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History of the Dog and Human Relationship

Dogs and Humans – How the relationship began

(excerpt from The Intelligence of Dogs) Dr. Stanley Coren

“…We will probably never have conclusive evidence to tell us how dogs and humans first formed their personal and working relationship with each other, but it is most likely the case that man did not initially choose dog; rather dogs chose man. Dogs were likely attracted to human campsites because humans like dogs were hunters, and animal remains, such as bones, bits of skin, and other scraps of offal from the victims of recent hunts, were likely to be scattered around human campsites. The ancestors of today’s dogs (being ever food conscious) learned that by hanging around man’s habitations, they could grab a quick bite to eat now and then, without all the exertion involved in actual hunting.

Although primitive man may not have been very concerned with cleanliness, health issues or sanitation, it is still true that rotting food stuff does smell, and attracts insects that will make humans uncomfortable. Thus it is likely that dogs were initially tolerated around the perimeter of camps simply because they would dispose of the garbage. This waste disposal function continued for countless centuries and is still being fulfilled by the pariah dogs in many less developed regions of the world. Anthropologists studying primitive tribes in the South Pacific have noticed that on those islands where people keep dogs, the villages and settlements are much more permanent. Villages without dogs have to move every year or so simply to escape the environmental contamination caused by rotting refuse. This has even led to the suggestion that dogs may have been a vital element in the establishment of permanent cities in that bygone era before we learned the importance of public sanitation.

Once the wild canines that would eventually become dogs were attracted to human settlements, our ancestors noticed an added benefit. Remember early humans lived in dangerous times .There were large animals around which looked on humans as potential sources of fresh meat .There were also other bands of humans with hostile intentions. Since the canines around the village began to look upon the area as their territory, whenever a strange human or wild beast approached, the dogs would sound the alarm. This would alert the residents in time to rally some sort of defense if needed. As long as dogs were present, the human guards did not need to be as vigilant, thus allowing for more rest and a better lifestyle.

It takes only a short journey to get from dogs guarding the village to a personal house dog. Humans now knew that dogs would sound the alarm if their territory was invaded. Suppose that this idea was taken one step further. A dog which considered a home as its territory would then provide a personal warning for a family. This might serve as the benign purpose of alerting the family to the approach of visitors (a sort of canine doorbell), or warn of the approach of someone with malicious intentions (a canine burglar alarm). Clearly, this was one of the motivations for taking puppies from the wild dogs, bringing them into the home, and domesticating them as house dogs….”

Excerpt of The Intelligence of Dogs
© Stanley Coren All rights reserved
Reprinted by permission
Dr. Stanley Coren is a professor of Psychology.
He has written 6 books on dogs and is the host
of the television show Good Dog!

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