The True Origin and Evolution of Dogs – Did you Know?

perro y lobo

Translated by Nick R

We all know that dogs are man’s best friend, and we can’t imagine a life without their companion.

But where did they come from? When did they become so important to us?

The origins of dogs 

Throughout the years, the origin of dogs has been a topic of debate in the scientific community.

It is believed that the origin of the dog dates back to 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, in Europe. This is based on dog fossils found buried alongside humans and DNA samples.

A comparison of the dogs’ and wolves’ genes from all continents determined that all dogs have similar characteristics to the ancient dogs and wolves from Europe.

Anyway, there have been several theories about their origin, and some believed that the dog descended from the jackal or the coyote.

On the contrary, other scientists claimed that the only ancestor of the dog was the gray wolf or even that it was a cross between the wolf and the jackal (based on the breed diversity).

In 1997, SCIENCE magazine published a study in which DNA samples from 70 dog breeds were analyzed and compared with wolves, jackals and coyotes, thus confirming the sole ancestor of dogs:

baby wolf
Juanjo Menta, CC0, via Pexels

The wolf, with a genetic likeness of 99.8% according to this study.

So, how did wolfs evolve into dogs?

How were dogs domesticated? 

Animal domestication is considered a humankind milestone, comparable to the invention of the wheel.

And dogs were in fact the first animals to be domesticated, which is incredible considering that humans did not domesticate them directly.

Wolves approached human communities first and followed hunters and gatherers as a survival practice around 18,000 years ago.

A theory of why wolves approached human populations is that they saw an opportunity to feed on leftover food left by humans.

Given that wolves found it difficult to compete in hunting because of the complex society that humans were forming.

They would compete for food during hunting, and could even be each other’s prey, and although wolves were always excellent hunters, humans were able to build weapons such as spears and torches or tools with stones to scare them away and snatch their prey.

On the other hand, it is said that only the tamest wolves and with a more sociable personality to be accepted by humans managed to enter the settlements.

Thanks to this start in the relationship between both species, humans realized how helpful these animals could be in hunting, guarding, warfare and even as transport.

Consequently, humans began to select the tamest and most agreeable wolves to crossbreed with, and thus the dog as we know it today was born.

The appearance of the different breeds of dogs 

As I said before, wolves proved to be helpful in many work fields.

Therefore, humans would choose wolves that fulfilled specific traits for each job and crossbreed those individuals; at that moment, the over 400 breeds of dogs that we have today began to appear.

This practice is carried out nowadays, but contrary to ancient times, when it was done to facilitate work for humans, now it is done mainly for aesthetic reasons.

Although it could be said that domestication occurred naturally due to wolf survival reasons, the appearance of the different breeds of wolves was a natural process, the appearance of the different breeds was an artificial selection made by man.

Implications of the diversity of dog breeds 

I remember my biology classes at school when we talked about genetic variability.

When there is little genetic variability in a given population, they are more likely to have difficulties adapting to external changes, whether environmental changes or new diseases.

So you may wonder, what does this have to do with dogs?

Dog breeders crossbreed, as we know, the same breeds to keep them pure, which causes health problems in dogs.

Even though they are not strictly of the same family, being of the same breed results in different conditions for each breed.

For example, Pug dogs have breathing difficulties due to their small noses and the shape of their heads, which reduces their quality of life drastically.

This particular breed first appeared in China, and it was very different from what it is today.

Their muzzle was long and their legs matched their height, similar to a medium-sized dog.

Rahul Ratn, CC0, via Pexels

However, aristocrats and royalty saw these dogs as a sign of status, and crossbreeding sought to accentuate those characteristics that made them lovable:

Small size, bulging eyes, and flattened head.

Humans have over-manipulated the genetic traits of these dogs to make them look cute and as a consequence, they suffer all their lives from health problems.

So it happens with every pure breed, each one has different issues that can affect them throughout their lives or that can worsen in old age.

On the other hand, mixed-breed dogs, in which humans have not intervened in their reproduction, are healthier than pure breeds as they are not prone to suffer hereditary health problems.

Dogs today 

Dogs have gained a lot of significance for humans, as they are nowadays considered excellent companion animals and faithful friends.

Yet after so many years, they continue to assist humans in various jobs, some of which are:

Dogs in drug detection. 

Of the dog’s 5 senses, its sense of smell is the most developed, it is said to be 10,000 times more sensitive than humans, making it an essential member of the police and the army.

Some breeds are preferred over others for this type of training since they are better suited for intense training.

The most common are the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, and Rottweiler.

However, with proper training, any breed, including mongrel dogs, is capable of supporting security forces in detecting drugs.

You can usually see them at airports or customs.

The most common training known to teach a dog to detect drugs consists of playing with them and using association.

The trainer impregnates the dog’s favorite toy with a drug scent imitation and hides it. The dog is given positive reinforcement, like a treat, when he finds it.

Long sessions and bonding between the dog and its trainer are necessary to keep the dog motivated and to make the training a success.

Search and Rescue Dogs 

We already know dogs’ incredible olfactory ability, which is why they are not only used to detect illicit substances, but also to find people.

For example, in case of a natural disaster such as an avalanche, an overflowing river, or an earthquake that causes buildings to collapse.

Search and rescue dogs are trained to adapt to any type of situation and use their sense of smell and hearing to find potentially trapped people in need of help.

Therapy dogs 

Dogs can also be trained to assist in both psychological and physical therapy for all types of illnesses.

In physical therapies, they help patients regain lost mobility and cause a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.

In addition, the dog becomes a motivator for the patient to perform the therapy. In the psychological field, dogs help to improve the patient’s communication and socialization, decrease anxiety, improve self-esteem and overall create a positive environment for the person whether the patient has autism, Alzheimer’s, or different health problems.

Assistance and crisis detection dogs 

These dogs are specially trained to sense when their owner is about to have an epileptic seizure and warn him/her so that the person can reach safety and avoid physical harm.

The stronger the bond between the dog and its owner, the more effective the training will be; the dog can warn up to 15 minutes before the seizure occurs.

The dog also calls for help from family members, can push an emergency button, and supports the person to avoid injury, even looking for the medications the person will need when waking up.

Guide dogs 

Guide dogs are specifically trained to help blind people, and their training is very rigorous.

They can recognize potential dangers for the person they are guiding, avoid obstacles, warn the person if there are stairs, know the right time to cross the street and even lead the person to a free seat on the bus.

Among many other things. It can be said that they look after the welfare of the person they are guiding.


In short, the relationship between humans and dogs that began millions of years ago has greatly benefited us.

Dogs are faithful companions that not only help us in our daily chores but even have the capacity to save our lives.

Definitely, the evolution and domestication of dogs is a milestone in the history of humanity.