By Linda Cole
Regardless of how human and canine paths came together, the history we share is unique and special. Early dogs weren’t the cuddly, family-friendly pets we cherish today, and domestication was likely initiated by the animal and not by man. The history of dogs is filled with fascinating facts.
Dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingoes, jackals and foxes are members of the Canis Family. (Canis comes from the Greek word kūon and means “dog”). These animals are opportunistic, adaptable, intelligent and found in every habitat on Earth. Their early history goes back to around 65 million years ago to a carnivore that resembled a weasel, the Miacis (My-ah-sis) that made its home in trees and dens in Europe, China and North America. These creatures evolved into the Tomarctus (Toe-mark-tus), a hyena-like animal that lived about 15 million years ago and lived throughout North America. These animals are thought to be direct ancestors of the Canis Family – prehistoric dogs.
The Tomarctus had five toes on their back feet, but as it evolved into Canids, the fifth toe became immature, and the remnants of the fifth toe are seen in the dew claws found on the back feet of wolves and some dog breeds.
One of the first Canids, the dawn-wolf, looked like a fox with an elongated body. This creature was as cat-like as he was dog-like, living in and climbing through trees. It’s believed this animal could be related to the feline species as well as to Canids.
Because the domestication process happened so long ago, and archaeological findings have provided small clues, scientists are divided on the evolution of wolves. They are equally divided on the origin of where wolves first lived. One theory says Canids began in North America before spreading out to areas in South America and Asia.
It’s possible the grey wolf had a smaller ancestor that crossed the Bering Strait land bridge to Siberia where it evolved before making its way back to Canada and the United States as the wolf we know today. And a third theory suggests Canids began in North America, found their way to Asia, and then migrated back.