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Dogs May Have Evolved From the Wolves Who Liked Eating Trash the Most

There may be an evolutionary reason that your dog eats everything, including the trash

smithsonian.com

Potentially as early as 30,000 years ago (but maybe more like 14,000) dogs and people started living alongside one another. How this communal relationship arose, however, is a matter of considerable debate. The stories favored by different scientists generally fall into one of two categories, either: people deliberately domesticated wolves, looking for hunting partners and protection, or dogs did it themselves, finding value in shirking their innate tendency to avoid people.

Recent research, says the BBC‘s Jonathan Amos, lends support to the idea that when people started to settle down and rely primarily on agriculture is also when the dogs moved in to town.

“This second hypothesis says that when we settled down, and in conjunction with the development of agriculture, we produced waste dumps around our settlements; and suddenly there was this new food resource, a new niche, for wolves to make use of, and the wolf that was best able to make use of it became the ancestor of the dog,” explained Erik Axelsson from Uppsala University.

One of the key developments that allowed early dogs to learn to love our trash, suggests the new research, was their evolution to become better able to digest the starchy, fatty foods left over by humans, on top of the carnivorous diets of their wild relatives. Discovery News:

“It is possible that waste dumps near early human settlements supplied early dogs with a substantial fraction of their nutritional needs,” Axelsson explained. “If so, they would have been eating leftovers of the food we were eating. That food might have included roots, cereals and food made from cereals, such as bread and porridge, in addition to some meat and bone marrow from discarded bones.”

On top of the recent genetic research, there are other reasons why early humans probably didn’t deliberately domesticate dogs by nabbing wolf pups from their dens. That evidence, says PBS, is that people have tried and failed to do just that:

“We’ve got a graduate student doing it now. You take them out of the den when they are 13 days old and their eyes aren’t open, and you spend 24 hours a day with them, socializing them with people, bottle feeding them. You have to have a time surplus society like mine, where you have graduate students with nothing else to do. Mesolithic people would have been struggling for life. They wouldn’t have had time.” In addition, Coppinger says, even tamed wolves aren’t likely to be docile when it comes to food-or breeding. “I work with tamed wolves all the time. I don’t care how tame they are, try to take their bone away. It’s even worse when it comes to breeding. You start to fool around with wolves when they’re in a courtship performance, you could die right there on the spot.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Brief History of the St. Bernard Rescue Dog
How Ancient Greeks Named Their Puppies

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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