If you stop to think about, that NFL dog collar-sporting pup running around your backyard is actually the result of many years of evolution and domestication. I know, it’s hard to conceive of a time when dogs were not man’s best friend, and NFL dog collars (or NCAA dog collars, whichever your league preference) were not common accessories. The truth is, however, that once upon a time, wolves entered into the homes and social structure of man, slowly changing with the passage of time, different breeds from different parts of the world coming together to create the vast array of animals that today we refer to simply as “dogs.”
Once upon a time, wolves and humans lived quite separate lives, meeting mostly in the dark of the woods. They were not comfortable, these meetings. Rather, they were likely fraught with tension and fear, on the part of both human and wolf. After all, with two large predators facing off, one has to back off or go down fighting. The ironic reality is that wolves and humans had a great deal in common.
Both humans and wolves have a clear structure of hierarchy to their society, usually led by a male whose female mate is second in command. Hunting in groups is another common trend, as is the tendency to be friendly within any given social group, but mistrustful of outsiders. Wolves, like humans, are sensitive to the moods of others, and have skill in reading communication, both verbal and nonverbal, from others in their group. For all of these reasons, when brought into human society, wolves and their modern descendants, dogs, fit well into human company, and actually have the skills necessary to understand some of the social workings of the people who they live and interact with.
“What’s in it for us?” may well have been a question asked (or at least thought) by those at the forefront of the domestication process. The answer was actually pretty simple. If you were a wolf pup being raised by humans, you were being provided shelter, food, and a place in the pack. If you were the human, you were gaining a guard, a hunting aid, and a tracking guide. Sure, none of this explains the little fluffy lap dogs we have today, but ultimately, those dogs fulfil a very different need than their working counterparts.
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