bones were assigned to it. The remains were then stored and forgotten for fifty years. In the late s there was renewed interest in the Oberkassel remains and the mandible was re-examined and reclassified as belonging to a domesticated dog. The mitochondrial DNA sequence of the mandible was matched to Canis lupus familiaris – dog, and confirms that the Oberkassel dog is a direct ancestor of today’s dogs. The bodies were dated to , YBP. This implies that in Western Europe there were morphologically and genetically “modern” dogs in existence around , years ago.

Later studies assigned more of the other animal bones to the dog until most of a skeleton could be assembled. The humans were a man aged years and a woman aged years. All three skeletal remains were found covered with large cm thick basalt blocks and were sprayed with red hematite powder. The consensus is that a dog was buried along with two humans. A tooth belonging to a smaller and older dog was also identified but it had not been sprayed with red powder. The cause of the death of the two humans is not known. A pathology study of the dog remains suggests that it had died young after suffering from canine distemper between ages and weeks. The dog could not have survived during this period without intensive human care. During this period the dog was of no utilitarian use to humans, and suggests the existence of emotional or symbolic ties between these humans and this dog. In conclusion, near the end of the Late Pleistocene at least some humans regarded dogs not just materialistically, but had developed emotional and caring bonds for their dogs.

First dogs as a hunting technolog

During the Upper Paleolithic (,-, YBP), the increase in human population density, advances in blade and hunting technology, and climate change may have altered prey densities and made scavenging crucial to the survival of some wolf populations. Adaptations to scavenging such as tameness, small body size, and a decreased age of reproduction would reduce their hunting efficiency further, eventually leading to obligated scavenging. Whether these earliest dogs were simply human-commensal scavengers or they played some role as companions or hunters that hastened their spread is unknown.

Researchers have proposed that in the past a hunting partnership existed between humans and dogs that was the basis for dog domestication. Petroglyph rock art dating to , YBP at the sites of Shuwaymis and Jubbah, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, depict large numbers of dogs participating in hunting scenes with some being controlled on leashes. The transition from the Late Pleistocene into the early Holocene was marked by climatic change from cold and dry to warmer, wetter conditions and rapid shifts in flora and fauna, with much of the open habitat of large herbivores being replaced by forests. In the early Holocene, it is proposed that along with changes in arrow-head technology that hunting dogs were used by hunters to track and retrieve wounded game in thick forests. The dog’s ability to chase, track, sniff out and hold prey can significantly increase the success of hunters in forests, where human senses and location skills are not as sharp as in more open habitats. Dogs are still used for hunting in forests today.

Dogs enter North America from Siberia

In North America, the earliest dog remains were found in Illinois and radiocarbon dating indicates , YBP. These include three isolated burials at the Koster Site near the lower Illinois River in Greene County, and one burial km away at the Stilwell II site in Pike County. These dogs were medium-sized adults around cm ( in) in height and around kilograms ( lb) in weight, with very active lifestyles and varied morphologies. Isotope analysis can be used to identify some chemical elements, allowing researchers to make inferences about the diet of a species. An isotope analysis of bone collagen indicates a diet consisting largely of freshwater fish. Similar dog burials across Eurasia are thought to be due to the dog’s importance in hunting to people who were trying to adapt to the changing environments and prey species during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. In these places, the dog had gained an elevated social status.

In , a study compared sequences of North American dog fossils with Siberian dog fossils and modern dogs. The nearest relative to the North American fossils was a , YBP fossil discovered on Zhokhov Island, arctic north-eastern Siberia, which was connected to the mainland at that time. The study inferred from mDNA that all of the North American dogs shared a common ancestor dated , YBP, and this ancestor had diverged along with the ancestor of the Zhokhov dog from their common ancestor , YBP. The timing of the Koster dogs shows that dogs entered North America from Siberia , years after humans did, were isolated for the next , years, and after contact with Europeans these no longer exist because they were replaced by Eurasian dogs. The pre-contact dogs exhibit a unique genetic signature that is now gone, with nDNA indicating that their nearest genetic relatives today are the arctic breed dogs – Alaskan malamutes, Greenland dogs, and Alaskan huskies and Siberian huskies.
First dog breeds developed in Siberia
Sled dog types, sketched in

In , a study showed that , YBP the domestic dog was present at what is now Zhokhov Island. The dogs were selectively bred as either sled dogs or as hunting dogs, which implies that a sled dog standard and a hunting dog standard existed at that time. The optimal maximum size for a sled dog is – kg based on thermo-regulation, and the ancient sled dogs were between – kg. The same standard has been found in the remains of sled dogs from this region , YBP and in the modern Siberian husky breed standard. Other dogs were more massive at kg and appear to be dogs that had been crossed with wolves and used for polar bear hunting. At death, the heads of the dogs had been carefully separated from their bodies by humans, probably for ceremonial reasons.

The study proposes that after having diverged from the common ancestor along with the grey wolf, the evolution of Canis familiaris proceeded in three stages. The first was natural selection based on feeding behavior within the ecological niche that had been formed through human activity. The second was artificial selection based on tamability. The third was directed selection based on forming breeds that possessed qualities to help with specific tasks within the human economy. The process commenced ,-, YBP with its speed increasing with each stage until domestication became complete.

Dogs enter Japan

In Japan, temperate deciduous forests rapidly spread onto the main island of Honshu and caused an adaption away from hunting megafauna (Naumann’s elephant and Yabe’s giant deer) to hunting the quicker sika deer and wild boar in dense forest. With this came a change in hunting technology, including a shift to smaller, triangular points for arrows. A study of the Jōmon people that lived on the Pacific coast of Honshu during the early Holocene shows that they were conducting individual dog burials and were probably using dogs as tools for hunting sika deer and wild boar, as hunters in Japan still do today.

Hunting dogs make major contributions to forager societies and the ethnographic record shows them being given proper names, treated as family members, and considered separate to other types of dogs. This special treatment includes separate burials with markers and grave-goods, with those that were exceptional hunters or that were killed on the hunt often venerated. A dog’s value as a hunting partner gives them status as a living weapon and the most skilled elevated to taking on a “personhood”, with their social position in life and in death similar to that of the skilled hunters.

Intentional dog burials together with ungulate hunting is also found in other early Holocene deciduous forest forager societies in Europe and North America, indicating that across the Holarctic temperate zone hunting dogs were a widespread adaptation to forest ungulate hunting.

The Complete Guide To Canine Evolution

Canine evolution is a highly debated topic. It’s impossible to explain the entirety of canine evolution, but we have put together a basic guide for you. If you are interested in learning about where dogs might have come from then read on to find out more.


We can now trace back through the history of canine evolution through DNA. Dogs come from the Canidae family and this includes other animals such as wolves, coyotes, jackals and hunting dogs. All these members look very similar and have large carnivorous teeth. What is really interesting about early dog species is that you can find them in lots of different environments around the world from the desert to the Arctic. Dogs are highly adaptable creatures.

The Grey Wolf

One theory of canine evolution is that the domestic dog split from its wolf ancestor. The species divide according to where they end up in the world. There are lots of different theories but this one, in particular, suggests that modern dogs evolved from a few grey wolves in Asia around 15,000 years ago. This is really not that long ago in evolutionary terms.

How dog breeds vary

Dogs are one of the only species that produce such different individuals but are still genetically close enough to interbreed. Dogs have only dramatically changed in the last 500 years by artificial selection, where man chooses the desired characteristics. Foxes, for example, do not vary physically from species to species as much as dogs do. You simply have to select two very different dog breeds such as the Chihuahua and the Siberian Husky to understand how far apart dogs can be in physical appearance.

Impressive Wolves

Canines have evolved to become one of history’s most effective killing specialists. Wolves are among the most feared predators around the world. Their physical characteristics and perfected hunting skills have earned them mythical status and coverage in many mainstream films and television programmes.

In the Origin of the Species Darwin tried to guess where the dog might have evolved from. He thought that dogs came from several wild species of canines. However, recent evidence has pushed this theory aside, showing that dogs evolved from the grey wolf around 100,000 years ago.

The evolutionary timeline of the dog

In the Origin of the Species Darwin tried to guess where the dog might have evolved from. He thought that dogs came from several wild species of canines. However, recent evidence has pushed this theory aside, showing that dogs evolved from the grey wolf around 100,000 years ago.

The evolutionary timeline of the dog

The evolutionary timeline of the dog dates back 60 million years. The Miacis existed in the Palaeocene epoch era. It was an animal that lived in North America. It looked like a weasel and had much shorter legs and a smaller brain than modern day dogs. It also had the typical distinctive carnivore teeth but walked on the soles of its feet.

The next stage of canine evolution was understood to have taken place 35 million years ago. The Leptocyon was around during the Oligocene epoch era and was more fox-like and walked on its toes, which allowed it to sprint more easily.

Then came the Mesocyon around 20 million years ago, and towards the end of this period came the Miocene. This animal looked like a very basic dog and had a bigger brain, making it more intelligent. It also had a better memory making it more likely to remember family members and therefore it developed a pack mentality.

This was then followed by the wolves around 5-7 million years ago. They developed the advantage of walking on four hind toes allowing them to chase prey more effectively.

Finally came wolves and jackals, who were alive around 1million years ago. This animal was the beginnings of the early wolf and could be found in Eurasia.

Controversy over wolf evolution

It is important to note that there are lots of different theories on canine evolution and although DNA can prove a lot, it is still a challenge to map out the exact bloodline of the dog. ‘The origin of the dog is a subject of much controversy, jackals, wolves, and dogs all have similar characteristics and chromosome count.’ (Lloyd, Wend, ‘Dogs A Historical Journey’, Howell Book House, 1996) All we can say is that today’s dogs, which come in many different shapes and sizes due to artificial selection, are all likely to have evolved from a small group of grey wolves.

The domestication of wolves

So how did wolves turn into man’s best friend? There are many theories about the domestication of wolves. One is that they gradually got closer to human settlements once they recognize a food source and became more acclimatized to being around people. As the generations went on they got braver and were more comfortable around humans. As humans got to know wolves they realised how useful they could be. Wolves were perhaps used to sound the alarm and alert people of danger and eventually trained to bring down large prey. Domesticated wolves may have also been used for warmth. People then realised the strengths of wolves and eventually started breeding them for specific traits.

A lot of dog training is based on how wolves behave but it’s important to remember that dogs have domesticated a long time ago. They are likely to have developed behaviours that are far from what wolves living in the wild would do. However, we can distinguish some similarities and use science to help explain the evolution of the wolf. Dogs are amazing creatures who have lived in harmony with humans for a very long time. Some dog breeds today are so different from wild wolves in appearance. It makes you wonder how a breed such as a pug or a Chihuahua could be linked to the mighty wolf.

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