Change of behaviour due to domestication

It is impossible to say exactly when Canis familiaris was first domesticated. It most likely occurred independently in different civilisations and regions of the world. According to some authors the process got underway at the end of the Palaeolithic period. The grey wolf (Canis lupus) is most often cited as the ancestor of the dog, although opinions have long differed on this point and some authors suggested that it was the golden jackal or even the coyote. This would involve the dog being the product of successive crossings between these animals. Recent DNA analyses appear to support the idea that dogs are descended from the wolf.

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The first domesticated animal

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There are various hypotheses about why dogs were domesticated. According to the most recent thinking, young wolf cubs were attracted to human encampments where they were cared for by the women. They were kept for emotional or religious reasons or for food. It would not be until much later that humans started to discover the advantages these animals could bring to the hunt.

There are several subspecies of wolf, which can be told apart by their size. It is thought that they are part of the dog’s ancestry to various degrees, given that domestication seems to have been undertaken in various places. This great diversity in the subspecies helps explain, at least in part, the polymorphism of the canine species and the large number of breeds.

As the centuries rolled by, dogs began to be used to hunt and sometimes to guard homes. The Middle Ages saw the appearance of many different breeds of hunting dog in response to considerable growth in demand.

Domestication advances

Domestication and human intervention have changed the dog to such an extent that present-day specimens are nothing like their original ancestors. Humans have selectively bred for such fundamental traits as conformation and size, coat type and colour and even ear carriage (wild adult canids always have erect ears).

Physiologically speaking, dogs become sexually mature at a much earlier age – at 6-10 months in a dog weighing 10-25kg (22-55 lbs), compared with 2 years in wolves. Other differences are a doubling of the reproductive cycle in females, the reduction in the size of the anal and perianal glands and diversity in breed morphology.

Domesticated dogs are also more vocal than wild canids. Similarly, puppies trained by humans are more vocal than those raised in packs. Numerous behavioural changes have also been attained, such as docility and socialisation with other species, including humans, at the expense of predatory behaviour.

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Pheromones

© Diffomedia/Royal Canin

Pheromones are chemical substances secreted by an individual and picked up by others, triggering a behavioural and physiological response.

They are produced by various organs: anal glands, perianal glands, interdigital glands and glands in the top of the tail.

When a dog encounters another dog, it sniffs those areas of the body that have the greatest number of these glands.

Negative consequences of domestication

There are not only positive aspects to domestication. Some dogs may develop behavioural problems, such as aversion to sounds and people or aggression and biting, if they are improperly raised or trained.

Humans provide food and accommodation, so the dog no longer needs to hunt or search for shelter. They also provide health care, which extends life expectancy, and so leads to the emergence of age-related problems. And they control reproduction by neutering some animals and choosing others as breeding stock.

Humans make efforts to prevent conflicts between dogs, which may have an impact on hierarchical relations, which can develop naturally between dogs living together under the same roof. Owners must never get involved when dogs have a set-to. Separating two dogs simply aggravates and prolongs a conflict, as it prevents one dog from asserting its dominance over the other.

Very strong and ancient ties with humans

Owners’ mad love for their dogs

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When owners are asked why they so adore their dogs, they very often say the same things: “it is my most loyal friend”, “it understands me better than anyone”, “it loves me unconditionally”, etc”

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When owners are asked why they so adore their dogs, they very often say the same things: “it is my most loyal friend”, “it understands me better than anyone”, “it loves me unconditionally”, “it is always so happy to see me”, “it follows me everywhere”, “it has never let me down”, “it is always happy to play with me, to give me a cuddle, to go for a walk”, “it always has time for me”

Dogs and humans have evolved together

Duhayer_Royal_canin

The special ties between dogs and humans are considered ridiculous by some and even revolting to others, but they are taken much more seriously nowadays, even by those who do not own a dog, because of the work of biologists, behavioural experts and evolutionary scientists who all agree about the extraordinary closeness of the two species and their shared history.

According to our current knowledge, modern humans – Homo sapiens – are probably a little under 100,000 years old as a species. We have also discovered that dogs are probably just as old. In those distant times, when our ancestors were still hunter-gatherers with no understanding of breeding or agriculture, some solitary wolves and probably some coyotes and jackals too left their pack, and were drawn towards humans by the regular supply of leftovers, which was a more stable source of food than hunting and tracking. As the centuries and millennia rolled by, having chosen a new way of life close to humans and away from their wild cousins, these canids gave birth to a new species – today’s domesticated dog. This is why – even in the centre of towns and cities where companion dogs have never really taken hold, such as in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – large numbers of dogs are found that have lifestyles very similar to those of their ancestors despite a gap of tens of thousands of years, including close proximity to humans, albeit without the relationship of familiarity that characterises our companion dogs, and accessibility to food, although they often have to scavenge it from rubbish heaps.

It is striking to note that the dog population has grown at the same rate as the human population. There were one billion humans at the beginning of the 19th century, rising to almost 7 billion at the beginning of the 21st, while there are also 600 million dogs. They accompany us wherever we live on the planet – even in the hottest and coldest regions. In the meantime, wolf numbers have shrunk dramatically as their territory has been destroyed and only a few hundred thousand remain.

Familiarity

Dousseaud

Other studies have also shown that, while the proximity of our two species is undeniably the result of a shared evolution, the puppy’s familiarity with humans is something that is established in the first few weeks of its life. A puppy that does not see or mix with humans before the age of 3 or 4 months will very likely always be afraid of people or at least never feel totally at ease in their company.

We now know that familiarity with humans depends on the frequency and especially the quality of contacts. They should be mostly of a positive nature: the dog must find them pleasurable and always feel comfortable around people. Like humans and indeed the overwhelming majority of mammals, dogs are constantly driven by emotions. It has even been shown that dogs, like apes and dolphins, have some sense of morality, which makes them sensitive to fairness. These recent discoveries make it clear that coercion and violence should never be used when training puppies or adult dogs. The much more preferable approach is to take advantage of the trust, motivation, attachment and pleasure we have shared for so long. This does not mean that dogs will not naturally recognise our authority, as they have done since they first shed their wildest characteristics and started to live close to humans, even in our homes. To form a bond with a dog, we need do little else but share our time, every day, playing, cuddling, walking and relaxing. In short, having pleasure together, a fact many already realise.

Communication

Dogs may not be as intelligent as chimps or gorillas but they are much better able to understand our intentions, attitudes, gestures, looks and probably our emotions due to their long history by our sides. Dogs have been fashioned to live with humans. They understand a large number of human words. We are now discovering that they are capable of complex reasoning and life-long learning. Contrary to the common expression, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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Change of behaviour due to domestication
    Change of behaviour due to domestication

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