Where Did Dogs Come From? – A Brief History on The Evolution of Dogs

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The Origin of Prehistoric Dogs – The Domestication of the Pleistocene Gray Wolf

Note: Pleistocene refers to a Geological Epoch (from 3mya to 12,000 BP (BP = before present). The Pleisocene Epoch includes the last ice age when glaciers covered huge parts of the globe.

Pleistocene Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) were the first animal that early hominins or ancient humans (Homo sapiens) formed a mutualistic relationship with. This occurred during the Pleistocene Epoch. A mutualistic relationship is when two different species work together so that both organisms benefit from the relationship. These ancient humans most likely profited and learned from wolves and this relationship allowed ancient humans to outcompete other hominins such as the Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis), and even enable them to travel to areas that would otherwise have been inhospitable.

From times stemming as far back as the Middle Pleistocene period, bones have been found from wolves associated with early hominids. A site in North China dated at 300,000 years BP (before present), a cave in the south of France dates at 150,000 years BP, and a site in Kent, England dated at 400,000 years BP are just some examples of archaeological finds to highlight the association between hominids and wolves.

Earliest Domestication – The Paleolithic Dog

Note: Paleolithic refers to the Cultural Debris such as stone and bone tools that were found during the Pleistocene Epoch. During the Paleolithic period (~ 2.5 mya to 12,000 BP) early hominins (ancient humans) lived in caves, huts, or tepees. They were hunter/gatherers.

Gray wolves were the first domesticated mammal. They have interacted with humans for thousands of years, with evidence pointed to some time predating human agriculture and occurring in the Old World over 30,000 years ago. There are conflicting views as to how, when, or why the relationship first formed but it is widely accepted that ancient gray wolves and humans not only lived near each other for thousands of years, but they hunted many of the same animals and learned from each other.

Both humans and wolves lived in groups (wolf packs/hunter-gatherer societies or villages) and both developed social skills such as communication and cooperation and it is believed that these similarities were the catalyst to the evolution of dogs. Although most wolves would have avoided humans, there were a few that got close enough to humans to be able to eat food scraps. These canines (village wolves) originated from Pleistocene gray wolves, probably from a population now extinct. Humans allowed the friendlier wolves to stay and live nearby, which was quite beneficial to the village wolves as there was a regular easy food source and they thrived. The trait of friendliness was passed to their offspring. Over time, the descendants of the original village wolves changed in both physical and behavioural ways. Selection of traits was not only an evolutionary mechanism but also resulting from bottlenecking or founder effects. The bottleneck effect occurs when there is a sharp reduction in the size of a population, in this case due to the village wolves no longer associating with the original wolves, and thus massively reducing the size of the gene pool available for breeding. The descendants of these particular wolves are sometimes referred to as Paleolithic (Canis c.f. familiaris) or prehistoric dogs. They were smaller than the wolves of their time and much less aggressive. Over time, the Paleolithic dogs’ tails began to curl, ears became floppy instead of erect, coat colour variations developed, teeth were smaller, and their snouts were shorter than the other wolves. Eventually, something that we would recognize as a dog emerged. This was a long-term process, not a singular event, and occurred over many thousands of years.

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When Did the Domestic Dog First Appear?

Archaeological evidence pointing to domesticated dog (Canis familiaris) is dated around the end of the last Ice Age. At this time, humans were hunters and gathers and agriculture did not yet exist. The oldest domestic dog remains found so far were located at a site in Germany and are dated as being from the late Paleolithic period at 14,000 BP.

Why Did Humans Domesticate Wolves?

Hunters probably killed mature wolves for their fur, for self defence or possibly because both humans and wolves often hunted the same animals for food, and they were competition.  Pups left behind were likely killed for food too but occasionally may have been kept instead. Those pups would become habituated to the group and be tamed. Wolf pups that grew more aggressive as they matured would have been killed and those that were more submissive and easier to tame would have been kept as hunting companions, for comfort or warmth, and for protection from outside threats.

The Domestic Dog

As time went on, these new animals, dogs, became useful in many other ways. Some were used to pull sleds for travel, while others were used to guard livestock after sheep were domesticated at the start of the agricultural period. The process of selection breeding continued until multiple varieties of stock dogs had emerged. These stock dogs or Landrace dogs are the foundation of most other working breeds. One example of a Landrace dog is the Scotch Collie. Other breeds that emerged from the Scotch Collie are the Border Collie and the Rough Collie.

Learn more about Border Collies and Landrace Dogs here:

Some wolves were chosen for specific physical and behavioural traits to breed with other similar wolves because they were more useful and less dangerous. The amazing evolutionary processes that subsequently occurred could not have been predicted. It is not at all probable that ancient humans were aware they were helping to create a brand-new species however they played a significant role as the main catalyst in the domestication process. The domestication of wolves would never have occurred without human intervention, even if other events such as bottlenecking, and natural selection also played a significant part in the creation of dogs.

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A Little Bit About Siberian Husky History

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Siberian Husky sled dogs - dog sledding team of Siberian Huskies
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The Siberian Husky is an active, intelligent working dog belonging to the Spitz (Northern Breeds) genetic family of dogs. All Spitz dogs have similar appearance however their size varies greatly. They have double coats and most have a recognizable tail that curves over the back.  Spitz dogs are well suited to live in harsh northern climates and can be classified as sled dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, companion dogs and Asian dogs.

Where did Siberian Huskies come from?

So where did Siberian Huskies come from? Well, they originated from a place in Northeast Asia and as you can probably guess by their name, that place was the Siberian Arctic, where dogs have been essential to the survival of humans for almost 10 thousand years. Siberian Huskies were actually bred by the Chukchi people. They were used to pull their sleds, and this allowed them to travel to the best hunting spots (which were often too far to get there and back in one day) in the same day.

How did Siberian Huskies get from Siberia to Alaska and the Canadian Arctic?

Many dogs were imported to Alaska from Eastern Siberia and the surrounding regions during the gold rush to use as sled dogs. In 1908, when polar exploration was becoming popular a Russian fur trader named William Goosak came to Alaska to enter the All Alaska Sweepstakes race, with a team of little Chukchi dogs he had bought at a local fair on the Siberian peninsula. The Chukchi dogs were small in size and big in power and endurance. They had a reputation as excellent sled dogs with incredible endurance skills so he thought they would do well in the 408 mile race. Other dog sledders watched as Goosak and his dog teams excelled in the sledding world. One man, Leonhard Seppala was very impressed with these little Chukchi dogs so he also imported some. Seppala started breeding his dogs and built a formidable team. He competed in races from 1909 to the 1920’s and did exceptionally well, winning multiple championships and building the reputation of the little Chukchi dogs. Impressed with the performance of Goosak’s dogs, another dog sledder named Fox Maule Ramsey decided to purchase 70 of the little Siberian Chukchi dogs from Siberia and bring them to North America by freighter across the Bering Sea. With those dogs, Ramsey entered 3 teams in the 1910 race and placed first, second and fourth. The popularity of the little Chukchi dogs skyrocketed in Alaska.

Team of Siberian Huskies - sled dogs at work
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The Creation of the Modern Siberian Husky

Almost all modern Siberian Huskies descended from a group of Siberian Chukchi sled dog imports. These dogs were owned by Leonhard Seppala. The most notable was Seppala’s lead dog called Togo. In 1925, a small group of dog sledders successfully transported desperately needed diphtheria serum across 965 km of treacherous arctic terrain, from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, Alaska. What was said to be the longest (422km) and most dangerous portion of the journey was carried out by Leonhard Seppala, his team of little Chukchi’s and his now famous incredible lead dog Togo. Exportation from Siberia of more Chukchi dogs continued until it was halted in 1930 by the Russian army.

Antarctica - Siberian Huskies were used extensively as sled dogs during the British Antarctic Survey from 1945 to 1994
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In 1930, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Chukchi sled dogs as “Siberian Huskies”. In 1938, The United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the breed however they named the dogs “Arctic Huskies”, eventually changing the name to Siberian Husky in 1941. During the British Antarctic Survey (1945-1994) Siberian Huskies were used extensively as sled dogs and enabled the success of the mission.

Siberian Huskies at play
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The modern Siberian Husky dog is friendly and gentle. They are good with children and can make a good family pet if their behavioural needs are properly met. Siberian Huskies are a highly active breed. They will often howl rather than bark. They are known as great escape artists, often digging, chewing or jumping their way out of backyards, especially if they are bored. Siberian Huskies have a high prey drive and this means they are not often good around small animals, especially fast moving ones. Generally, these dogs do not show any aggression towards humans so they do not make very good guard dogs. Their typical life span is 12 to 14 years.

Siberian Husky Puppy
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Today, Siberian Huskies are a popular breed. They are still used frequently for dog sledding but also now kept as family pets. Aside from pulling sleds, Siberian Huskies excel at many dog sports including agility, rally obedience, skijoring, bikejoring and carting. If you decide to own a Siberian Husky, you need to keep the dog active and involved in structured sports and will hopefully live in a cooler climate as they do not do well in hot climates.

DISCLAIMER & PRIVACY: I participate in affiliate marketing programs. If you click on a link from my blog to one of these affiliates for product purchase, your origin here will be tracked only for the purpose of paying me a very small amount (with no effect on pricing for you).