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The Origin of the Domestic Dog

The author's background includes law enforcement and U.S. military service. She enjoys writing about canine behavior and breeding chickens.

How did domestic dogs come to be?

How did domestic dogs come to be?

Do All Dogs Descend From a Common Ancestor?

When we take a look at a Chihuahua next to a Great Dane, it would seem that the two were unrelated. Yet, 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 doesn'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 differ significantly in appearance 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 it clear that they all evolved from the same type.

This statement is also supported by 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—both characteristics that have been shaped by humans via selective breeding.

The Wolf-and-Jackal Debate

So, if all dogs descend from the same species, which species is it? Most scientists seem to believe that the originating species is most likely the wolf (this is my feeling as well), but why not the jackal, as some have inferred? Let's take a look at both species and see what we can learn. 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 dog and the wolf share similar dental characteristics. The jackal's teeth are arranged significantly differently from both the wolf and the dog. In a study conducted in 1965 (Scott and Fuller) where 90 behavioral habits of domestic canines were investigated, only 19 were missing from the wolf. The jackal's behavioral patterns differed so greatly that they were not even documented. The jackal's social behaviors vary widely from the domestic dog and wolf as well.

Based on this investigation, we can determine that the creature we should be looking at when deciphering the origin of dog ancestry is most certainly the wolf.

Where do modern dogs come from?

Where do modern dogs come from?

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 by constant aggression or conflict. His authority is reinforced regularly by compliance on the part of the other pack members.

Dog Adopts Kitten

Nurturing Behaviors in Wolves and Dogs

When a female wolf has cubs, it is not uncommon for two or three of her packmates 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 take on orphaned animals that are of another species altogether, showing just how deeply the maternal instinct goes in canines.

Hierarchy in Dog Social Order

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 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 no need to defend 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.

Modern dog breeds. Where did they all come from?

Modern dog breeds. Where did they all come from?

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 men caused the differences between our domestic dogs and their ancestors—the wolves. The domestic dog is, on the whole, a precariously bred animal, where breeders have accentuated mutation, as well as attributes found desirable by humans. Again, this is probably why we see behaviors in dogs that we don't find in wolves.

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, but when more closely observed, it is found to be an expert at assuring that only the 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 breed's characteristics, shape, and size, the natural wolf instincts remain unalterable by time and man.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Stephen on September 25, 2011:

great job guys has a lot of info and interesting, loved every bit. I don't usually read everything on a website but I did this thanks and keep it up :)

karemals on July 31, 2011:

I know what dogs are - not animals but friends :)

Rosemary Amrhein on October 30, 2010:

I learned some things, actually a lot, from this hub K9. I have been afraid of all dogs except rereivers and "very mild dogs of which I can't name, just a few I guess" I never had a dog and I think my father made me afraid by putting fear into me.

I love the video and the pictures. Golden retreivers are so beautiful but many others are too. I don't think I would go near a pit bull ever unless I really learn more. I think someday when I get a dog, I will like them more than cats maybe cause they are so loving and accepting and hang out with you unlike cats, though I love them too.

Being with a dog appears to be sort of like a child, teaching it manners, etc.

Glad to know finally why you picked the name K9. It's nice to see how much you love dogs, how much you know.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 24, 2010:

Outstanding hub on dogs! I have a Shih Ztu and love him more than life itself. I found your hub to be the most informative and well written I have ever read. I thank you so very much for all that you put into it. I am a huge fan! Rated up

erthfrend from Florida on September 18, 2010:

Dogs are simply amazing! Your article had tons of interesting info, I enjoyed reading it. Thank you!

Boomer60 on September 17, 2010:

What a great article on dogs. Really detailed. Our friends only have wolves for pets. As long as they know who the alpha male is all is well. I am a little intimidated by them, but they seem very friendly. They keep these wolves in the house as house pets.

Jane@CM on September 17, 2010:

Excellent article, I really learned a lot. I love dog!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 17, 2010:

Hamagaia~Thanks for notice- never underestimate the importance of proof reading! I appreciate your help!

Hi Maita~ Thank you for the read and the rating, I am grateful for every one! I just love the dog beast and find the world of dog behavior most interesting to research and study. Your comments bring me a smile!


prettydarkhorse from US on September 17, 2010:

Thank you for such a well researched hub K9, I rated it up, Maita

Charles Fox from United Kingdom on September 17, 2010:

the height of the ;ower --- a little adjustment reqd

Tony from At the Gemba on September 16, 2010:

Great information, I loved my dogs when I was in the UK, but they are seen as being unclean here in saudi and you never see them. Great Hub.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 16, 2010:

Wendy Krick~Thanks for the read, I appreaciate you comments.


Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on September 16, 2010:

Great information about mans best friend.