I love dogs. Two of the top five best creatures I’ve known in this life have been dogs. I’ve long held the sneaking suspicion that, if dogs had thumbs, they would be on the top of the food chain instead of humans. Everyone already knows that dogs are man’s best friend, but what most people probably don’t know is that we’ve been BFFs pretty much from the beginning of human civilization.
Let me start down this warm-and-fuzzy road by saying that pretty much none of the specifics of when, where or how dogs became dogs and dogs became domesticated is known for sure. Serious genetic studies in this area have not been going on very long, so the knowledge base and the amount of data is still pretty small. There is also some information that has been gathered from archeological sites that sheds some light, but mostly only glimmers, here and there. So this particular love story is still being figured out, for the most part.
There are a lot of things that are known, however. The first thing that is known is that all modern dogs, even that little yappy dog with the bow in its hair that you saw in some lady’s purse, are descended from wolves, specifically, the gray wolf. In fact, dogs and wolves are actually the same species — Canis lupus. Dogs are a subspecies of Canis lupus, called Canis lupus familiaris. One can only wonder what a wolf would think about that little factoid when it looked at a shih tzu. He would probably be horrified.
Actually, I should probably say dogs are descended from a gray wolf, instead of the gray wolf, because the gray wolves of today are not the wolves from which dogs evolved. Today’s gray wolves are more like genetic sisters to modern dogs, with both sharing a common gray wolf ancestor thousands of years ago. The actual strain of gray wolf from which both modern gray wolves and dogs descended is now extinct.