The Blog

How Love Played a Part in the domestication of Wolves/dogs/humans

After reading "the Dog's mind" by Ben Fogel, "In defence of Dogs" by John Bradshaw and "The Genius of Dogs" by Hare and Woods, I have come to the conclusion that whatever may be said about the domestication of wolves into dogs, emotions played a large part. It is clear from genetic evidence, that the dog is a descendent of the Grey wolf. Studies and archaeological evidence suggest that domestication first occurred in Asia. Little archaeological excavation has been done in that area, but research so far seems to point that way, and many scientists believe that there is much more archaeological evidence to uncover. Certainly, many dog breeds do seem to originate from that area.

From watching wolves hunting over the course of a year on BBC 2's recent "wolves" series, there is a very real sense of quite how difficult it must have been at times for them, and indeed for humans, to find food. One cold winter resulting in unsuccessful hunting could result in the death of most of the pack, or human group. Wolves live a precarious existence. It is then not much of a stretch to see how tempting it must have been for even the most timid creature to be lured by the smells of man's kill, assuming that man, with a more advanced brain, would have sometimes been a successful hunter. The friendlier the wolf, the more chance he stood of being tolerated. The relationship humans have with dogs is very unique; we read each other exceptionally well. Dogs provide companionship to this day, personable and curious; they have become our firm companions. I can see a hunter gatherer building that same relationship in spite of himself. Perhaps as has been suggested, dogs domesticated us, not the other way around. The wolf/dog must have been providing something in return. Other scavengers have not had so much success with humans after all, and humans are known to kill and eat many other scavengers. I wonder if the wolf dog began to follow the hunter gatherer human about, seeing him as a source of food, and then, much like a dog following his master, began to form a bond. I think the wolf dog became a human protector and friend in exchange for food. The dog would have been able to alert the human to danger, with his super sensitive hearing, he would have had the ability to bark, perhaps driving away one of the many predators, such as bears or wild boar, that we humans would have been vulnerable to if unprepared. On some occasions he would have assisted with the hunt. Dogs are extremely sharp readers of human body language. As we know from our dogs today, they would have been an asset on the hunt. But as John Bradshaw has shown in his book, canines are capable of complicated emotions, even love. I think Man and dog became close friends way back then in the same way that happens all over the world today.

It is also possible that humans also decided that dogs were useful to let hang around as extra warmth, and maybe as an emergency food supply. In colder climates, it is quite normal for people to sleep with their huskies when the temperatures drop. And of course, if humans were unable to come up with any food out hunting, as a last resort, a less skilled hunting dog could provide a meal.

Domestication of the wolf/dog must have happened before humans formed settlements, because the dog had more to offer the human in hunter gatherer times than he did initially once we were settled. Humans with flocks, livestock and grains would not have wanted a wolf, they would have wanted an animal that had already started to be shaped to perform a specific role, whether that be herding, hunting, guarding.

It is a point often neglected in theories of domestication, but one that I think is very important, dogs love us and we love them.