How did the wild wolf become a cute puppy? One theory that has been proposed is that the wolf chose to domesticate itself by choosing to associate itself with humans.
The story goes that wolves–as social creatures with a strict hierarchy–were less afraid of humans. They may have survived by feeding off the waste heaps left behind by human settlements. This may have given them a better chance of survival than animals that were less sociable. The ancient wolf then passed on these traits to their offspring who felt perfectly at home in human company.
Ask anyone who has ever had a dog and they’ll tell you–it was a family member: a younger sibling, a child, a friend, a companion, a playmate and even a powerful guardian.
Yet another theory proposes that domestication began when wolf cubs were pried away from their packs to be raised by humans. Humans did this to help them to hunt. Wolves were also employed as well as beasts of burden. Before the introduction of the horse, indigenous communities used wolves as pack animals to pull their sleds.
Until the modern period, most dogs kept by humans were employed for labour purposes. Even in our modern era of mechanisation, dogs are still found on farms as herding animals. Breeds such as the border collie and German shepherd are used to control and round up animals. On a farm, dogs continue to act as guards for livestock against predators.
Wolves and dogs both have a keen sense of smell and good tracking abilities. They are excellent hunting companions. The wolves themselves would have benefited from the arrangement by obtaining food from their adopted family. Once upon a time, dogs were used in dog fighting. This, however, is now illegal in many parts of the world.
While the roles and the nature of dog breeds changed as human society changed, they have remained our constant companions and ever present partners-in-crime.
These days, many dogs are employed as rescue animals that help to sniff out victims buried in buildings after earthquakes or to help locate victims who are trapped under snow avalanches. Police dogs are used to find narcotics and explosives and seeing-eye dogs have been known to guide the blind and visually impaired.
The vast majority of dogs are kept as domestic pets. According to medical research, dog owners experience reduced levels of stress. For some, the dog has even morphed into a fashion accessory. Pedigree breeds and new hybrids are a testament to the dogs that have been bred for the rich.
Dog-related merchandise and services are now a booming industry as more and more people buy clothing, toys, grooming services and so on for their beloved canine family members. The global dog clothing and accessories market hit $9.74 billion in 2020 and is expected to balloon to $16.61 billion by 2028, according to market research by Million Insights.
It seems that the dog has solidified its place as a beloved family member. One question I’ve never been able to answer is: is it a part of our pack…or are we a part of its pack?