Dogs are the world’s oldest genetic experiment which began around 15,000 years ago. We started with grey wolves, tamed them, managed them, then taught them tricks. We hardwired human compatibility into them, and the modern dog was invented.
IT BEGAN due to the garbage dumps early humans created around their campsites. Prehistoric men were too lazy to dig a hole and bury the mess, so they would just throw their refuse behind their shelters into one large, stinking pile. The bones, pieces of skin, and other scraps of tasty leftovers were just too much for a passing wolf to resist and wolves soon learned they could easily fill their stomachs without having to do some actual work like hunting. If it weren’t for the laziness of both men and animals, today’s dogs wouldn’t exist.
ROTTING FOOD smells rotten and attracts troublesome insects that could make a caveman’s life miserable. Thus, these wild animals were tolerated as living garbage disposals who would eliminate the stinky nuisance making it the perfect tradeoff. If any of the scavenging wolves acted as a threat to members of the settlement, they were driven away or killed. Soon the most aggressive members of the pack were eliminated from the gene pool.
Over time, the more docile wolves became dependent on human refuse as their primary food source. This trait continues to this day in my own pooch as he waits for me to toss him a bite-size piece of barbeque chicken during supper. The only thing he likes better than human food is cat food.
These wolves became more comfortable around people, began sleeping close to the villages, and started to bear their puppies nearby. Also, most large predators that were a threat to the wolves generally avoided groups of people who burned fires and made lots of noise while creating large piles of rubbish. This gave the wolves a sense of security.
All these advantages began to add up and increased the chances of survival of the more friendly wolf pups. Another benefit was a pup could huddle up next to a warm human residence and keep from freezing to death. A kindly caveman invited one of these fur babies into his abode one cold night and soon, they were sharing the same bearskin sleeping bag and keeping each other warm.
Another benefit of having these canines around the camp was that they were territorial. It was difficult for a large animal or an enemy tribe to sneak up without the entire village being alerted by baying wolves that were beginning to become more and more like today’s dogs.
Once the new species became domesticated enough, humans began to control their breeding and started to tinker around a little bit. In those times, the most useful dog was one that had a loud, non-stopping bark when danger was near. It’s an interesting fact that domestic dogs will bark at anything, but wild dogs seldom bark at all.
This is when genetic engineering first began. Some prehistoric genius got the bright idea to breed his loudest barking male dog with his noisiest female mutt and chased off his quieter pooches with a handful of rocks. This explains why your neighbor’s dog barks at every moving thing and never shuts up.
As time went on, dogs were genetically modified to do all sorts of neat tricks. They became hunters, pointers, retrievers, herders, and pullers of sleds. They joined the military and the police force. They lead the blind. They comfort the sick and protect our families and property and have become essential tools to society. In short, the dogs that were once pawing through our garbage for a free meal suddenly had to start working for a living.
All modern dog breeds were created by artificial selection and most breeds came into existence within recent history. Due to inbreeding, aimed at making exact duplicates of the best breeds, the life expectancy of dogs is much shorter than wolves. On average, a wolf lives to be about 20 years, while healthy dogs might make it to 16. For many pampered modern breeds, 8-10 is considered normal.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) added two new breeds in 2020, the Barbet, a medium-sized water dog, and the Dogo Argentino, a large hunting dog, bringing the total number of canine breeds recognized by the AKC to 195. The experiment continues.
Snub-nosed dogs such as Pugs and English Bulldogs spend their entire lives struggling for air, then die young due to stress. Dachshunds and Corgis are miserable in their older years with damaged spines. Some breeds have puppies so large they cannot give birth without a Caesarian section. Dogs give us a lot, die young, and expect little in return. Go pat yours on the head and give it that well-deserved treat.
Meantime, I must go feed my cat. He’s driving me nuts.
Steve Reece is a contributing writer for the Reporter and a known crime fighter. Email him at email@example.com.