Our relationship with our furry pals trails back 30,000 years. Yes, dogs are the first animal species to be tamed by man. But do you know where dogs originate from? Many say dogs evolved from wolves. How true is this?
Genetic investigations into the origin of dogs reveal dogs descended from an ancient wolf population called grey wolf. Studies show that the earliest ancestor of the modern dog DNA began breaking out of today’s wolf some 40,000 years ago. Breeds like ShibaInu, Chow Chow, and the Siberian share remarkable genetic identities with wolves.
The evolution of dogs to wolves is quite a comprehensive one. When did this evolution occur? How long did the evolution last? Which dog breeds share the most genetic similarity with wolves? These are some of the exciting questions we will address in this guide.
How Do Dogs Evolve From Wolves?
Scientists estimate that the evolution of dogs from wolves started some 40,000 years ago. While there has not been a scientifically established pathway of evolution, many researchers opine that the domestication of wolves (and consequent evolution of wolves into today’s dogs) started when less aggressive wolves started intermingling with early men.
Thanks to such burgeoning man-wolf camaraderie, these wolves were progressively integrated into human communities. Their human handlers most likely provided food and shelter for them, so these wolves had far less hunting to do.
Consequently, these wolves lost a massive chunk of their aggression, further experiencing even significant changes in their physiology and genetic makeup. These genetic deviations were passed down across the years, consolidating into the modern dog.
What Dog Breeds Have the Most Wolf DNA?
While some dogs only share physical resemblance with wolves, some have stunning genetic similarities. Let us tell you about some of them.
This dog closely mirrors the wolf facially and genetically. One of the oldest dog breeds alive, the Shiba Inu, originated about 3,000 years ago in Japan.
The Shiba Inu shares the muscular build of a well-nourished wolf, also retaining the latter’s famed triangular eyes. It doesn’t stop there. A notable slice of a wolf’s temper is demonstrated in ShibaI nus.
Moving beyond the surface, scientists have revealed that today’s Shiba Inu shares an estimated 5.5% genetic similarity with Japanese wolves.
Interestingly, the Siberian husky’s genome has been specially traced to the ancient Siberian wolf. Studies reveal that Inuit huskies share strong ancestral links with the Taimyr wolves, which existed approximately 35,000 years ago.
The Chow Chow is one of the foremost East Asian dogs borne out of the extensive domestication of dogs from the grey wolf.
Unlike most European dog breeds that experienced noteworthy selective breeding across the past five centuries, the Chow Chow yet retains a massive chunk of its genetic linkage to its wolfish ancestors.
When Did Dogs Evolve from Wolves?
Dogs are the first species man domesticated. The domestication of the earliest dog breeds can be traced back to the Pleistocene Age.
Genetic inquisitions into the origin of dogs show that man began domesticating dogs 25,000 years ago. The earliest species of dogs domesticated then are believed to have directly evolved from the Eurasian grey wolf.
Archaeologists and geneticists agree that the earliest DNA divergence of dogs from wolves happened around 40,000 years ago.
But then molecular evidence showed that that man had started taming the grey wolf 130,000 years ago.
The evolution of dogs from wolves was further complicated by interbreeding between the earliest dog species and ancient wolves. However, scientists are confident that the wolves we have today are not the direct ancestor of the dog.
How Long Did It Take for Dogs to Evolve from Wolves?
While the period where dogs started to show marked genetic differentiation from wolves has been figured out, scientists are yet to arrive at the specific interval between which the dog fully evolved from the wolf.
However, there is a consensus in the scientific community that the evolution was very rapid, with significant interbreeding between untamed wolves and domesticated dogs as humans traveled from one part of the earth to another.
It is difficult to accurately stipulate how many genetic mutations dogs have experienced since their ancestors were domesticated. This is especially given that the first domestication happened tons of years ago.
What Physical Qualities Distinguish Dogs from Wolves?
Despite the acute similarities in the DNA makeup, there are still notable physical differences between a wild wolf today and a domesticated dog. This is particularly when dogs like dachshunds and Chihuahuas are mirrored against today’s wolves.
Let us start with the teeth. The dog’s teeth are significantly smaller than the wolf’s. Scientists explain this as dogs growing smaller teeth across the generations given the waning need to break and bite as a typical wolf hunting in the wild would.
A dog’s jaws are also smaller than a wolf’s, with the latter more muscular and better built than a dog’s.
How about the eyes?
Depending on the dog breed, dogs have bigger eyes with a bit rounder curvature than wolves. While dogs like the Boston Terrier and Pug have rounder and bigger eyes, wolves most times have sheathed (smaller) eyes shaped like almonds.
A wolf traditionally has pointed ears. These ears are longer and way more erect than the floppy ears we see in dogs like the Beagle and Bloodhound.
Lastly, the wolf’s feet are stronger and bigger than a dog’s. Unlike dogs, the wolf’s middle and front toes are substantially longer than the toes on the side.
This build gives the wolf a speed advantage over dogs. Wolves consequently have a superior spring with enhanced energy optimization over longer distance runs.
The wolf’s larger paws enable it to survive diverse habitats, ranging from hot desert sand to chilled terrains.
While dogs tend to share the wolf’s double coat, the coloring often differs. Dogs can have coats of various colors. But a wolf’s coat is mostly any (or a minimal combination) of gray, brown, and white.
Can Wolves and Dogs Mate?
Yes, wolves can be successfully mated with dogs. From time immemorial, dogs and wolves have been inter breeding in the wild and territories where their habitations overlap.
But there are some things to bear in mind when you breed wolves with dogs. First, the genetic composition of the resultant hybrid can be really diverse.
You can’t accurately predict the appearance or even temperament of the wolfdog hybrid. They are a bit difficult to control and don’t make the most loyal pals. Wolfdogs are not protective dogs.
Contrary to prevailing myths, a wolfdog hybrid is not healthier than a dog, nor does it live longer. A large dog’s lifespan is almost the same as that of a wolfdog, with both equally healthy.
How Close are Chihuahuas to Wolves?
The Chihuahua counts among dog breeds with the least resemblance with wolves.
While their ears are pointed as in wolves, Chihuahuas have a far smaller body with bigger eyes.
Wolves and Chihuahuas are also genetically divergent. Researchers probing the genetic link between Chihuahuas and wolves discovered that Chihuahuas have an IGF1 gene. This IGF1 gene is not present in grey wolves from Eurasia.
This shows that the Chihuahua – like most small dog breeds – have extensively mutated from the first dog species to be domesticated by man.
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