What if we could be like heroes in a fantasy and be accompanied by a fully customizable side kick? A creature so complimentary to our way of life that it offered a kind of superhuman partnership. A guardian whose senses were keener than those of a genius detective, a protector with speed and endurance beyond that of an Olympian, and a friend whose courage rivaled the bravest warrior? What if this companion kept us as playful as a child even into old age, and just a little wild even through the most refined routines? And what if, despite its endless gifts, it appeared to enjoy the partnership even more than we did? Where on earth would we find such a being? Among the monsters of the forest might seem the least likely place. But as it turns out, that is exactly where they came from. For these beings are no fantasy, and we need not be a hero to have them by our side, even though our dogs often make us feel like one.

There is now a dog breed to compliment every modern lifestyle. The official total, according to the American Kennel Club, is 190 recognized breeds. Dog diversity extends even further through the sheer number of individual canines now living among us: there are currently over 75 million dogs in the United States alone. From the tinniest 5lb terriers sternly enforcing our regiments of urban hustle and bustle, to the mightiest 200lb mastiffs regally guarding our pastoral country estates, the variety of dogs eager to join our ranks appears to defy the concept of a common ancestor. How can a purse-traveling Pekingese and a Special Forces German shepherd descend from the same stock? The answer points to something well beyond their varied physical appearance and it accounts for what has enshrined them as man’s best friend all along: dogs live for the people who keep them.

Big and small, we now know that all dogs evolved from certain packs of prehistoric wolves that first sensed the potential power of a partnership. We’ve traced the diverse lines of evidence through the phylogenetic tree of dog evolution, and found that all lead back to a long lost legion of predators who transitioned from hunting us to hunting with us. But how did our ancient alliance with dogs overcome the prehistoric fear that separated us from wolves? How did we ultimately earn such protective friendship from what had long been the fiercest phantoms of our nightmares?

I give you wolves to dogs, and how it began.


Select Bibliography for Wolves to Dogs

David Grimm, “Dogs may have been domesticated more than once,” Science, June 2, 2016.

Douglas Brewer, Terence Clark, & Adrian Phillips, Dogs in Antiquity: Anubis to Cerberus, Aris & Phillips, 2001.

Ed Yong, “A New Origin Story For Dogs,” The Atlantic, Jun 2, 2016.

Katherine M. Rogers, First Friend: A History of Dogs and Humans, St. Martin’s Press, 2005.

Laura Hobgood-Oster, A Dog’s History of the World: Canines and the Domestication of Humans, Baylor University Press, 2014.

Mark Derr, How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to our Best Friends, Overlook Duckworth, 2011.

Raymond Coppinger & Lorna Coppinger, Forward by Alan M. Beck, What is a Dog?, The University of Chicago Press, 2016.



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