Genetically speaking, domesticated dogs-and their wild ancestor, the wolf-are almost identical. According to an article published in Science Magazine in November 2002, DNA suggests that all dogs originated from a single gene pool somewhere in Asia; Today there are hundreds of dog breeds. The American Kennel Club recognizes more than 150 breeds, but that number does not include all breeds worldwide or all cross-breeds. New breeds continue to develop by natural selection, through generations of service as work animals and through controlled breeding practices for research or bloodline development. By contrast, there are less than 100 different types of wolves and only 24 classified species.
A few theories suggest how and why dogs found their way into the daily lives of humans. Some researchers suggest that wolves approached camps hunting for food. Supporters of this theory say that over time, the humans and wolves adjusted to each other, and as fear diminished, they gradually developed a symbiotic relationship. One theory is that the social and survival instincts of wolves and humans are very similar. Both groups eat, sleep and hunt together. Both groups nurture their young and teach social behavior. The most striking resemblance may be loyalty to the pack or family. Wolves that fed on the rubbish pile of humans may have become protective of them. Whether the first wolf pup wandered into a settlement or a human found a pup in the wild is not clear;but we have evidence that the relationship formed many years ago.
Even though there is not a definitive answer to how people originally domesticated dogs, there is a rich history of our relationship with these animals. Archeologists discovered a grave in Israel that revealed the remains of a human holding a small canine. Tests indicated the grave dated back to the period of hunting and gathering, some 12,000-15,000 years ago.
Evidence that the Spitz canine family was an integral part of daily life for the Vikings is seen in period art, literature and grave sites. The Vikings trained and bred their companions as hunters, herders and sled pullers. There is some speculation that Scandinavian domestic dogs were buried with warriors as a guide to another life beyond death. Some grave sites held the remains of one human and several dogs. Spitz-type dogs are valued for their fierce loyalty to family. They are still found in some regions working as herders, but they are often found in homes as pets. They are both protective and gentle toward their human family; however, they may be aggressive toward outsiders.
The Ibizian Hound has roots that can be traced back to ancient Egypt circa 3000 B.C. Hieroglyphics resembling this hound were found at the tomb of Tutankhamen. Sculptures and paintings suggest this dog was bred as a hunter for Egyptian Pharaohs. There is also some evidence that dogs were buried with their masters to join them in the afterlife. This breed got its name when it was taken to the island of Ibiza by ship merchants. The people on Ibiza segregated the bred as a hunting domestic. It was common to use this domesticated dog to hunt rabbit. It appears that the breed has remained relatively pure throughout its long history.
Labrador Retriever history seems to originate in Newfoundland. Around the 1700s, this breed was in service as a true worker, pulling carts heavily laden with fish. The traits of the original Lab included stamina, loyalty, hunting and retrieving. They are highly intelligent and easily trained. The dogs found their way to England in the 1800s where breeders tried to keep the breed pure to ensure the positive traits continued unaltered. These traits continue today, but their general overall health has diminished somewhat with recent inter-breeding practices.
Over the centuries, dogs have evolved from workers and protectors to companions and income sources. Historical data suggests dogs have been bred to protect us, assist with travel by pulling sleds, support hunting and tracking efforts and provide financially through competition and breeding activities. Dogs are used in research trials to test certain medications and cosmetics before release for use by the public.
It is difficult to imagine our world today without domesticated dogs. These incredible creatures add value and security to our lives. They provide immeasurable pleasure as lap-dogs and offer assistance with many mundane tasks. Breeding practices attempt to retain desirable qualities, like loyalty and stamina while diminishing aggression and timidity. Domesticated breeds like the Labrador Retriever have positive dominant genes that continue from generation to generation and to a degree in cross-breeding; Poodles have; lost some of their original hunting instincts through breeding to become predominantly show animals or household pets. Breeders are mating domestic dogs with wolves to produce wolfdogs. It will be interesting to see the evolution of these canines.