In The Beginning by Juanita Amero
Welcome to a new year and a new edition of Water and Woods Online Magazine. I hope the new year brings good luck and fortune to each and every one of you. I would like to start off the beginning of the year here, with an article on the beginning of the wolf and how the domestic dog we know today evolved from them.
The dogs we scruff behind the ear today are all actually descendants of the gray wolf. A fact many of you may already know and have known for some time. These gray wolves not only adopted us humans on their own free will, but also were an important factor in our civilization. At first they were instrumental in keeping cleaner camps and warning of intruders or announcing visitors to the camps. It was a very informal relationship with loose ties. The ties became a little tighter and stronger as the wolves followed our nomadic ancestors as they moved from camp to camp, cleaning scraps and innards from animals harvested to feed the people.
Eventually the wolf grew impatient with the human hunter and often raced ahead of the hunter to finish the kill. Their highly evolved instinct to “drive” and herd animals over cliffs for quicker hunts, left us with more time to concentrate on technology in an evolving world.
We not only like these canines for their hunting skills but were also quite taken by the cute puppies too. This is evident from the role neoteny (arrested infantile development) played in the change from wolves to dogs. Desirable traits were selected in individual pups. The most important puppy trait taken advantage of by early man was dependence. A respect for strong smart leaders was already vital in wolves’ social structure, so they easily became members of our human “pack.” This puppy dependence turned wolves into dogs that preferred us to their own kind. Dogs are the only domesticated animals that will seek out humans if they’re lost or abandoned.
When man saw that the mating of dogs of like traits strengthened those favorable traits, changes came fast. Herd animals could be domesticated when selective breeding strengthened the northern European wolf trait of shepherding prey. The lighter, swifter Asiatic wolves in Arab lands became coursing hounds. Egyptians hunted antelope with wolves until they developed more manageable dogs in the Twelfth Dynasty. Asian wolves from forested areas of Tibet and India produced dingoes and stockier mastiff types that became war dogs. Increasing trade and travel gave us opportunity to cross dogs with skills common for those regions. Greyhound/shepherds gave us pointer types. Shepherds mated with smaller descendants of Asian wolves from China may have produced spaniels and terriers. Greyhound/ mastiffs provided most scent hounds, and mastiff/pointers led to retrievers.
Many evolutionary details still do remain undiscovered, but coyote, jackal and dog DNA make it clear that “most” dog genes do come from the gray wolf. Based on that, wolves and coyotes became separate canines about a million years ago, creating a DNA difference of 71/2 percent. The dog and wolf difference is only 1 percent, which they say makes the dog separation about 100,000 years old.
Lots of numbers and estimations are published on this subject. There is still much debate on the scientific part of the argument on time frames and such, but when you look in the eyes of your best friend, panting at your knee, what do you see? He comes from a long line of hunters and loyal pack members. I have witnessed many a docile canine companion, on a clear moonlight night and for no apparent reason other than sheer instinct and want… lift their heads to howl at the moon and answer the call of their ancestors… the call of the wild.