Keeping the Wolf from the door...and the mammoth !

Recent work carried out by scientists into the DNA genome of the dog has led to a revision of the theories of canine domestication. This in turn should be of benefit to our treatment of our present day dogs.

It was once believed (and sadly still is by some “experts” in dog training) that the dog was a domesticated wolf   which was  domesticated  as a deliberate action by mankind as they settled into an agrarian lifestyle and stopped being hunter gatherers. As wolves  approached human settlements  to scavenge they were tamed and the dog developed from the Grey Wolf through a series of separate domestication events  throughout the world, some 10,000 years ago.

Now however, A new genetic analysis of modern dogs and wolves suggests that man's best friend was domesticated before agriculture somewhere between 11,000 and 34,000 years ago which is supported by archaeological evidence.

But the origin of this domestication remains stubbornly mysterious. Researchers analyzed the genomes of wolves from three likely sites of domestication (the Middle East, Asia and eastern Europe), and found that modern dogs were not more closely related to any of the three. In fact, it seems that the closest wolf ancestors of today's dogs may have gone extinct, leaving no wild descendants. This suggests that modern dogs and grey wolves represent sister branches on an evolutionary tree descending from an older, common ancestor. The results contrast with previous theories that speculated dogs evolved from one of the sampled populations of grey wolves.

A new analysis of European archaeological sites containing large numbers of dead mammoths and dwellings built with mammoth bones has led to a new interpretation of how these sites were formed. It is suggested that their abrupt appearance may have been due to early modern humans working with the earliest domestic dogs to kill the mammoth. Alongside the mammoths are wolf and fox remains , which further support the hypothesis that  Man and dog worked in combination to defend the mammoth prize from these other canids.

So if we know the ancestry , how will this help “Rover”, asleep in front of the fire  ? Well  it means that the myth of the Alpha male and female can finally  be put to bed. Dogs are not wolves  and therefore pack leader ideas should be erased from the “training manual”. Indeed this  idea of a pack hierarchy came from the study of captive , unrelated wolves  rather than the wild pack of wolves which display no such behaviours and instead act as a cooperative related pack sharing hunting and offspring nurturing duties.

Wooly mammoth.jpg

From a dietary perspective the fact that wolves are unrelated to dogs blows a huge hole in the popular dietary fad of Biologically Appropriate  Raw Food  (BARF) as being more “natural” and “better” than dog food. The same research indicates that the first dogs were domesticated whilst people were hunter gatherers. However, when humans settled and became farmers  there was a change in the physiology of the dog in which those dogs with a higher ratio of amylase were able  to better exploit a starch-rich diet as they fed on refuse from agriculture. Thus dogs could benefit from agriculture more than wolves, whose habitat and fauna were under pressure from the spread of agrarian cultures.