Man has Influenced the Domestication of Dog

June Augsburg / The Monroe Times / Monroe, Wisconsin

Man has had a domesticated dog in his life for thousands of years.

Dogs have absolutely no judgment to render. They are a confidant, someone to talk to. Everyone needs nonjudgmental love somewhere in his life. Love, real love, is unconditional. We humans can really learn from the animals.

Scientists believe that the dog was the first species to be domesticated by humans. The theory believed is that humans were gradually giving up their wandering, nomadic lifestyles and beginning to stay in permanent campsites. Scientists think that wild dogs started to spend time near these campsites looking for food.

The big difference today between domestic and wild dogs is that we have selectively bred our domestic dogs to be sociable with humans. Even the tamed wolf or coyote can never be completely trained to live with people as well as a dog does.

Wild dogs hardly ever bark. While just about all domestic dogs bark (with the exception being the basenji), wild dogs bark only as puppies. By the time they reach adulthood, they are mostly silent.

Scientists believe that as humans began to domesticate the dog, they decided that barking was a valuable behavior for dogs to have. (A dog that barks is useful for a watchdog and for frightening away intruders.) Man probably bred only the dogs that barked as adults. After many years, barking became a typical canine behavior.

There are physical differences between wild and domestic dogs. Compare the wolf's body with that of a cocker spaniel. Features such as long drooping ears, short smiling faces and curly tails are never seen in wild dogs.

Humans selected these characteristics because they made dogs look more cute and cuddly.

Another difference is the brain size. As the life of domestic dogs became easier and less challenging, their brains got smaller. In fact the brain of a wolf may be up to one-fifth larger than the brain of a dog the same size as a wolf.

We never seem to get the balance right when it comes to wolves. First we feared and hated them, almost to extinction. Now we love them. Some people like the idea of owning a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid as a pet. But because of the wild animal in them, it is impossible to predict how these hybrids will act.

The wolf hybrid is a beautiful, intelligent animal and a potentially dangerous companion that few people can handle. They are often destructive and are not easily house trained. They are resourceful escape artists and can be chillingly efficient predators.

The intelligence that people adore, combined with size and strength, causes problems at maturity, when wolf-hybrids do what comes naturally.

If you like the look of a wolf-dog, a better idea is to get a breed of dog that resembles a wolf, but has a good disposition and can be trained. Such breeds include husky, Alaskan malamute and the German shepherd.

-- June Augsburg of Monroe writes pet columns that run in Monday editions of the Times.