You are on page 1of 5

Amy Corless

Biology 1010-016
Kathleen Staker
Dogs, Dogs, Dogs
One day, my best friend, Nikki, brought her new husky-wolf mix puppy, Loki-Lani, over to
play with my standard poodle, Milo. The two dogs romped and wrestled in the backyard for
hours, acting as though they had been best friends from the beginning. Watching my goofy,
curly-haired poodle trot around the yard with the fluffy, yet muscular husky caused me to start
thinking about how different the two dogs are, yet they are still the same species. Where did all
these different dogs come from? Did they evolve from wolves, or have they always been a
separate species? How do dogs differentiate from other canines, like foxes or coyotes? And
finally, how is it that Milo and Loki-Lani look so different from one another, yet they are still,
essentially, the same kind of animal?
Dogs have been associated with mankind for thousands of years; some researchers
believe man domesticated dogs as many as 34,000 years ago (Ramanujan, 2016). Those
beginnings occurred at a time when humans were still hunting and gathering, before man
started an organized approach to agriculture. But even as civilization has developed, this
partnership with dogs has continued. Present estimates place the worlds dog population at 1
billion, with 25% (250 million) of those categorized as pets (Gorman, 2016).
The American Kennel Club recognizes 155 dog breeds (Unknown, 2016), ranging from
Great Danes to Grand Bassets, Dobermans to Dachshunds, or Mastiffs to Maltese(s).
However, there may be as many as 400 total breeds, including un-recognized and crossbreeds
(Ratliff, 2012), most of which have been around for only the past few hundred years. With such
a rapid proliferation in the number of breeds, one might wonder if dogs started growing on trees,
with people able to pluck off a new breed on a whim. The real story of where and how dogs

evolved, however, begins in the Pleistocene epic, a geologic period lasting from about 2.5
million to 12,000 years ago (Unknown, 2016).
The pooch family tree begins not with great great great grand-dogs, but with an
ancestor common to both domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and modern-day grey wolves (Canis
lupis). It is a little unclear when early proto-dogs became dogs as we know them, but as noted
above, it was tens of thousands of years ago. Mietje Germonpre, a paleontologist, identified a
32,000 year-old skull from a Belgian cave as being an early dog. The fossil had a wide skull,
crowded teeth, and a short snout, all indicators it was not a wolf. She identified another 30,000
year-old specimen with a bone in its mouth as a dog, as well. Others are not so sure, but
genetic testing should better establish when the tearing power of a wolf jaw [changed to] a
nudge from a dogs cold nose (Gorman, 2016).
Here is a summary of some of the archeological evidence for early dogs (Unknown,
Years ago


Trail of footprints of a boy and early dog
Two fossil dog skulls (called Ice Age dogs
Dog jaw in a humans grave
Mummified dog carcass
Dog bone fragment in Hinds Cave
Eleven dog bodies
Cemeteries with dogs among humans
Dogs buried with humans

Scientists once thought a group of hunter-gatherers grabbed a wolf pup, raised it in

captivity, and thereafter raised tamer and tamer wolves until they eventually evolved into dogs;
in other words, humans bred wolves to become dogs. That opinion has changed recently,
however, and current thinking is that it is more likely that dogs basically invented themselves
(Gorman, 2016). A predecessor wolf became tamer than its wolf mates, and by so doing was
able to forage from humans kills and camps rather than hunt down wild prey. As this would

enable the more tame animals to reproduce more easily, tame wolves had an advantage over
their wild cousins.
At one time, researchers thought the Chinese bred the first dog (the Shar-Pei, a war
dog) from a single pack of wolves. A European DNA project (Lupa), however, has provided
evidence that dogs were bred in several places around the world, and that wolves have been
used as working dogs in several places in the world (Ebdrup, 2012).
As mentioned above, dogs are the only animal to be domesticated by humans before
agricultural practices were organized. In a rush of activity during a few hundred years during
the 17th to 19th centuries, breeders invented many different breeds of dogs. They did not know,
of course, that these new breeds resulted from their tinkering with the genes that determine
canine anatomy (Ratliff, 2012).
Charles Darwin, when writing his On the Origin of Species, drew on this real-life example
of artificial selection to support his theory of natural selection (Venema, 2013). Darwin wrote,
nature gives successive variations; man adds them up in certain directions useful to him. He
made clear that the variation among the different breeds was due to the dogs heredity, and that
the breeders could not manufacture that variation.
Darwin and his generation of scientists did not have the tools that modern-day scientists
enjoy, especially tools related to biology and genetics. In 2003, scientists mapped nearly 80
percent of the 2.8 million base pairs that make up the dog genome, and have now mapped the
full genome. In the family Canidae, there are three phylogenetic groups (or clades). Dogs
share one of those clades with the grey wolf, coyote and jackals (Ostrander, 2007).
Scientists once assumed that the morphological (concerning the form and structure of
organisms) diversity of dogs was due to an equally diverse genetic makeup. Recent research,
however, indicates just the opposite: Dogs have a wide variety of body shapes and size, hair
color and length, nose and ear shapes and positions, and other traits, and all those differences
are due to changes in only about 50 genetic switches (Ratliff, 2012). For example, a single

gene region in a single chromosome determines whether a dog has a Poodles floppy ears or a
Dobermans erect ears; another gene results in a Pugs charmingly squished face or an Afghan
Wolfhounds long snout. In theory, one could flip a few switches and your favorite breed of dog
could become my favorite. This also supports the theory that genes had much to do with
humans selecting dogs or behaviors such as reduced aggression and submitting to humandominated social structures (Venema, 2013).
As mentioned earlier, small changes at the genome level can have a large impact on a
dogs morphology and behavior. Artificial selection by dog breeders helped Darwin explain
natural selection in the 19th century. Modern scientific tools provide a much more detailed
understanding of what happens at the molecular level.
It turns out that dogs suffer many of the same diseases that afflict humans, such as
epilepsy, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. More than a hundred dog diseases have been
mapped to mutations in particular diseases, many of them with human counterparts (Ratliff,
2012). Because dogs have been bred so that they are genetically more isolated than humans,
scientists have a better chance to isolate the genes that cause diseases. That, in turn, helps to
find counterpart genes in humans.
Dogs are known as mans best friend for a reason. Dogs have had the longest
relationship with humans compared to any other animal, and are among the best-loved. They
have an interesting and unique history, have helped their human companions for many years as
working dogs and as loving pets, and help us in our attempts to find cures for diseases. All in
all, dogs ARE mans best friend.

Ebdrup, N. (2012, June 13). DNA reveals new picture of dog origins. Retrieved 2016, from
Gorman, J. (2016, January 18). The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From. Retrieved
2016, from
Harmon, K. (2009, August 20). The Origin of Dogs. Retrieved 2016, from
Ostrander, E. (2007, September-October). Genetics and the Shape of Dogs. Retrieved 2016,
Ramanujan, K. (2016, Jan 16). Study Narrows Origin of Dogs. Retrieved 2016, from
Ratliff, E. (2012, February). How to Build a Dog. Retrieved 2016, from
Unknown. (2016, April 14). Origin of the Domestic Dog. Retrieved 2016, from
Venema, D. (2013, April 4). Evolution Basics: Artifical Selection and the Origins of the Domestic
Dog. Retrieved 2016, from