Julie Forbes / The Examiner / April 18, 2009
I have been thinking a lot about dogs and people and how the two species fit into society together. The most popular theory about how dogs came to live with people as pets suggest that they chose us, as opposed to us having chosen them.
Wolves started hanging around the outskirts of human villages and waited for the people to toss out their edible garbage. The process of domestication leans most of its weight on something called "flight distance". Flight distance is how close an animal will let a human get to them before they run away. The wolves that stayed the closest to the human taking out the trash, were the closest to the garbage once the human was gone, and got to eat more, therefore increasing survival, and therefore increasing breeding. The wolves with shorter flight distances bred with each other which created puppies that were a little more comfortable around people than their ancestors.
There are other traits that are genetically linked to short flight distance and associated with dogs and not wolves. Drumroll? They are: flopped over ears, mixed coat color andŠbarking!
This genetic discovery was originally uncovered on a fox farm that bred foxes for their fur. The people started selectively breeding "nicer" foxes that didn't bite, because they were easier to handle. After only ten fox generations (within ONE human lifetime) the fox's ears drooped, their coats started showing up blotchy black and white and they started barking!
Imagine the ancestral human watching the wild wolf transform right before their eyes into a relatively domestic dog. No wonder dogs have historically held some spiritual and mystical value to us. Dogs have repeatedly been found in ancient graves buried with humans, often facing each other, paw-in-hand, literally. Perhaps they were sacrificed, or were buried as a guardian of the human's soul. Sounds about right to me.
I have come across plenty of information about wolves turning into dogs and how the process happened, behaviorally and genetically. But what about what is happening to us, genetically and behaviorally, considering dogs have been living with people for anywhere from 14,000 to over 100,000 years? Are WE programmed to live with dogs?
Dogs started hanging around us for the advantage of easy food, and humans soon found benefit in their presence as a guardian, predator alarm, garbage disposal, hunting partner and eventually, a non-judgmental family member. If dogs are genetically programmed to live with usŠare we likewise genetically programmed to live with them? To me, it sure feels like it!