History of Dogs: The Journey of Man’s Best Friend

Have you ever stopped to think about the history of your furry little canine pal? The dog, which is known in the scientific community as Canis lupus familiaris, is currently the most abundant carnivore on land. These creatures come in many shapes and sizes, and they can be found in countries all over the world. Dogs were also the first species to be tamed by man; the human-canine bond goes back 15,000 years. However, scientists are still debating about the history and evolution of dogs and the timeline of these animals’ domestication. But here’s what we know so far.

Where did dogs originate?

We know dogs evolved from wolves, and researchers and geneticists have extensively studied canines to try and pin down the exact moment in history when the first dog walked the Earth.

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Archaeological evidence and DNA analysis make the Bonn-Oberkassel dog the first undisputed example of a dog. The remains, a right mandible (jaw), were discovered during basalt quarrying in Oberkassel, Germany in 1914. First mistakenly classified as a wolf, the Bonn-Oberkassel dog was buried with two humans around 14,220 years ago.

However, there are other theories that suggest dogs may in fact be older. For example, many experts agree that dogs started to separate from wolves starting around 16,000 years before present in Southeastern Asia. The progenitors of the dogs we know and love today may have first appeared in the regions of modern-day Nepal and Mongolia at a time when humans were still hunter-gatherers.

Additional evidence suggests that around 15,000 years ago, early dogs moved out of Southern and Central Asia and dispersed around the world, following humans as they migrated.

Hunting camps in Europe are also thought to be home to canines known as Paleolithic dogs. These canines first appeared some 12,000 years ago and had different morphological and genetic features than the wolves found in Europe at the time. In fact, a quantitative analysis of these canine fossils found that the dogs had skulls similar in shape to that of the Central Asian Shepherd Dog.

Overall, while the Bonn-Oberkassel dog is the first dog we can all agree was in fact a dog, it’s possible dogs are much older. But until we uncover more evidence, it will be difficult to know for sure exactly when dogs completely separated from their wolf ancestors.

When did dogs first become pets?

There’s even more dispute about the timeline of the history of dogs and humans. What most scientists and canine geneticists agree on is that dogs were first tamed by hunter-gatherers between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, which is such a wide timeframe that it’s hardly useful.

More recent studies suggest humans may have first domesticated dogs some 6,400-14,000 years ago when an initial wolf population split into East and West Eurasian wolves, which were domesticated independently of each other and gave birth to 2 distinct dog populations before going extinct.

This separate domestication of wolf groups supports the theory that there were 2 domestication incidents for dogs.

Dogs that stayed in East Eurasia may have been first tamed by Paleolithic humans in Southern China, while other dogs followed human tribes further west to European lands. Genetic studies have found that the mitochondrial genomes of all modern dogs are most closely related to the canids of Europe.

Evolution of the dog timeline


Studies have also reported that the dog’s domestication was heavily influenced by the dawn of agriculture. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that modern dogs, unlike wolves, have genes that allow them to breakdown starch. (1)

The origins of the human-canine bond

The bond between humans and dogs have been extensively studied due to its unique nature. This special relationship can be traced all the way back to when humans first started living in groups.

An early domestication theory suggests that the symbiotic, mutualistic relationship between the two species started when humans moved into colder Eurasian regions.

Paleolithic dogs first began to appear at the same time, developing shorter skulls and wider braincases and snouts compared to their wolf ancestors. The shorter snout eventually led to fewer teeth, which may have been the result of humans’ attempts to breed aggression out of dogs.

Ancestors of the modern dog enjoyed plenty of benefits from living around humans, including improved safety, a steady supply of food, and more chances to breed. Humans, with their upright gait and better color vision, also helped in spotting predators and prey over a larger range. (2)

It has been hypothesized that humans in the early Holocene era, around 10,000 years ago, would have chosen wolf puppies for behaviors like tameness and friendliness towards people.

These puppies grew to be hunting companions, tracking and and retrieving wounded game as their human packs settled in Europe and Asia during the last Ice Age. The dog’s heightened sense of smell greatly assisted in the hunt, too.

Aside from helping humans hunt, dogs would have proved useful around the camp by cleaning up leftover food and huddling with humans to provide warmth. Australian Aborigines may have even used expressions such as “three dog night”, which was used to describe a night so cold that three dogs would be needed to keep a person from freezing. (3)

These early dogs were valued members of forager societies. Considered superior to other types of dogs back then, they were often given proper names and considered part of the family. (4)

Dogs were often used as pack animals, too. Some studies suggest that domesticated dogs in what is now Siberia were selectively bred as sled dogs as early as 9,000 years ago, helping humans migrate to North America.

The weight standard for these dogs, 20 to 25 kg for optimum thermo-regulation, is found in the modern breed standard for the Siberian Husky. (5)

Evolution of the dog timeline

While it may seem like humans valued dogs in a merely utilitarian sense, studies suggest that humans have formed emotional bonds with their canine companions since the late Pleistocene era (c. 12,000 years ago)..

This is evident in the Bonn-Oberkassel dog, which was buried with humans even though humans had no practical use for dogs in that particular period.

The Bonn-Oberkassel dog would have also required intensive care for survival, as pathology studies hypothesize that it suffered from canine distemper as a puppy. All these suggest the presence of symbolic or emotional ties between this dog and the humans with which it was buried.

No matter the exact history of dogs’ domestication, dogs have learned to adjust to human needs. Dogs became more respectful of social hierarchies, recognized humans as pack leaders, became more obedient compared to wolves, and developed skills to effectively inhibit their  impulses. These animals even adjusted their barking to communicate with humans more efficiently.

Divine Companions and Protectors: Dogs in Ancient Times

Dogs remained valued companions even as ancient civilizations rose around the world. Aside from being faithful companions, dogs became important cultural figures.

In Europe, the Middle East, and North America, walls, tombs, and scrolls bore depictions of dogs hunting game. Dogs were buried with their masters as early as 14,000 years ago, and statues of the canines stood guard at crypts.

The Chinese have always placed great importance on dogs, the first animals they domesticated. As gifts from heaven, dogs were thought to have sacred blood, so canine blood was essential in oaths and allegiances. Dogs were also sacrificed to prevent bad luck and keep disease at bay. Furthermore, dog amulets were carved from jade and worn for personal protection. (6)

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Dog collars and pendants depicting dogs were also found in Ancient Sumer as well as Ancient Egypt, where they were considered companions to the gods. Allowed to roam freely in these societies, dogs also protected their masters’ herds and property. (6)

Amulets of the canines were carried for protection, and dog figurines made of clay were buried under buildings as well. The Sumerians also thought dog saliva was a medicinal substance that promoted healing.

Evolution of the dog timeline


In Ancient Greece, dogs were highly regarded as protectors and hunters as well. The Greeks invented the spiked collar to protect their dogs’ necks from predators (6). The ancient Greek school of philosophy Cynicism derives its name from kunikos, which means ‘dog-like’ in Greek. (7)

Four types of dog can be distinguished from Greek writings and art: the Laconian (a hound used for hunting deer and hares), Molossian, the Cretan (most likely a cross between the Laconian and Molossian), and the Melitan, a small, long-haired lap dog.

Furthermore, Ancient Roman law mentions dogs as guardians of the home and flock, and it prized canines over other pets such as cats. Dogs were also thought to provide protection against supernatural threats; a dog barking at thin air is said to be warning its owners of the presence of spirits. (6)

Like in China and Greece, the Mayans and Aztecs also associated dogs with divinity, and they used canines in religious rituals and ceremonies. For these cultures, dogs served as guides for deceased souls in the afterlife and deserved to be respected in the same way as elders.

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Norse culture also has strong connections with dogs. Norse burial sites have turned up more dog remains than any other culture in the world, and dogs pulled the goddess Frigg’s chariot and served as protectors for their masters even in the afterlife. After death, warriors were reunited with their loyal dogs in Valhalla. (6)

Throughout history, dogs have always been portrayed as loyal protectors and companions for humans, fit to be associated with gods.

The Development of Different Dog Breeds

Humans have been selectively breeding dogs to emphasize favorable characteristics like size, herding abilities, and strong scent detection for many years. Hunter-gatherers, for instance, chose wolf puppies that displayed reduced aggression towards people. With the dawn of agriculture came herding and guard dogs who were bred to protect farms and flocks and capable of digesting a starchy diet. (1)

Distinct dog breeds don’t appear to have been identified until 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, but the majority of the dog types we have today had been established by the Roman period. Understandably, the oldest dogs were most likely working dogs that used to hunt, herd, and guard. Dogs were interbred to enhance speed and strength and enhance senses like sight and hearing. (8)

Sight hounds like the Saluki had heightened hearing or sharper sight that allowed them to track down and chase prey. Mastiff-type dogs were valued for their large, muscular bodies, which made them better hunters and guardians.

Evolution of the dog timeline

Artificial selection throughout millenia greatly diversified the world’s population of dogs and resulted in the development of various dog breeds, with each breed sharing uniform observable traits such as size and behavior.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, or World Canine Organization, currently recognizes over 300 distinct, registered dog breeds and classifies these breeds into 10 groups, such as sheepdogs and cattle dogs, terriers, and companion and toy dogs.

Various canine breeds are also considered as landraces, or dogs that have been bred without consideration of breed standards. Landrace dogs have a greater diversity in appearance compared to standardized dog breeds, related or otherwise. Landrace breeds include the Scotch Collie, Welsh Sheepdog, and Indian pariah dog.

Our Canine Companions Today

Dogs and humans continue to share a unique bond today. Dogs have evolved, like they always do, to meet humans’ specific needs and fill an indispensable role in society. Here are some of the more common uses for dogs today:

Service and Assistance Dogs

Assistance dogs have proved for centuries that dogs are good for more than hunting and protecting property. In the 1750s, dogs started to undergo instruction as guides for the visually impaired in a Paris hospital for the blind.

German Shepherds were also used during World War I as ambulance and messenger dogs. When thousands of soldiers came home blinded from mustard gas, dogs were trained en masse to serve as guides for the veterans. The use of guide dogs for veterans soon spread to the United States.

Today, guide dogs are just one type of assistance dogs used all over the world. Many of these canines help the deaf and hard of hearing, while others are seizure response dogs that will get help if their owners experience an epileptic seizure.

Psychiatric dogs can also be trained to provide emotional comfort for people with mental disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Dogs assist police forces around the world. Known as “K9” dogs, they help in searching for explosives and drugs, finding evidence at crime scenes, and locating missing people.

Due to the highly specific skills required by these tasks, only a few breeds are generally used, such as the Beagle, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd, and Labrador Retriever.

Evolution of the dog timeline

Search and rescue dogs have been widely used at mass casualty events, like the September 11 attacks. Even in snow and water, dogs trained for tracking human scent can find and follow people who are lost or on the run.

Designer dogs

Designer dogs became popular in the late 20th century when the Poodle was crossed with other purebred dogs. This introduced the poodle’s non-shedding coat and intelligence to the resulting crossbreed.

One of the best-known results of these interbreeding efforts is the Labradoodle, which originated in Australia in the 1970s. Bred from a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle, this designer dog was developed to assist disabled people who were also allergic to dander.

Usually kept as companions and pets, designer dogs can come from a wide variety of purebred parents. Breeds are often crossed to get puppies that have the best characteristics of their parents.

The resulting puppies are often called a portmanteau of the parents’ breed names: the Shepsky, for instance, is a cross of the German Shepherd and Siberian Husky.


Dogs have certainly come a long way from scavenging around early human tribes, and dogs’ natural history is something that continues to be extensively studied by scholars around the world.

Recent genetic studies presume the dog’s direct ancestors to be extinct, making it more difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the origin of the canine species. Many theories also exist about the history of the dog’s domestication, with one popular theory being that two groups of dog-like animals were domesticated in separate places at different times.

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Furthermore, dogs have evolved to be more than just hunting companions. Throughout history, dogs have protected flocks and homes and provided loyal companionship. Nowadays, they even assist the disabled and help police forces keep communities safe. Dogs have definitely proven time and again that they are indeed ‘man’s best friend’.


  1. Pennisi, E. (2013, January 23). Diet Shaped Dog Domestication. Science. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/01/diet-shaped-dog-domestication
  2. Groves, C. (1999). “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Being Domesticated”. Perspectives in Human Biology. 4: 1–12 (A Keynote Address)
  3. https://iheartdogs.com/6-common-dog-expressions-and-their-origins/
  4. Ikeya, K (1994). Hunting with dogs among the San in the Central Kalahari. African Study Monographs 15:119–34
  5. http://images.akc.org/pdf/breeds/standards/SiberianHusky.pdf
  6. Mark, J. J. (2019, January 14). Dogs in the Ancient World. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/184/
  7. Piering, J. Cynics. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/cynics/
  8. Serpell, J. (1995). The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.au/books?id=I8HU_3ycrrEC&lpg=PA7&dq=Origins%20of%20the%20dog%3A%20domestication%20and%20early%20history%20%2F%E2%80%8B%20Juliet%20Clutton-Brock&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false

— Update: 13-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Dog Evolution History: Where Do Dogs Come From? from the website www.caninejournal.com for the keyword evolution of the dog timeline.

Evolution of the dog timeline

Ever look down at your dog and wonder where she came from? We’re not talking about who her parents were, but something more profound. While human evolution is a hot topic, what about dog evolution?

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Where do dogs come from? Did dogs evolve from another animal, or were they created by a greater being and placed on earth to be our best friends? While there’s a great deal of conflict on the evolution of dogs, there are some answers.

Where Do Dogs Come From?

There’s a lot of controversy about the evolution of dogs. But, researchers agree on one thing: dog’s ancestors are ancient wolves. 

How did dogs evolve from wolves exactly? A long time ago wolves scavenged hunters’ leftovers, getting closer and closer to people and their camps. Gradually, the wolves became more friendly and produced offspring, which became even more comfortable around humans. Eventually, the wolves evolved into dogs and became man’s best friend.

Get an Embark Dog DNA Test to find out how “wolfy” your dog is

How Are Wolves Different From Dogs?

Evolution of the dog timeline
Wolf walking through the woods
  • Dogs eat in front of humans comfortably while wolves do not
  • The modern domestic dog has a wider skull and shorter snout than a wolf
  • Dogs don’t live in packs when on their own (this is why some scientists believe it’s an improper approach to have the human act as a pack leader during training)
  • Wolves are monogamous, and wolf fathers help raise the young
  • Dogs are promiscuous and don’t give their offspring much attention

History Of Domestication

Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris, also known as the domesticated dog, has become man’s (and woman’s) best friend. However, the first domesticated dog is a topic some scientists cannot agree on.

Many believe the first domestic dog was about 15,000 years ago, while others think it’s double that figure. A recent study shows the Basenji breed dating back 30,000 years in central Africa. Throughout history and even today, these barkless dogs live and hunt with local tribespeople in the African Congo.1

In October 2020, new findings on fossil canine genomes came out related to dogs living in prehistoric times. Previously, scientists had only published the genomes of six ancient dogs and wolves. This new research, the most extensive study to date,2 analyzed 27 additional genomes giving new insights not yet uncovered. The new dog evolution data concluded that:

  • By 11,000 years ago, dogs already separated into 5 lineages, which spread worldwide, with some lineages already recombining
  • While it’s widely accepted among the research community that dogs became domesticated at least 15,000 years ago, this study suggests (but doesn’t decisively prove) that domestication began 20,000 years ago
  • Modern dogs are not as genetically diverse as ancient dogs once were
  • No new wolf DNA has entered dog genomes since dogs evolved from wolves more than 15,000 years ago

Where Do Dogs Originate From?

There’s some debate about the region where domesticated dogs originated from — Africa, East Asia, Europe, Mongolia, or Siberia. The 2020 study showed that ancient dogs in Africa descended from dogs in the Middle East. It also indicated that dogs’ geographic spread wasn’t always in conjunction with the same patterns of human migration.

The lack of evidence pinpointing dogs’ exact regional origination leaves more questions than answers. Why can’t scientists agree on this? Unfortunately, dog DNA is a confusing and complicated subject matter.

The Domestication Of Dogs And Rabies

There are an estimated 900 million dogs in the world3, some of which are pets while others are wild or homeless. More than 59,000 people per year die from rabies.4 A large majority of these deaths are due to dog bites, and most of those are from dogs who are wild or homeless since they aren’t getting their yearly vaccinations.

This is in part why it’s so critical that we spay and neuter our dogs so we get dogs off the streets and into homes where they can be taken to the veterinarian yearly for their vaccinations. The more dog domestication, the fewer deaths we will have due to rabies.

How Has Breeding Changed Dog Appearance And Health?

Breeding has negatively impacted the evolution of dogs. Check out this video to see how breeds have changed in just 100 years.

Find Your Dog’s Breed And Health History

While the verdict is still out on where exactly dogs came from and how long they’ve been around, you can do your own deep dive into your dog thanks to at-home dog DNA tests. With a swipe of a cheek swab, you can get detailed data showing your dog’s unique DNA makeup, including breed breakdown, possible relatives, potential health risks, and more.

Where do you think dogs come from?

Sources: [1] BMC Genomics, [2] New York Times, [3] WorldAtlas, [4] CDC

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— Update: 16-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Dog Domestication: A Timeline From Beginning To Today from the website a-z-animals.com for the keyword evolution of the dog timeline.

Dogs are thought to be among the first animals that humans domesticated. In fact, most researchers suggest that the dog was the very first animal that humans incorporated into daily life. We were walking with Man’s Best Friend even before we were utilizing goats and sheep.

Estimates of the earliest instance of domestication range anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. In any case, there’s a long and interesting history connecting ancient wolves and the lackadaisical pooch panting by your side.

Let’s explore humanity’s domestication of dogs, running from the ancient past all the way up to the present.

The Very First Domesticated Dogs

Evolution of the dog timeline
Most people think that dogs are descendents of the grey wolf

©Alan Jeffery/Shutterstock.com

It seems like common knowledge that dogs are descended from wolves. It makes perfect sense, and it’s the conclusion most of us come to if we give it any thought.

In reality, though, dogs aren’t directly descended from wolves as we know them. It’s believed that dogs are actually related to an extinct population that was a predecessor of the modern Grey Wolf. It’s likely that this ancestor was the Late Pleistocene Wolf who would have lived anywhere from 56,000 to 7,500 years ago.

This close cousin of the grey wolf is also called the cave wolf and is thought to have lived in western Europe. It would have been the forebearer of the Canis lupus classification that grey wolves now occupy. Roughly 35,000 years ago, the Late Pleistocene Wolf population split into two dominant categories.

One of those categories was the grey wolf (C. lupus). Grey wolves proliferated and spread across Eurasia and into North America, generating more than 30 subspecies under the C. lupus categorization.

The other category was the domesticated dog (C. lupis familiaris). This split is indicated by genetic studies showing divergence between the two populations around that time. These studies also show that the domesticated dog and wolf are less related to each other than they are their predecessor, suggesting that the lineages move directly from the Late Pleistocene Wolf to the domestic dog and the wolf, respectively.

These predecessors would have been more easily tamed and domesticated than the grey wolf. Even today, a wolf that’s raised in captivity among humans is still considered “wild.” Naturally, we can’t go back in time to examine the demeanor of the Late Pleistocene Wolf, but we can imagine that it would have been more easily tamed than modern grey wolves roaming the northern United States.

But Why Are Dogs & Wolves So Similar?

Evolution of the dog timeline
Siberian husky – some dogs are almost indistinguishable from wolves


You might wonder how in the world dogs and wolves are so distant from one another when they look and behave so similarly. In fact, many of our domesticated dogs are almost indistinguishable from wolves.

This is because of something called “gene flow.”

The history of dogs and wolves involves a lot of cross-breeding, leaving genetic material from wolves in the DNA of domesticated dogs and vice versa. There’s likely a lot more wolf DNA in dogs than there is dog DNA in wolf populations, however.

In most cases, two separate species that can produce offspring aren’t able to have viable offspring. That is to say, separate species rarely produce offspring that can produce offspring of their own. Dogs and wolves are among the rare exceptions who are able to produce viable offspring with one another.

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C. lupis and C. lupis familiaris are interfertile, meaning they have viable offspring who can then breed with other dogs and wolves, further intermingling the gene pool.

Various Pups May Have Emerged Simultaneously

Fossil evidence from areas across Eurasia indicates that dogs didn’t just come from one population of early wolves. While there’s still a lot to discover, researchers think the domestication process might have happened in multiple places at once.

So, a group of humans in Siberia might have started domesticating wild Pleistocene Wolves around the same time that people in western Europe were doing the same thing. This throws a puzzling wrench in the question of who the modern dog’s earliest ancestors are, though.

Key Evidence of Early Domestication

Evolution of the dog timeline
Some of the earliest domesticated dogs were “wolf-like” animals used for hunting


The earliest transitions from Late Pleistocene Wolf (we’ll just say “wolf” from here on in) to early dogs are difficult for paleontologists to recognize. It’s challenging because the emerging species were very similar, and there would have been a normal range of genetic variation among individuals in both populations.

That means there were dog-like wolves and wolf-like dogs at the same time. Those connections make it difficult to distinguish the fossils of these early pooches.

Those similarities persisted for a long time, too. In the early stages of domestication, people were still moving and hunting in ways that called for wolf-like dogs. Large scavengers with the body and intelligence of wolves would have been useful companions back when we were fighting to live in the prehistoric world.

The Paleolithic Dog (Canis c.f. familiaris)

The Paleolithic Dog was a canine deeply connected to European settlements and camps dating back more than 30,000 years. It’s unknown if this was a domesticated dog, however, which is why its scientific name has “c.f.” before the indication of subspecies.

This means that an expert has proposed the Paleolithic Dog was a member of C. familiaris, although it isn’t verified. These dogs could have been natural variants of Late Pleistocene wolves who enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with humans.

Remains of these animals have been found in multiple dig sites containing human remains or near the possessions of early humans, however. This indicates that Paleolithic Dogs could have been very important to these people.

Further, Paleolithic Dogs were smaller than ancient wolves. One of the key indicators of domestication in dogs is what’s called “neotenization.” This is the gradual shrinking of body parts over generations in response to different environmental factors.

For dogs, the snout and skull would shrink as domestication moved forward. Humans might have selected and bred shorter-snouted dogs to reduce aggression.

Paleolithic dogs have a smaller skull and short snout, so they could have been some of the earliest domesticated dogs.

14,223 Years Ago: The Bonn-Oberkassel Dog

There are many debated fossils that could be the early remains of dogs. Some potential fossils are even older than 30,000 years old. All of these are too contentious and unclear to use as definite waypoints in our map of dog domestication, however.

The Bonn-Oberkassel Dog is widely accepted as the oldest ever fossil evidence of the domesticated dog. The remains were certainly C. lupis familiaris and not those of a wolf.

The bones are dated at 14,223 years old. The dog was morphologically similar to modern dogs, meaning that it would’ve looked more like a proper dog than a wolf. The beautiful thing about these remains, though, is that they indicate a strong emotional bond between the animal and its human owners.

The Bonn-Oberkassel bones were discovered in a grave with the bones of two humans. These included the bones of a middle-aged man and a younger woman alongside the dog’s body. Further, a pathology study shows that it survived canine distemper when it was very young.

A dog with canine distemper would not have survived without significant human intervention. This means that humans cared enough for the animal to go out of their way to treat its illness, utilizing specific knowledge about treating dogs in the process.

Just to give a little perspective, humans 14,223 years ago were living alongside saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, cave bears, and all manner of ancient megafauna. At the same time, we were also tending to the needs of our beloved pooches and caring for them so much that they were laid to rest with us in our graves.

The Divergence of Breeds

Evolution of the dog timeline
The progression of agriculture lead to a need for dogs to carry out essential jobs alongside humans


We might have left Africa around 60,000 years ago and made two separate journeys out to east Asia and western Europe, joining with dogs in those places roughly 30,000 years ago.

15,000 years later, humans cross the Bering Strait and enter North America with dogs in tow. By that time, we’d bred dogs for various utilitarian purposes, leading them to look very distinct from their predecessors. As the Bonn-Oberkassel bones show us, we’d also brought these pups into our hearts.

Then, agriculture emerged in distant corners of the world simultaneously around 11,000 years ago. This did two important things for the dog populations in those areas.

First, it provided hundreds of absolutely essential jobs for dogs to do. Dogs were tasked with protecting crops, monitoring newly domesticated livestock, and serving other culturally-specific roles.

Second, agriculture allowed human beings to become stationary. All of the time spent moving, hunting, gathering, and planning could now be used on other things. More care is given to animals, and new professions emerge that require the assistance of dogs.

All of those factors caused humans to select for different mental and physical qualities in their dogs. Dogs might have been selectively bred to hunt wildlife, eliminate rodents, herd sheep, handle cattle, and more.

There are over 340 dog breeds in the world today, according to the American Kennel Club. That’s the strict number of recognized breeds, although there is an almost infinite number of potential hybrids. All of these wonderful, unique animals can find their roots in the demands of ancient peoples and their animals.


Interestingly, there are hundreds of genes that show correlations between dogs and humans. This makes sense, too, considering that dogs have been alongside human populations for many thousands of years.

As people entered new environments, the adaptive genes in dogs were selected at the same time as the adaptive genes in humans. Over the course of 30,000 years, dogs and humans evolved alongside one another. Those environments selected for mirroring genes in both species.

Interestingly, dogs and humans are aspects of one another’s environments. For example, a dog with cute puppy eyes might be selected because of how it makes the human feel, and a human who works well with dogs might have a more successful farm, giving him a better chance of survival than someone who’s bad with dogs.

Epigenetic Changes

Evolution of the dog timeline
Domestication syndrome lead to the development of dogs with different characteristics

©Martin Christopher Parker/Shutterstock.com

Domesticated animals experience something called “domestication syndrome.” Generally speaking, the syndrome leads to droopier ears, changes in coloration, reduction in brain size, and a general reduction in size.

This change is a large aspect of the domestication of dogs. The rapid changes in dog characteristics during domestication might be linked to epigenetic shifts. Epigenetic modifications are heritable changes in behavior that aren’t reflected in the individual’s DNA.

Alongside environmental changes, these heritable modifications in dog behavior might have contributed to the rapid proliferation of different breeds over time.

The process of epigenetic changes is thought to come from the activation or deactivation of certain genes as a result of interactions with the environment. Those factors impact physiology and neurology, producing distinct shifts in behavior. Those behavioral changes are learned by subsequent generations, and the new traits start to solidify over time.

Apply that epigenetic pressure to thousands of dogs in different environments, and the tree of life starts to spread its little branches, leaving us with all of the wonderful pooches that we know and love so much!

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