The Dog-story

How domestication led to the dog’s incredibly fast evolution.

Approximately 16,000 years ago, south of the Yangtze River in China the first dog may have been born. But it is highly unlikely that modern dogs look or act anything like those ancient “first dogs.”  That’s because the history of dogs is one of incredibly fast mutations.  There are now more than 300 breeds of dogs in the world and the number is growing.  Even dogs of the same breed are genetically distinct.  Dr. Klingenberg has a simple explanation for this phenomenon: “Domestic dogs don’t live in the wild so they don’t have to run after things and kill them… so they can get away with a lot of variation that would [in the wild] lead to their extinction.”

Humans of course had a lot to do with this variety.  Small dogs, for example, probably originated in the Middle East because the people of the region “preferred smaller dogs because they were easier to house … where space was at a premium.”  And have you ever stopped to think how wonderfully cute your furry companion is?  That may not be an accident either.  Researchers suggest that how we view our dogs’ appearance may be having a profound effect on their evolution.  But that isn’t all we’re influencing.  The dog after all, “has been selected for living in a human environment and engaging in communicative interactions with humans for more than 10,000 years.”  It should therefore come as little surprise to find that modern dogs are smart.

Stanley Coren, one of whose books I recently reviewed, points out that dogs can “understand more than 150 words and intentionally deceive other dogs and people to get treats.”  And they can count.  According to Coren, dogs’ mental ability is roughly equal to that of a two or a two and a half year old child.  And dogs may be capable of what we call symbolic thinking.  Research has also shown that dogs can classify complex photographs into categories in the same ways people do.  In other words, upon creating a “category” of “dog,” a dog will put individual dogs—including those never seen before and even those seen only on a computer screen in the computer screen—in the “dog” category.  You may think that’s no big deal but the discovery that Neanderthals may have been capable of symbolic thinking (in other words that they may have been as smart as modern dogs) made the Science section of the New York Times.

If our canine friends keep evolving at this rate, I wonder what they will be like even a century from now. Do you think they will they be as smart as us?  I won’t ask if you think they will be as cute for I know that some people anyway think that our dogs are already cuter than humans.

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User Comments
  1. Anuradha Ramkumar

    On March 7, 2010 at 5:30 am

    You have done a detailed research on the topic and well presented. I enjoyed reading this article.

  2. Fatema

    On March 7, 2010 at 7:31 am

    very interesting

  3. mikky webs

    On March 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Well nourishing. Great share!


  4. dnarayana18

    On March 7, 2010 at 10:16 am

    nice information

  5. standingproud

    On March 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I too think this is a great effort on your part very well done Inna, I enjoyed tremendously

  6. yes me

    On March 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    A very interesting read in deed.
    cheers for the share

  7. Ruby Hawk

    On March 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    good question, I also wonder what we will look like in the far future.

  8. overwings

    On March 8, 2010 at 2:49 am

    If it goes on like this, soon I will ask my dog to do ironing and going shopping for me. Amazing what they can learn.

  9. Inna Tysoe

    On March 8, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Thank you everyone for your comments.

    LOL @ Overwings. Actually I was doing some of the research for this article about the time I was balancing my checkbook (not my favorite activity in the world) and you know when I read about dogs’ mathematical abilities all sorts of ideas came into my head…



  10. AlmaG

    On March 8, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Dogs are indeed smart but I don’t think they’ll be snmarter than us.

  11. diamondpoet

    On March 8, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Dogs are indeed smart, but I am a cat person, cats are pretty smart as well, well written article, and enjoyabel.

  12. ken bultman

    On March 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Very enjoyable read. My dogs can tell time, too.

  13. Brenda Nelson

    On March 8, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I would love to know how dogs deceive other dogs to get treats.

    I dont own a dog myself but have worked with them for years and really enjoy them. I often use dogs as an example when people say that evolution is not real.. yes it is.. just look at dogs.

  14. jennifer eiffel01

    On March 8, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Thank you for the fascinating article! Very well written!

  15. Inna Tysoe

    On March 8, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    @ B Nelson: I don’t now how dogs in general do it but this is what ours will do: they will both get their treats then one of them will leave the treat and rush off like something else is being handed out. The other one will follow in about 30% of the cases. Well, of course nothing is being handed out but while dog B is figuring that out dog A will have gotten both sets of treats….

  16. swatilohani

    On March 9, 2010 at 12:32 am

    great info friend

  17. sambhafusia

    On March 9, 2010 at 1:47 am

    Nice Share…keep work on..

  18. ganeshgolha

    On March 9, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Good share

  19. MartineP

    On March 9, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Great article. You might wonder how some breeds might survive in nature indeed. Look at a bulldog for example.

  20. nmizam

    On March 9, 2010 at 11:59 pm


  21. shivaleen

    On March 10, 2010 at 11:45 am

    really very intresting story

  22. mr1977

    On March 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    very nice stuff

  23. Goodselfme

    On March 12, 2010 at 5:12 am

    I have had a Chihuahua that designated herself to be the seeing eye dog for a Dingo dog. Now if that is not smart, I don’t know what is. the Dingo had inoperable cataracts so those 2 made it all work out.I think we just have not completely allowed ourselves to know how smart dogs really are. Enjoyed your write.

  24. Linvio

    On March 13, 2010 at 8:47 am

    i love dogs and I do love your story…

  25. Shamyl

    On March 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    good story…love dogs

  26. Nina Mason

    On August 19, 2010 at 4:08 am

    I like the way you think :)
    My dogs are adorable! I love dogs, always have.
    “intentionally deceive other dogs and people to get treats.” – Oh without a doubt! Ours do that all the time!
    “And they can count. According to Coren, dogs’ mental ability is roughly equal to that of a two or a two and a half year old child.”
    I’ve often said my dogs are like 2 yr olds that will never grow up! lol

  27. Dee Gold

    On August 25, 2010 at 7:05 am

    interesting article

  28. Ukrainian

    On October 24, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Thank you for great article. I enjoyed it…

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