September 29, 2018
During the last week of September, we raise our paws to celebrate our canine friends for National Dog Week. Millions of people worldwide have a pet dog. In the United States alone, roughly 36 percent of households include at least one dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
With pet owners spending more than ever on their animals, you’d think all those dogs would have a pretty cushy life. And many do. But there’s one major disservice humans have done to dogs: selective breeding. Here’s how modern dog breeds came to be — and why the evolution isn’t so great for the dogs.
THE EVOLUTION OF DOGS
There’s still a lot to learn about the origin of dogs we know today — or canis lupus familiaris. Some research suggests dogs were domesticated more than once in different locations, making genomic data in modern dogs more difficult to decipher. But many researchers highlight Europe as the potential starting point for domestic dogs.
“Europe has been a critically important region in the history and evolution of dogs, with most modern breeds sharing predominantly European ancestry,” according to a study published in Nature Communications. “Furthermore, the oldest remains that can be unequivocally attributed to domestic dogs … are found on this continent.” That study estimates dog domestication occurred approximately 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, as dogs diverged from their ancient wolf ancestors.
We don’t know exactly how or why primitive dogs and humans got together. It likely occurred when humans still were hunter-gatherers, and each species found advantages in hanging around the other.