The relationship between people and dogs is unique among all other animals on the planet. Only dogs are capable of being not only companions for us but can do work such as herding sheep, sniffing out drugs, finding missing people, helping those who are disabled to become more independent, and entertain us. Scientists aren’t sure when the human canine friendship began, but a reasonable guess is that it has been going strong for more than 20,000 years.
In the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of France, which contains the earliest known cave paintings, there is a 50-metre trail of footprints made by a boy of about ten alongside those of a large canid that appears to be part-wolf, part-dog. The footprints, which have been dated by soot deposited from the torch the child was carrying, are estimated to be about 26,000 years old.
The first “dogs” probably remained fairly isolated from each other and from people most likely getting rid of waste from camp sites like bones from animals and other left overs for several thousand years. As dog became progressively more domesticated they would stay closer to the camps and eventually would live side by side with humans to the point that when people moved around on large-scale migrations so did their canine camp mates. The canines that lived with these early settlers would mix their genes with other similarly domesticated creatures and becoming increasingly more like the dogs we know and love today.
But what makes the dog-wolf paradigm especially misleading when looking towards wolves for guidance on how dogs would behave in the wild is that until recently, the studies of wolves in extremely artificial conditions. In the wild, wolf packs tend to be made up of close family members representing up to three generations. The father and mother of the first lot of cubs are the natural leaders of the pack, but the behavioural norm is one of co-operation rather than domination and submission. Feral or “village” dogs, which are much closer to the ancestors of pet dogs than they are to wolves, are highly tolerant of one another and organise themselves entirely differently from either wild or captive wolves.