By Sarah Beaurain
This essay covers the transition of the dog from its prehistoric ancestry, through the middle ages and Victorian Britain up to the present-day dog we recognise as our companion.
Below is the introduction to the thesis, and the entire paper is available for download in PDF format here:
Understanding the symbiosis between humans and canines To understand the origins of the dog, it is important to appreciate the origins of man. There is a symbiotic link between the two species that was critical in their evolution. Homo-sapiens is the sole surviving sub-species that evolved into humans. Around seven early human species evolved from hominids (great apes), all other sub-types became extinct including the Neanderthals which were larger and stronger than Homo-sapiens with larger brains. The Ice Age was a determining factor on which early humans would survive. The cooling climate reduced accessible vegetation and the quantities of large mammals available to hunt decreased. Early man had to change from a nomadic lifestyle, previously travelling to where the large game could be sought, to living in village settlements developing a type of early agriculture. (Adhikari, 2019) It was this shift in human settlement that established the initial connection with wolves emerging in close vicinity of humans. Naturally they would be mortal foes, conflicts between man and wolf typically resulted in death and injury for either or both and naturally wolves stayed away from man. However, the Ice Age and lack of food resources combined with the refuse piles of human food waste proved to be tempting for some wolves, who began to scavenge on this easily available food. The canines that surrounded these early settlements acted as sentinels to ward off attack from other tribes and wolves. It was mutually beneficial for all concerned. The Homo-sapiens were more slightly built than the Neanderthals, having smaller heads and necks allowed space for the development of vocal cords combined with their flexible jaws and lips they developed the ability to communicate through sound and facial expressions. Early canines were exposed to the development of speech in humans, and this enabled dogs to achieve an exceptional ability to understand human communication. (Coren, 2009) The benefits provided by having watchdogs and hunting companions allowed Homo-sapiens to outlast the Neanderthals. Archaeological scientists have found no canine remains around Neanderthal settlements. Co-evolution of the domestic dog and humans was mutually beneficial to both species and explains our ancient connection with dogs above other animals. (Coren, 2009) There is plenty of evidence of dog ownership in classical history. Roman, Byzantine, Chinese, Ancient Greek and Egyptian literature and illustrations depict dogs that resemble some of the modern breeds we see today, such as Greyhounds and Mastiffs. Although unlikely to be directly linked to modern breeds, they confirm that ancient cultures valued dogs as companions. (Coren, 2009). The invention of more sophisticated weaponry, in addition to people hunting game for sport rather than necessity, allowed breeds of dog to develop which were specifically tailored to the terrain and the particular prey animal they sought. The invention of the dog collar occurred at this time, elaborate and decorative collars have been found as well as illustrations of dogs wearing collars to signify prestige and owned status. (Coren, 2009) (Brewminate, 2018) A floor mosaic from Pompeii depicting a guard dog wearing a collar, dated 1st century.