Monday, January 11, 2021

Phillip Elden Ponders How Wolves Became Dogs

Phillip Elden

Conservation expert Phillip Elden fields questions from children just about every day. One about how wolves became man’s best friend recently had his mind spinning. 
Q: When did dogs become domesticated and separate from wolves? 
Phillip Elden: The ancestors of the domestic dogs as we know them today diverged from wolves – an extinct species – somewhere between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago. This does not mean that dogs were immediately domesticated, and some experts believe that dogs may have not been fully acclimated to humans until around 7000 years ago. 

Q: How long did it take for dogs to develop into so many different breeds? 
Phillip Elden: No one really knows for sure. The oldest dog bones, found in Neolithic Germany, date to about 7000 years ago. These are similar to other specimens found across Europe from around the same time period. This suggests that domestication started as a single event, probably during the stone age, but that it took a long while for dogs and humans to cozy up. 
Q: So dogs were domesticated in Europe? 
Phillip Elden: Yes, but probably not only in Europe. There is some scientific evidence to further suggest that dogs were independently domesticated in Asia, possibly even earlier than across Europe. 
Q: How did dogs and humans begin cohabitating? 
Phillip Elden: That is again something that science cannot fully answer. If the media has anything to say about it, it happened when a single hunter saved an injured wolf. The truth is likely more complicated than that, and probably starts with ancient populations stealing cubs in hopes they would grow to protect their own human children. Regardless of how the relationship started, one thing is certain: dogs are man’s best friend, and that is likely not changing anytime soon.