From Mighty Bear Dogs to Breathless Bulldogs: How Human Manipulation Has Changed the Shape of Canines Forever
Dogs in Prehistory
The early ancestors of Gray Wolves were a group of carnivores named the creodonts that roamed the northern hemisphere between 100 and 120 million years ago. About 55 million years ago, the creodonts gave rise to the carnassials, a group of wolf-like animals that had specialized jaws for eating meat. One member of this family, Miacis, is thought to be the common ancestor of ALL present-day wolves, dogs, bears, raccoons, and weasels.
60-55 million years ago: a species of dog existed known Miacis, which is a common ancestor to almost all modern-day carnivores, including canines.
45-2 million years ago: a massive species known as Bear Dogs ( amphicyonidae) roamed North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Canis Lupus shared its existence with Bear Dogs and are one of the closest relatives to the Gray Wolf ( Canis Lupus ).
Bear Dog Skeleton (amphicyonidae). They existed from around 44 until about 2 million years ago. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
25 million years ago: a species known as Cynodictis split in two, evolving into African hunting dogs and Eurasian wolves and dogs. Tomarctus, with its incredibly powerful biting jaw, long tail, and sharp claws existed for around 7 million years and inhabited much of North America.
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Life restoration of Hesperocyon (formerly Cynodictis) gregarius from W.B. Scott's ‘A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere’ ( Public Domain )
100000 - 8000 BC
For millions of years, humans and wolves shared bounty rich forests and hunting planes. It is unknown exactly when domestic dogs ( Canis familiaris ) evolved from the Gray Wolf ( Canis lupus ) but recent studies of dog mitochondrial DNA suggest they evolved alongside each other over 100,000 years ago. Until 2009, most experts believed domestication occurred about 14,000 years ago, but that idea was tipped on its head with the discovery of several dog skulls which had been ritually buried in a cave in the Czech Republic - dated to 30,000 BC.
In 2011, a Paleolithic dog skeleton dated to 40,000 years ago was unearthed with a large mammoth bone in its mouth, suggesting that not only did prehistoric dogs haul mammoth tusks and meat on sleds for humans, but that they also consumed mammoths.
The fossilized dog skull clutches the mammoth bone, seen sticking out of the front of the mouth. ( world-mysteries)
The dog with the mammoth bone in its mouth had its brain carefully removed after death, suggesting ritual significance possibly related to the perceived process of releasing the animal’s spirit.
Another dog skull dated to 33,000 years ago was recovered with a human body at Razboinichya Cave in Siberia, telling us that man had domesticated hunting dogs by this time and that they had an important role within religious/spiritual beliefs.
Modern theories suggest wolves first became attracted to human settlements because of discarded food scraps, and the species started becoming better scavengers than hunters. Tamer wolves that had learned to scavenge human campsites thrived, while the strongest predator wolves would be left behind, a hypothesis which backs up Darwin's theory of natural selection.
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At this time, not having the same teeth, jaws, or speed as dogs, humans were isolated and vulnerable and took advantage of these newly found wolves who helped protect small hunting stations and settlements. Dogs were an excellent early warning alarm system, and in famine they became a source of food. Over time the union of man and dog led to the most effective hunter-killer team on Earth and in return, dogs got companionship, protection, shelter, and a reliable food source.
8000 - 2000 BC
The relationship between humans and dogs was cemented around 8000 BC at the dawn of farming, when man realized the domestic dog’s love of starch. With farming, we began training dogs into effective farming tools and weapons used in inter-tribal fighting. These inherent skills are still evident today in dog breeds with particular skill sets, for example; guard-dogs, police-dogs, military-dogs, sheep-dogs, and rat-catchers. Gray Wolves don't absorb starch like domestic dogs, suggesting it was at this time domestic dogs split from Grey Wolves, however, it has also been argued that dogs had already been domesticated and simply adapted to the new human food sources.
Dogs became essential farmers’ tools in the Neolithic era as they not only guarded fields and animal stocks from predators, but they doubled as effective weapons in tribal warfare. ( world-mysteries)
Over time dogs became ritualized and were associated with gods and the afterlife. They were worshiped in ancient China, Egypt and South America where they were carved into statues and temples, and also appear in myths and legends. Tangible proof of the ritualization of dogs is found in the skeleton of a male husky-like dog that lived 7,000 years ago in Siberia. He worked alongside humans throughout his lifetime, ate human food, and was ritually buried as though he were a human. A wild wolf was ritualistically buried nearby, perhaps serving as a protector or guardian to humans on their journey through the afterlife.
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Anubis, Egyptian god associated with the afterlife, depicted with the head of a dog. ( CC BY 3.0)
2000 BC - Present
In the Iron Age, ancient Romans, Egyptians, Greeks and Britons increasingly used dogs in warfare, blood sports, and violent forms of entertainment. Large breeds such as the mastiff and wolf hound proved highly effective in war due to their great size and strength.
The ancient Roman historian, Strabo, reported in 38 AD of, “large British dogs, which were bred in their homeland of Britannia to hunt dangerous game as war dogs.”
In 43 AD, at the Roman conquest of Britain, there were giant, wide-mouthed dogs, which the Romans called Pugnaces Britanniae that "surpassed the Roman Molossus dogs ".
Records tell of a Procurator Cynegii who was stationed in Venta Belgarum (Winchester) in England, where he was responsible for selecting dogs for export to Rome - where they would compete in contests in the amphitheater and be integrated into the ancient Roman army as war dogs.
The ‘Pure Breed’ Delusion
Dogs were essential tools during the industrial revolution, when they were used in wars, ships, factories, and mines and started becoming popular pets. In the 19th century, having learned how parent dog genes affect the genes of the offspring, selective breeding of dogs became very popular. Although dogs were still bred for hunting and guarding purposes, humans began pairing dogs for aesthetic qualities alone.
This gross act of vanity completely destroyed the natural genetics of dogs and stopped 44 million years of natural selection. It was no longer the strongest dogs who survived and mated with equally strong mates, but dogs were being forced to mate with partners who had desirable physical traits, with little to no consideration for the puppies’ genetic strength. Our need to stand out in crowds and to be different/better than our neighbors has resulted in the Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognizing over 340 breeds of dog today.
The idea shared among modern dog breeders of a “pure breed” is a delusion. Even the purest bred dog is still 99.99% mutt. Claiming any dog is "pure bred" is similar to claiming that girls with blonde hair and blue eyes and attached hands, are 'their own' special breed. In reality, that girl is 99.99% identical to every other human, even one with black hair, brown eyes, and unattached arms.
The Genetic Fallout
By the late 19th century, the inbreeding of dogs with similar genes began causing problems in many species. The lack of genetic diversity created weaknesses in species such as Bulldogs (which have problems breathing) and in German Shepherds (which often lose nerve function in their hind legs in later life.)
Today, we train astronaut dogs in space programs and teach search and rescue dogs to leap from helicopters and speedboats. Medical dogs can detect cancer and smell when a diabetic patient is hypoglycemic (suffering low blood sugars). Military dogs detect explosives, locate bodies, and clear areas deemed too dangerous for soldiers. In July 1942, during WW2, the American Army began procuring and training military working dogs, leading to the 'War Dog training program’ in 1943 which parachuted puppies into war-zones to sniff out enemy tunnels and bunkers. Nazi troops reportedly fled in fear of being licked to death.
German Shepherd military working dog in training exercise ( Public Domain )
The Destiny of the Domestic Dog
What on earth will dogs be doing in the future? In the modern police and army, dogs which are trained to bite often get broken teeth - which are now being replaced with sharp titanium fangs worth up to $2,000 per tooth. The evolution of dogs, that spans millions of years, is far from complete. Although we have altered its course irreversibly with mass breeding over the last 200 years, so far, no other animal has evolved to live alongside humans as harmoniously as dogs have.
Top image: The evolution of wolf to domestic pet. Source: CC BY-SA 4.0
By Ashley Cowie
Ashley Cowie is an author, researcher, explorer, film-maker and blogger about lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and arts, the origins of legends and myths, architecture, iconography, artifacts and treasures. Visit- https://ashleycowie.com