New Research on Date of Dog Domestication

May 25, 2015

Some people hate the fact that scientists are always changing their minds about stuff.

Eggs are healthy!

Eggs are bad for you!

No wait, not actually that bad after all!


I have no problem with this kind of thing, personally.* In fact, I think this kind of flexibility is one of science’s greatest assets. We collect some data, we form a hypothesis. We get new data, we update our ideas. We move from simple to complex and we leave room for the unknown.

Granted, I am a scientist, so I may be a bit biased here. 😀

One of the subjects that’s been debated a lot in the past few years is when dogs became the fully domesticated bed hogs we know and love today. One camp says around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, when humans discovered agriculture and formed settled communities. The other, which got some new support this week, favours 30,000-45,000 years, during our hunting-and-gathering era.

border collie

by Othal, via Wikimedia Commons

It has to be pointed out that the question “when did dogs become dogs” requires us to draw a highly arbitrary line in the nonexistent sand. Domestication is a form of evolution, and evolution is a process – it’s tiny changes over time, and the connecting links in the chain don’t look a whole lot different from each other. It’s only when we look at the endpoints (“Wolf, meet Chihuahua!”) that we can clearly see the scale of the change.

That being said, I’m a fan of this new data, if for no other reason than the fact that I actually know Love Dalén, the lead author. We collaborated on the first world-wide study of arctic fox genetics, back in my grad school days, and he’s both a great scientist and a great guy.

Hey, I told you I was biased. 😀

Want to know more about how we got domestic animals? Check out my book Fox Talk for details on an amazingFox Talk book cover experiment that helped find out! 

Are you frustrated by scientific flip-flops? Love a good origin story? Ever wonder where your dog actually came from? Share your stories in the comments!

* I do have a problem with eggs, though. I am allergic to those, as I discovered the hard way when an anaesthesiologist injected me with some. Recovering from the drug reaction was worse than recovering from the surgery.

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