Whether you have a mutt or a mastiff, a pooch or a poodle, all dogs share a virtually identical DNA. But where does that come from? People have speculated for years about the origins of dogs, with the prime candidates being foxes, wolves and hyenas.
A recent study, however, has finally confirmed that all dogs are descended from wolves that lived in the Middle East. Researchers looked at the genetic code from more than 900 dogs from 85 breeds, and compared that with the DNA of 200 wild gray wolves, including wolves from North America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. In total, they analyzed more than 48,000 genetic markers.
What the DNA tests confirmed was that dogs share a high degree of genetic similarity with Middle Eastern gray wolves. In contrast, no DNA evidence was found of coyotes or jackals in the dog family tree.
From a genetic point of view, a wolf is therefore a wild dog, a fellow member of the scientific family Canidae. The Canidae family includes domestic dogs, as well as other dog-like wild animals such as wolves, foxes, coyotes and jackals.
According to scientists, a wild wolf is genetically little more distant from a domesticated dog than a wild mustang is from a race horse. The sheer variety of domestic dogs – some of which are very un-wolflike in appearance and habit – is due to selective breeding. And athough some breeds have a DNA pedigree that goes back thousands of years, 80 percent of dog breeds have evolved in the last few hundred years.
However, while dogs and wolves are in the genus Canis, the various species of foxes belong to other genera.
Thus dogs and wolves can interbreed and produce fertile offspring – dogs can also interbreed with other members of the genus Canis, such as coyotes and jackals – but neither dogs nor wolves can interbreed with foxes. The fox genera split off from other canids millions of years ago, and are too different for interbreeding to take place.
So how did wild wolves wind up as the tame dog that curls up at your feet when you watch TV? Researchers speculate that early humans domesticated wild wolves because they found that they made useful companions and work animals.
Evidence shows that primitive humans and wolves lived near each other, and they doubtless benefited from this relationship – the wolf packs would have got some of their food from carcasses left behind by the human hunters, and over time would have become natural watchdogs, alerting humans to the presence of larger predators.
It is also possible that early humans could have raided wolf dens, captured wolf pups, and raised some themselves. Once they started feeding the young animals, they would have been likely to stay with the humans.
Dogs are often called man’s best friend – at some basic level we like dogs and they like us – and now there’s evidence. Whether with wild wolves or domesticated dogs, this relationship has been going strong for over 13,000 years.
Guest post by: Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND: Is an accomplished author and researcher. Although a lifetime Naturopath specializing in the treatment of people, she applies the same clinical principles to her pets and passion, theEuropean Doberman. A breeder of quality verses quantity, her Doberman puppies are available only occasionally.