Domestication of Dogs |
Domestication represents a process of wild flora/fauna’s genetic reorganization into farmed and domestic forms based on individual interests. To put it very precisely, domestication denotes the foremost stage of mankind’s control over untamed fauna and flora. The chief difference between tamed fauna and flora and their wild ancestors who survive in their natural habitat is the former’s cultivation, through human efforts, to fulfill particular requirements or fancies. Furthermore, domesticated wildlife adjusts to the constant care and attentiveness meted out to them by humans (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).
The domestication process has contributed greatly to human and material cultural growth, and has led to the emergence of farming as an exclusive means of plant cultivation and animal rearing. These domesticated flora and fauna then transformed into objects of agrarian activity and underwent extreme transformations, growing into something entirely different from their untamed ancestors (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).
According to Macdonald and Driscoll (2010), domestication constitutes a markedly human effort. It is an age-old idea that, through a study of manmade wildlife, humanity can understand itself. Thus, human civilizations have devoted substantial time and energy to this cause. While dogs are possibly the very first housetrained animals, the question of where they transformed from wild wolves and which individual or civilization first successfully attempted their domestication has no precise answer, as genetic proofs indicate a number of places, including Far Eastern lands, Europe, and the regions in between.
Domestication of Dogs
MacDonald, O’Brien, and Driscoll elucidate, in their 2009 work, that manmade selection has a unique nature since it is entirely unnatural. While this fact appears inconsequential, upon careful reflection, one will understand precisely how important and wonderful artificial choice (in the form of domestication) is to our species’ success. Only about 12,000 years earlier did humanity commence a conscious harnessing of other life forms’ four-billion-year-old evolutionary patrimony; taking advantage of wildlife’s genetic diversity for its benefit accorded humanity a central part in the process of evolution. Animal rearing and agrarian food production enabled humanity to grow in size from roughly ten million Neolithic-age individuals to about 6.9 billion in the present day; the human population continues to grow exponentially each day. As of now, 4.93b hectares of land are allocated to agriculture; this occupation utilizes seventy percent of overall expended fresh water resources in the world. Wildlife species across the globe are under a great threat of extinction, 100 to 1,000 times quicker compared to the traditional “background” rate, chiefly due to a loss of natural habitat from its conversion into agricultural land. Human activities have had immense impact on the earth, on humanity, and on domesticated species, including a total transformation of nearly all of our planet’s natural ecosystems. However, no domesticated animal species has, until now, suffered the threat of extinction.
Domestication of flora and fauna species increased humanity’s nutrient and calorie supply, giving rise to a Neolithic Revolution. But this revolution not only entailed mere food production but also a development of an agrarian economy that encompassed employment of numerous animals and plants, enabling urban civilization growth and facilitating multiple innovations that may be characterized as culture. Much of what we see in the current age, indirectly resulted from artificial selection. While ploughs signify the Neolithic age, a look at history from an evolutionary perspective will reveal that intelligent alterations to the genetic makeup of specific habitats’ flora and fauna actually made the tools. Neolithic-era farmers were, in a way, the world’s foremost geneticists, using domestic agriculture as the lever with which they effectively moved the earth (Driscoll, Macdonald & O’Brien, 2009).
The earliest life form domesticated by mankind was dogs. Nevertheless, in spite of several decades of research, scholarly dissent continues with regard to the time and place of wolves’ transformation into dogs. Naturalist Charles Darwin made the first scientific attempt at tracing dogs’ evolutionary origins. In his 1868 work “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,” he speculated whether the evolution of dogs was a result of a rare jackal-wolf mating or whether they came from one single species. After several decades of such guesswork, the latter part of the nineties witnessed genetic researchers’ ultimate confirmation that the ancestors of dogs were actually gray wolves, as the two species have 99.9% identical DNA structure. However, the precise time and place of this genetic transition remained unknown. In the year 1977, excavators working in north Israel found a human skeleton, which could be traced back 12,000 years, with a puppy in its arms. This pointed to dog domestication within the Middle Eastern region just before mankind commenced agricultural activities. However, subsequent excavations of skulls from prehistoric German campsites and Russian caves pushed back the origins of dogs a further 4000 years, suggesting dogs accompanied Eurasians even in their hunting/gathering days (Grimm, 2015).
Present-day wolf-resembling Canids make up the genus Lycaon, genus Canis, and genus Cuon, and include dogs, red wolves (Canis rufus), gray wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), eastern wolves (Canis lycaon), Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis), golden jackals (Canis aureus), dholes (Cuon alpinus), African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas), and side-striped jackals (Canis adustus). In the year 1934, a renowned paleontologist suggested one extinct gray-wolf subspecies was probably the dog’s ancestor (Frantz, Larson & Bradley, 2016).
Li and colleagues (2014) asserted that the dogs acquired distinctive socio-cognitive abilities missing in their ancestors. Selection focused on communication was believed to be the direct force driving these distinctive abilities’ evolution. Another possibility is the theory of “correlated by-product” which suggests that dogs’ unique abilities incidentally developed from a selection for submissiveness to mankind, as tame foxes displayed better ability to understand human gestures as compared to control group foxes. The theory further posits that decreased fearful aggression, which greatly bridged the distance animals maintained from humans, was a prerequisite of the domestication of dogs. However, there is a lack of genetic evidence linked directly to the exact aggressiveness-tameness shift in behavior, despite numerous researchers having determined neural system-connected genes which differ considerably from wolves.
Wolves undoubtedly initiated the foremost human-wolf interaction. However, as domestication is no instant process, it follows that human civilizations’ continuous tolerance of wolves had to exist at first, followed by a proto-dog rearing practice. One likely occurrence is: proto-domestic wolf packs came to scavenge at permanent human communities’ garbage dumps instead of those of nomads: this activity is still occasionally seen in dogs and wolves today. In fact, they maintain the broad intra-guild struggle among Canids, by which the smaller ones (smaller, tamer, dog-like wolves) effectively withstand the aggression meted out by the larger, wilder ones, only by accessing a refuge; here, this safeguard is their usually-unintended protector — mankind. Analogically, and possibly in an exact parallel, molecular proofs reveal that current packs of wild wolves — the tundra region’s migratory wolves as compared to boreal territorial packs — take care not to interbreed despite their frequent geographic overlap. These differences in ways of living foster reproductive isolation, which is, perhaps, what happened with wolves and proto-dogs (Driscoll & Macdonald, 2010).
The initial domestication phase appears to have sparked a decrease in species size. The Near Eastern region’s supposed earliest ‘dog’ fossil is regarded as a dog partly due to its smaller size compared to the average wolf. The small stature probably decreased energy demands on the animal, even possibly allowing the ‘Lupus’ (which stands for light) species fit better with human civilization as compared to its hulking ancestor. A wilder guess would be that intra-guild struggles for survival subsequently resulted in smaller garbage-wolves who vigilantly took to barking when bigger, enemy wolves approached, thus engendering a further genetic divide in the population. This sequence of developments made way for the assortative coupling hypothetically necessary for the wolf population’s sympatric disagreement (Driscoll & Macdonald, 2010).
MacDonald and Driscoll (2010) further claim that once under mankind’s control, dogs began receiving unnatural consideration. It could be that a smaller size developed because of our preference for especially-appealing little puppies, giving rise to match-making ‘kennels’ for breeding small dog subspecies, thereby maintaining the morphotype. While the small dog haplotype-linked causal mutation among dogs is yet to be identified, it apparently tracked some kind of dwarfism. Besides small breeds’ perpetuation and dissemination from their Middle Eastern place of origin across Eurasia, the second, saltatory reduction in size points to considerable human attentiveness. It is surmised that the Natufians, following impulsive initial runt selection, subsequently continued this trend (choosing puppies for their cuddliness) and also started choosing them for their pint-sized benefits (entering burrows, ratting, etc.)
Dogs represent the world’s first domesticates, believed to predate farmyard animals by at least a thousand years. Evidence reveals segregation of initial Middle Eastern dog breeds based on their “non-adaptiveness” to the wild, possibly resulting from their long-term relationship with mankind, which had to have taken place over a number of human generations. From this, it may be inferred that the human civilizations of that day were established and sedentary, with certain loose cultural concepts of dog tolerance, even if they did not care to own or care for dogs. This is consistent with the idea that societal institutions possibly needed for the functioning of an established, secure settlement had been instituted prior to farmyard animals’ taming, possibly even making situations conducive to the process of domestication. Domestication represents an important Neolithic-age aspect, a collection of cultural advances and effects including an agrarian economy, sedentarism, and multifaceted social arrangements facilitating urban life (Driscoll & Macdonald, 2010).
With societal advancement, material wealth gains significance, and its acquisition becomes easier. Livestock was the world’s foremost easily inheritable material possession. In fact, today’s small-scale communities also regard livestock and accompanying land as valuable material possessions, inherited by succeeding generations. These components of wealth continue to be the most effective predictors of continuity of prosperity in such communities. The livestock-social inequality relationship suggests that domesticated animals’ archeological presence may be a key indicator of the origin of social inequality, thus indicating institutional development levels in the civilizations that left behind signs of domestication. Dogs represent the sole pre-agrarian domesticates that were not retained as human companions for food. Instead, they benefited humans by utilizing their innate predatory capacity and territorial proclivity for aiding hunts and serving as guards (Driscoll & Macdonald, 2010).
Further, as property, a dog is now a status symbol, in addition to being intrinsically prized. Contemporary breeds’ Victorian-age tradition kept to lines of wealth and class, which might represent a contemporary example of selection. Hence, in spite of dogs’ lack of value and clear ownership in a number of indigenous present-day societies, it is reasonable to think that the first dogs were prized possessions of their human owners. This kind of value would result in them being a valuable object inherited by succeeding generations of families, thus qualifying as an instrument for inequality. Dogs’ typical ill-treatment in primitive present-day societies does not necessarily imply that nobody valued (and values) them (Driscoll & Macdonald, 2010).
Driscoll, C. A., Macdonald, D. W., & O’Brien, S. J. (2009). From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication. PNAS, Vol 6, No. 1, 9971-9978. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/106/Supplement_1/9971.full
Driscoll, C. A., & Macdonald, D. W. (2010). Top dogs: wolf domestication and wealth. Journal of Biology, Vol 9, Issue 10. Retrieved from Biomed Central: https://jbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/jbiol226
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016, January 18). Domestication. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/science/domestication
Frantz, L. A., Larson, G., & Bradley, D. G. (2016). Genomic and archaeological evidence suggest a dual origin of domestic dogs. Science, Vol 352, Issue 6290, 1228-1231. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6290/1228.abstract
Grimm, D. (2015). Dawn of the Dog. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol 348, Issue 6232, 274-279. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6232/274.ppt
Li, Y., Wang, G. D., Wang, M. S., Irwin, D. M., Wu, D. D., & Zhang, Y. P. (2014). Domestication of the Dog from the Wolf Was Promoted by Enhanced Excitatory Synaptic Plasticity: A Hypothesis. Genome Biology and Evolution, Vol 6, Issue 11, 3115-3121. Retrieved from http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/11/3115.full
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