A Breed Apart: Boning up on Man's Best Friend

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History Again.

A 12,000-year-old grave in Israel has touching evidence of the long, close relationship between humans and dogs. The grave contains a human skeleton whose hand rests upon the bones of a small puppy. Through the centuries dogs have given people loyalty, aid, and companionship. So what did people do to get such understanding and helpful friends? Well, actually, they created them themselves.


(Image credit: Flicker user ucumari)

Scientists have discovered 400,000-year-old wolf bones mingled with human bones. But they believe that the man and the wolf relationship goes back hundred of thousands of years before that. Early humans probably first used wolves as food; but the wolves would have also been using humans, scavenging through their garbage dumps and over time moving closer and  closer to the center of camp and the human's food source-the campfire. After a while, the gentler wolves were accepted by humans as part of the group.

Wolf packs and early human tribes had a lot in common. They were both willing to follow a leader, cooperate, and work together to protect members of their group. So, a wolf-human cooperation was natural-especially when it came to hunting.

Wolves began to follow humans when they went hunting. Wolves gave off cues when prey was around and humans soon figured out that wolves possessed a superior sense of smell and could detect prey at long distances. Man and wolf began to cooperate and eventually wolves became active participants and true partners with humans in the hunt for food.


When selecting a wolf pal, humans naturally favored the most cooperative animals. They associated cooperative behavior with a puppylike appearance in an adult wolf and encouraged those animals to stick around. They also began picking out the most gentle, trainable puppies to raise.

(Image credit: Flickr user Paul Moody)

In effect humans replaced nature's selection process with a man-made one. And after thousand of years of human meddling-about 14,000 years ago-a new animal evolved. Thanks to domestication and their diet, these animals had smaller brains, heads, and teeth than wolves. We call them dogs. As wolves evolved into dogs, they became even more important to humans because of their usefulness and their companionship.

Dogs have always had a wide variety of size and body proportions, but about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, folks tinkered with Mother Nature in earnest to create specialized working and companion dogs. That's when the difference in breeds really began to emerge.

The Romans bred and trained working dogs and lap dogs. As breeding continued, dogs became more and more specialized. Herding dogs were bred to work with livestock. Sporting dogs were bred for bird hunting. Hounds were bred to hunt by scent or by sight.  Working dogs were bred to perform many tasks, including herding, hauling, and guarding. Terriers were bred to hunt rodents and other vermin. Toy breeds were bred to be companions and some of those were bred to be simply lap warmers.


(Image credit; Flickr user United States Marine Corps)

Alexander the Great was said to have helped develop a huge breed called Molossus, as a battle dog that could knock a man right off a horse. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors used kill-trained greyhounds and large Mastiff-type dogs against Native Americans and to assist in their conquest of the New World.

During the Civil War, dogs were used for sentry duty, to guard prisoners, and to accompany troops as mascots. In World War I, dogs were used to detect enemy forces, carry messages, search battlefields for wounded soldiers, and evacuate wounded soldiers by pulling small ambulance carts. Dogs also cheered up soldiers at the front lines and those wounded in hospitals.

During World War II, the United States really got serious about using dogs to protect its military and military-related property. Scout dogs were used to good advantage in Vietnam; they served double duty as security dogs. Mine-detector dogs and tunnel dogs were both trained during this conflict. Vietnam also saw the development of the tracker dog. Tracker dogs were used to hunt down the enemy.

The modern canine soldier is trained to save lives, not take them. American war dogs help our troops avoid potentially deadly encounters. They work as sentries on sensitive military installations, or lead their handlers to hidden caches of weapons, explosives, and drugs.


(Image credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk)

The organized use of dogs in law enforcement for the apprehension of criminals was established in the early 1900s. Working German shepherds became so good at helping law enforcement personnel that they were nicknamed "police dogs". The idea of using dogs for police work was largely brought about by the development of and organization of purebred dog clubs. The earliest examples of police dog programs were those in Germany, Belgium, and England.


Dogs have been successful as a species because they have adapted well to the needs and desires of humans for loyalty, companionship, and assistance. Dogs and people communicate effectively through voice, body language, and facial expressions, though in many ways dogs are much better at understanding humans than humans are at understanding dogs.

Dogs and humans have a relationship that is based on mutual support. Dogs have a greater difficulty surviving on their own and a dog's dependence on humans make it a sensitive pal, cooperative and responsive to its owner's moods. Dogs are wonderful companions, they help people make a living, and they save lives. Man's best friend is even a healer, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.

Dogs may be mankind's greatest accomplishment-the creation of a superior being. After all, a dog will never turn o you as long as you treat it right. The same can't be said about people.


"Dogs look up to you. Cats look down on you. Give me a pig. He just looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal." -Winston Churchill


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History Again.

The book is a compendium of entertaining information chock-full of facts on a plethora of history topics. Uncle John's first plunge into history was a smash hit - over half a million copies sold! And this sequel gives you more colorful characters, cultural milestones, historical hindsight, groundbreaking events, and scintillating sagas.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute

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It probably didn't take "thousand of years of human meddling" to change the wolf into a dog. A Russian scientist managed to alter foxes' behavior to dog-like behavior in just 40 years.

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I volunteer at the Humane Society, walking dogs and helping train them. It's tremendously satisfying (and fun), and I'd advise anyone who likes being around dogs to check out their local HS.
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Other side of coin, North Carolina Highway Patrol beating service dogs, btw, he WAS fired from Highway Patrol and then HIRED by town of Apex NC where he is still active in police force

Warning, this video can be disturbing

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