The Genetics Behind our dog’s loyalty. We have hundreds of dog breeds; all of different shapes and sizes.
A study carried out on foxes can help us somewhat understand how we have the modern-day dog from wolf descent. In this study, they found that as foxes became domesticated, their hormone levels changed. Specifically their adrenal stress levels.
The reduction in stress hormone levels was linked to changing coat colour and piebaldness. Not only this, as they subsequently bred more docile and tame animals, they noticed other changes such as; floppy ears, curly tails and changes in skull shape and size. Suggesting that the behavioural and environmental changes affected their physical appearance.
As time progressed, humans, despite not understanding the concept of selective breeding, would have promoted it. Humans would have killed a dog who attacked or bit someone, those dogs who worked well on the hunt would have been cared for – increasing their chances of reproductive success. Humans would have noticed those tendencies in puppies, suitable dogs would have been kept, fearful or aggressive dogs would not.
The differing opinion on the timescale of the domesticated dog suggests two alternative theories. If we are to consider that the dog became domesticated some 135,000 years ago, it is suggested that dogs exploited a niche for humans to care for them. If we consider the more recent time line, it is argued that humans fueled the domestication to serve as guards or companions.
Either way, what we do know, even modern day dogs share similar genes to the ancient wolf.
For whatever reason, humans inadvertently developed a selective breeding program. They would feed and care for those sociable and accepting dogs. They would promote those traits which were beneficial to humans; only allowing those dogs who demonstrated them to breed.
One study identified three particular genes, which in multiple variants or structures, or even missing, would contribute to how friendly the dog was. This does make complete sense in terms of domestication and selective breeding.
There is no denying that dogs are dependent on humans.
Studies have shown that if presented with an impossible task, dogs will attempt the task before quickly gazing at their owner as if to ask for help. Cats, on the other hand, will continue to attempt the task. We always say cats are the independent ones!
So is it a fact that we have domesticated them that much, they need us?
To feed them, shelter them and to help them solve problems? Potentially. But that doesn’t explain how they have developed such human-like social skills and as us dog owners know, the illusion that they do actually care for us?
We know that dogs are incredible at reading human cues. Try it.
Fill an opaque container with food, then ask your dog where the food is. If you point to the container, dogs generally show impressive flare in solving this problem, based on your cue. Cats don’t.
Dogs also demonstrate amazing empathy towards humans. Researchers explored how dogs would react to their owners being upset, along with complete strangers. What they found won’t surprise you. When their owner or a complete stranger cried, the dog would show increased interest as opposed to them humming or talking. The dog would sniff, nuzzle and lick both owners and strangers alike. The dog would also present as calm and submissive.
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