Love story

Relationships between humans and dogs

source: Karen E Lange
National Geographic vol 201 no 1 January 2002
starts p12, 20 pages long
from 'Wolf to Woof' starts p2, 30 pages long

Dogs have benefited from a long term relationship with humans and have grown in numbers, while wolves have become scarcer. There are some 68 million dogs just in the US, or one dog per four humans. Most of these dogs aren’t working dogs. They may live in city apartments, or in hunting packs. Some 40 million US households have dogs .

There is very little difference between wolves and dogs. The difference between wolves and dogs in terms of most variable mitochondrial DNA markers is only just over 1%, according to Robert Wayne, geneticist. Wayne’s studies indicate that dogs started to break away some 100,000 years ago. There have been finds of early human and wolf fossils from 400,000 years ago, though the earliest find of human and dog fossils dates back to 14,000 years ago. Dogs and/or wolves seem to have developed a relationship with humans prior to humans having developed permanent settlements and farming. Wolves may have helped humans to find and track prey.

As dogs developed, they became smaller and friendlier, and their markings changed. They could clean garbage, provide warmth for humans, warn of danger, and even be eaten. Dogs were described by Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. There were many working dogs in 17th century England, and their jobs included herding and providing power for turnspits. Breeding took off in the 19th century, with private registries being set up. The Kennel Club recognises 196 breeds, and the American Kennel Club recognises 150. Companion dogs are kept by 94% of dog owners in the US, while 6% of owners have dogs for hunting, and 4% have them for farming.

There is concern that dogs may be affected by selective breeding for their looks, leading them to become less healthy and less useful as working dogs. Dogs can be extremely useful for work, such as hunting retrieving, helping disabled people as service dogs, drug sniffing, and search and rescue.