The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Dogs Have Been Man’s Best Friends For a Long, Long Time
by Ro Wauer

Over the years we have had a number of dogs, from strays found along the roadsides to a beagle that Betty couldn’t resist in a pet shop and carried that little pup home on an airline with everyone admiring it as it peaked out of a basket to see its strange new world. And over the years I had always believed, assumed would be more appropriate, that all North America dogs were descendents of wolves that were tamed by some hardy American Indian family. And eventually some dog breeder turned the wolf-dogs into different breeds that we see today. Well, now I find in an article in the Fall 2007 Defenders, the magazine of the Defenders of Wildlife, that tells me that my assumptions were only partly correct.

Author Jim Yuskavitch, an Oregon-based freelance writer, states that domestic dogs originated not in America, and not in Europe, but in East Asia more than 100,000 years ago. Canid bones and skulls have been found in dated archeological sites. He claims that “some genetic research supported the notion that dogs split from wolves as far back as 135,000 years ago.” He states that our North American dog ancestors probably arrived to North America from Asia via the “Bering land bridge at least 12,000 years ago.”

Yuskavitch also mentions that a Swedish scientist, who obtained DNA from more than 1000 samples of dog hairs from 654 types of dogs from around the world, found that they all came from a common ancestor: Asian wolves. All of today’s dog types, whether they are shepherds, beagles or poodles, possess similar DNA.

The article goes on to speculate how the Asian wolves were first domesticated. As might be expected, those early wolves may have hung around hunting camps where they competed with humans for food, risking death only from clubs and spears rather than guns. Like hunting camps today, some wild dogs eventually become brave enough to take food from humans and gradually were tamed. Or a wolf pup could have been found early enough, brought into camp and cared for, and it eventually became domesticated. One researcher stated that a wolf pup would have to be less than 20 days old, or it could not have been “socialized.” Over 19 days old, he claims, it will always remain a wild and potentially dangerous animal.

Raymond Coppinger, a Massachusetts biologist who has studied this issue for many years, believes that domestic dogs were commonplace in human societies by 7000 to 8000 years ago. Remains, including some wearing collars, have been found in archeological sites from that period and after.

It at first seems strange to think that our pet dogs came from ancestors that roamed the East Asian plains. But after all, they had to come from somewhere. And some of our breeds, such as some terriers, still possess some of those same wild traits. So maybe the behavior of that barking little fido comes naturally.


At 6:13 PM, Blogger J. Wilson said...

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