EVOLUTION OF THE DOMESTIC DOG

The dog’s ancestry can be traced back to an animal called Miacis, which existed about 60 million years ago. This animal was a tree climber and lived in a den, which it kept clean. We can still observe the instinct of performing toilet functions outside in dogs today. 20 million years ago, an animal called Cynodictis, resembling the dog, showed physical characteristics that the modern dog shares. The Tomarctus lived 10 million years ago and developed stronger social instincts that we can observe in dogs today. Next in line is the Canidae, which developed about a million years ago.

‘The interesting part starts around 100,000 yrs BC, when the history of humans and ‘canis familiaris’ evolved from the ‘canis lupus’ begin to link. Studies show, that the ‘Stone-Age man’ and the wolf showed the same social organisation. Both were predators and lived in groups or packs with a clear structure. In order to coexist both species had to benefit.  The wolves had access to warmth (fire) and food (scraps). Man profited from including the wolf in the hunts, using the powerful sense of smell and hearing. Another aspect was the companionship and protection provided within the camp. Everyone in the ‘community’ had a role to fulfil. This aspect is extremely important to dog training today.’ (Adapted from ‘The dog listener’ by Jan Fennell).     Apparently, many behavioural problems in dogs stem from the dilemma that the dog has not been allocated the appropriate role in the family (pack). Many dog owners don’t seem to be aware that they burden the dog with the leadership to which it is either not suited, or which creates problems when the dog is expected to respect commands. Contradicting signals can be given through gestures that resemble ‘homage’ to the leader in the dog world, but are mistaken for affection or care by their owners.

Over the centuries, man has moulded dogs according to his needs only, by breeding particular skills. Different breeds accommodate particular needs: dogs were bred for hunting (light and fast), for food (Polynesia, Central America), to flush the game (springers), to return it (retrievers), and many more. Nowadays, some of these skills are still used, but also new once have developed, such as the qualities of guide dogs for the blind, customs dogs to sniff out drugs, dogs to detect cancer through their exceptional good sense of smell and many more. For the dog trainer it is important to know the weaknesses and strengths of the dog he/she is working with. Hence the evolution of the dog plays a role in today’s dog training.

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