By Linda Cole
Scientists are still trying to unravel the mystery behind how wolves evolved into dogs. It happened so long ago, the only evidence scientists have to work with is in archaeological research into how humans evolved and fossilized teeth and bones of early canines. Researchers have a basic understanding of the approximate time when humans and wolves began to interact. New discoveries are occasionally found which adds another piece to the evolution puzzle; hopefully one day we’ll have a complete picture of how dogs became man’s best friend.
The scientific community is still debating whether wolves approached humans first or if it was the other way around. A partnership between man and domesticated wolves would have been a beneficial relationship; wolves could help bring down larger game with enough meat to share between humans and animals. With no refrigeration or knowledge of how to preserve meat, leftover kills wouldn’t have stayed fresh for long. Women were gatherers, collecting edible berries, roots, nuts, green plants and smaller animals. A tamed wolf would have given them protection as they searched for food.
The more likely scenario that led to domestication, however, was a mutual relationship of “you leave me alone and I won’t bother you” agreement between man and animal. With an advancing Ice Age, humans were forced to turn to other sources of food. Larger plant-eating animals began to die off as cooler temperatures caused their food source to become scarcer. Early humans were nomads following Mammoth and other large game because it didn’t make sense to carry a kill long distances. When their main meal, the Mammoth, became harder to find, humans were forced to turn to other sources of food. They gave up their nomad life about 10,000 years ago, settled down in small villages, and turned to agriculture for a food supply.
With the introduction of grains, the human digestive system began to evolve to better digest carbs, and scientific evidence shows the wolf’s digestive system also evolved at the same time and for the same reason. Modern dog has 10 genes that aid in digesting starches and breaking down fats. Scientists found changes in three of the genes, which is what makes it possible for dogs to split starches and absorb sugars. Today’s wolves can’t process starchy food, and that’s one thing that sets them apart from modern dogs. This discovery, however, has nothing to do with when dogs became our best friend.