The Origin of the Domestic Dog
Are All Dogs From the Same Mold?
When we take a look at a Chihuahua next to a Great Dane, it would seem that the two were unrelated. Yet, discovered within canine ancestry, we find that it is a fact that these two opposing sights come from the same original mold. The single species that is presumed to have brought us each of the modern breeds of dogs is a creature that was active primarily in Northern Europe over ten thousand years ago. This won't rule out the possibility that at the same time in history a nomadic relative of the same species was evolving as well.
Similar but Different
We can see by simply looking at them that these modern domestic dogs are quite different from breed to breed. What may not be so apparent is what E. Dahr found in 1937. Dahr found that the ratio of snout length to the width of the upper jaw at its narrowest point was, on average, consistent in all dogs and that this was the same for measured ratios in stone age dogs. He went further in his assessments by measuring the length of the row of molar teeth to the height of the lower jaw and found similar results. This study would indicate that when dogs were first being domesticated their skulls were all of a similar dimension, making clear that they all evolved from the same type. This statement is supported as well due to the fact that all breeds of domestic dogs have brain cases of about the same size. So, in the situation with our Chihuahua and Great Dane, the difference is purely in size and shape, which is totally man-made.
The Wolf and Jackal Debate
Assuming we believe all dogs come from the same evolutionary beginning, we need to determine from which species they all begot. Most scientists seem to find that the originating species is most likely the wolf (my feeling as well), but, why not the Jackal, as some have inferred? Let's take a look at both species and find some conclusive factors. If we take a peek at the similarities between the two species it is most likely that the wolf is "dog-zero"—if you will.
First, the dental characteristics are similar between the dog and wolf. The Jackals teeth are arranged significantly different from both the wolf and the dog. A more convincing study is found in 1965 (Scott and Fuller) where ninety behavior habits in domestic canines were investigated, only nineteen of these ninety behaviors were missing from the wolf. The Jackal's behavior patterns differed so greatly it was not important enough to even document. The Jackal social behaviors vary widely from the domestic dog and wolf as well.
Based on even this small measure of investigation, we can determine that the creature we should be looking at when deciphering the origin of dog ancestry is most certainly the wolf.
The Wolf and Aggression-Free Leadership
The wolf is an animal that resides within a society based on understanding rather than aggression. When we think of wolf techniques for the training of our dogs, they get skewed with the misconceived notions that the way of the wolf is one of anger and battle. For the pack to be as successful as it, the intense assumption humans make pertaining to the fighting wolf, would actually destroy the pack before it ever began to strengthen it. The pack leader, or Alpha wolf, doesn't hold the role as such by constant aggression or conflict. His authority is reinforced regularly by compliance on the part of the other pack members.
Wolf and Dog Nurturing
When a female wolf has cubs, it is not uncommon for two or three of her pack mates to begin producing milk in case the biological mother is killed. Similarly the domestic canine has been known to undergo a false pregnancy when those around her begin gestation (even a neighboring bitch can trigger this reaction). Dogs have also been known to, more frequently these days, take on orphaned animals that are of another species all together, showing just how deeply the maternal instinct goes in canines.
What You Think Really Does Matter!
Do you think dogs have evolved from the wolf?
It is also worth mentioning that very rarely do we witness an elderly dog being hassled or shown aggression by a younger dog within his pack. The dominance is not displayed because it is not necessary. The old dog possesses no threat and thus is left to live out his days in a non-threatening environment. It is also clear to see when the two dogs play together that the younger dog remains subordinate (in most cases) to the older and possibly more frail pooch. For these same reasons, the necessity for dominance is not a real consideration to the youthful canine, so a respectful role is put in place by both parties.The youthful dog has been known to take up the task of protecting the elder and still allow the subordinate behavior during play to remain.
In looking at the wolf pack and alpha behavior, we also see a firm yet loving temperament displayed in the raising of pups and the treatment of elderly members. This society runs smoothly with few upheavals lending itself to a peaceful respect and understanding for and by the leadership. Wolves have the hearts of giants and I am often in envy of their capacity to remain humble yet strong in their leadership roles.
What's All the Fuss Over Territory?
Territory is very important to wolf survival. Every pack must carve-out its claim and defend its borders. This is done through urinating and defecating along strategic boundary points. We witness this same type of territory-carving behavior daily in our domestic dogs, even though food is readily available and not such a need to defend the territory for survival purposes exists. Due to the human requirements to control and manage our dogs, they have become beings who share exercise areas and socialize outside the pack, with little to no territory guarding occurring. However, when two very dominant dogs meet in a spot where their humans have routinely allowed them to mark, all hell can surely break loose,...and it will escalate if either of those dominant dogs is feeling hungry at the time.
When we decipher the body posturing of both wolves and dogs, we discover that it is actually almost identical. Fear, aggression, submission, pleasure etc., are definable by humans as we have learned to read the obvious signs of our domestic animals. But when it comes to seeing, reading, or understanding the more subtle signs passed strictly between dogs, we find ourselves incapable of interpreting what our dog is trying to say.
What to Remember
The variety of dog breeds can complicate our human understanding of canine language. To most people, the happy-low-tail wag of a Golden Retriever is the same as the high-tail-carriage with tip-of-tail wagging of a German Sheppard. Our confusion comes into play because of the vast varieties of dog breeds we meet on a daily basis. We may live with a Golden retriever who shows a low-tail-wag every time we look at him and then are shocked when the German Shepard who carries his tail high and appeared to be welcoming took a snap at us when we went to pat his head. We must remember that dogs all came from the same mold and possess a whole spectrum of both instinctive and learned traits.
Unalterable Dog Instincts
It is thought that alterations to breeds by man caused the differences between our domestic dogs and its ancestors the wolves. The domestic dog is, on the whole, a precariously bred animal, where breeders have accentuated mutations, as well as attributes found desirable by humans. Again, probably why we see behaviors in dogs that we don't find in the wolf. If we were to cast these man-made dogs out into nature to fend for themselves, they would probably not survive long. The law of land and survival of the fittest can be considered cruel in method, but when more closely observed it is found to be an expert at assuring that only the top and best specimens are left to perpetuate their species.
It is, however, an undeniable fact that no matter how long we have tended to the modification and genetic re-engineering of a breeds characteristics, shape and size, the natural wolf instincts remain unalterable by time and man.