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he evolution of wolf to domestic pet

From Mighty Bear Dogs to Breathless Bulldogs: How Human Manipulation Has Changed the Shape of Canines Forever

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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.

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. 

Life restoration of Hesperocyon (formerly Cynodictis) gregarius from W.B. Scott's ‘A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere’

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.

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.

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.

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.

Anubis, Egyptian god associated with the afterlife, depicted with the head of a dog.

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.

Three dog breeds

Three dog breeds: Siberian Husky (CC BY SA 3.0), Tibetan Mastiff (CC BY SA 3.0), and Peruvian naked/hairless dog. (CC BY SA 3.0)

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

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-



riparianfrstlvr's picture

Ever wonder where the pound dog came from? The mutt, mixed breed, maybe you got from a friend whose dog had a litter. Maybe you paid big bucks for an AKC, “with papers,” as status symbols that look exactly like all the rest like a clone. Maybe you paid big bucks for a “designer dog,” from a puppy mill, a fancy name for mutt or mixed breed. No matter, they all start out as a cute, cuddly, ball of fur, don't they? It is not by accident that we have pound dogs.

Many studies from around the world have culminated in a very sound theory as to how the dog came into being. A 5 decade long breeding study, behavioral studies of the dog, as well as the wolf, DNA studies of many different breeds of dogs, DNA studies of wolves from around the world, have brought the theory to fruition.
Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years ago, there was a lone wolf. Wolves, at times, are ostracized from the pack for reasons unbeknownst to us. Sometimes they repack with the pack, sometimes a different pack, sometimes they perished. On rare occasions, though, they took a different path altogether. The wolf is a social hunter that is hard wired to adapt. A social hunter by itself is almost less than nothing, and survival is bleak. No matter, the wolf is alone now. The wolf adapts, and puts its nose up in the air to catch a scent, and starts to track it.
After some time, a few days perhaps, the wolf finds some bones, and scavenges. A few flecks of meat, sinew, a bit of bone marrow eases the pangs, the wolf rests. Upon awakening, the wolf's pangs are back. Adapting once more, the wolf puts its nose to the ground, and finds the scent trail leading away, and tracks it. More days pass, and the wolf finds some more bones, this time there is 2 or 3 times as many. The wolf feeds, rests, and adapts again, by quickening its pace tracking the scent trail. Days turn into weeks, bones are scavenged, finally the wolf catches up to what is leaving all of the bones.
Another pack of social hunters, they smell different. Cunning, the wolf watches this pack of social hunters, lurking, always downwind and out of sight, a good ½ country mile away, using its keen eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. When the other pack of social hunters kill, feed, and move on, the wolf comes out and feeds. Bored, lonely, not hungry the wolf adapts one more time. Watching how the other pack hunts, the wolf stops lurking. The wolf sees the prey in the trees, the wolf flanks the trees, making itself seen, flushing the prey towards the new pack of social hunters. But the wolf must be cautious and wary, as this pack of social predators, they use spears! In all of the mayhem man kills more meat than otherwise. As the commotion settles, man looks up to see the iconic image of the lone wolf standing at the edge of the trees, panting... with a smile.
Without the wolf, man would never have been able to domesticate the Auroch, and breed it down to beef, nor any other herd animal. We owe the dog for domesticating herd animals today, as well as ourselves. On a whim man has bred the descendant of the iconic lone wolf down to such abominations as the English bull dog, which only exist due to artificial insemination and c-sections. Pugs and the hairless toy xolos are another whim. The mutt is, however, from a genetic stand point, a little more diverse, like it's iconic ancestor, the wolf, rather than the look alike, clone-like abominations man pays big bucks for, “with papers.”
For reasons unbeknownst to me, maybe just another whim, man's best friend is ostracized and taken to the pound. A domesticated, social hunter, hard-wired to adapt, by itself is less than nothing and survival is bleak. No matter, the dog is alone now. The dog will use its keen senses and adapt. When man takes the dog to the pound, we see, and hear yapping dogs, we smell feces, and urine. The dog senses much more, they smell the pheromones of the other dogs, they smell the fear, hear the anxious barking, and see all the abandonment. That is not all, they smell the chemicals used to euthanize the pound dogs, and the incinerator. They can sense all of the death. So the pound dog adapts.
I have conducted 3 anecdotal studies of my own of the pound dog, descendant of the iconic lone wolf. They are always adapting, and all I need to do is provide a little food, water, exercise and a sense of belonging, and the pound dog will never, ever forget what you did for them. From day 1 until their final day, they never forget it. They also never let me forget either.
One of my favorite things to do is head to the mountains and let my pound dogs romp, much like their iconic ancestor, the lone wolf. The coolest thing I have ever seen is them, standing at the edge of the trees, panting...with a smile. The iconic pound dog, a domesticated, social hunter, hard wired to adapt, that will never, ever forget. As another domesticated, social hunter, that smells different, and also hard wired to adapt, I can never forget what they did for me, even after their final day.
If you want a best friend forever, no matter, you are hard wired to adapt. So adapt, shut off the internet, throw away your i-phone, go to the pound, and head for the hills. They won't forget it, you won't regret it, honest to God about it, three anecdotal studies, and one very sound scientific theory have shown.


Creodonta was not in the line of carnivora but was rather a separate grouping and may have actually been closer related to sheep or goats. Also, African Wild Dogs are a sub genus within the Genus Canis though they have split off far enough that they can no longer breed with wolves etc.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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