Dogs have walked beside men for more than fourteen thousand years when the human-canine bond emerged. During the Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago, large mammals occupied the Eurasian Arctic tundra and were the target of two weaker and smaller types of hunters: men and wolves.
These two species of hunters had characteristics in common as well as complementary attributes and capacities. Both had a family-based group organization, lived in packs, and had similar diets and social skills. It is for this reason that instead of competing for the same prey, they developed a natural strategic alliance consisting of hunting together, allowing them to prevail over other species.
This alliance improved the chances of survival of early human groups, influenced the evolution of both humans and wolves, and emerged as one of the most lasting and fascinating inter-species relationships of history: the friendship between men and dogs.
Later, in neolithic times, the hunters of Asia migrated to southern lands between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Humans slowly changed their hunting lifestyle to become planters and farmers settled in the Mesopotamia, home of numerous early civilizations. This transition from nomad, individualistic hunters to agricultural settlements resulted in an a significative demographic increase and the development of a social organization with a stronger collective sentiment. Due to the need to perform new tasks, men began to domesticate farm animals for practical reasons, and the integration of dogs into men’s new activities played a major role in the advancements made during this period in the history of humanity, approximately 10,000 years ago.
Archeological evidence of the existence of a canine-human relationship are numerous and date from more than 30,000 years ago. For instance, a 50-meter trail of footprints of a boy and a large canid lies in the Chauvet cave, in France. This finding suggests that, approximately 26,000 years ago, this child walked inside the cave accompanied by his pet. Moreover, fossilized remains found in different parts of Europe, including the Kesslerloch cave, as well as in different places in Asia, confirmed that, 14,000 years ago, domestic dogs were part of humans’ entourage. Although the fossils found in the Goyet Cave, in Belgium, and Southern Siberia suggest that the origin of the domestic dog dates back to more than 30,000 years, scientists think that the Ice Age could be the reason why neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages survived.
Also, the discovery of dog burials demonstrate early pet domestication as well as the fact that humans gave dogs a special status. The oldest case of a double grave, consisting of a dog being buried next to a human, dates from about 14,000 years ago and is located in Bonn Overkassel, Germany. In America, this type of evidence dates from around 10,000 years ago and was found in Danger Cave, in Utah.
Studies of Mitochondrial DNA provide genetic evidence that wolves are the ancestors of domestic dogs and suggest that current major dog populations have a common origin. During the process of evolution of wolves into dogs, genetic changes have occurred. These include an overall size reduction as well as other morphological skeleton variations.
Settlement led to substantial changes in humans’ lifestyles influencing dogs’ habits and functions. Unlike nomad primitive men, sanitation was a concern for settled civilizations. Therefore, the most sociable and friendly canids of the group were allowed to roam around camps to control rats, insects, and rotten food. Consequently, only friendly canids lived close to people and under their protection. These dogs turned out to be healthier and more likely to reproduce. This human selection of the desirable characteristics in a dog was the starting point of the latter’s friendly nature. The deliberate control of breeding generated dogs with the ability to hunt, track, guard, herd, and provide company or assistance.