Yesterday, a German shorthaired pointer named CJ won best in show at the Westminster Dog Show. CJ's success was not terribly surprising since he came from a strong bloodline - his doggie grandma named Carlee won best in show at Westminster in 2005. So what did CJ earn for being top dog? Honor, of course. Breeding rights. And a juicy steak served on a silver platter. That's not an exaggeration. Strange to think that dogs haven't always been domesticated. How did they go from snarling wolf beasts to discerning steak enthusiasts?
Most scientists agree that dogs decended from gray wolves. Aaaand that's about all they agree on. The first domesticated dogs might have appeared anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 to 135,000 years ago. They might have come from Europe or somewhere in Asia. They might have been adopted by humans, coddled, and tamed. Or, more likely, they might have sought out humans. (They domesticated us?)
But what made dogs tame? An amazingly interesting experiment conducted by Dmitry Belyaev and colleagues in Siberia in the 1950s shed some light on this question. The scientists performed selective breeding on wild silver foxes based on behavior alone. Friendly foxes bred with other friendly foxes; aggressive with aggressive. The scientists repeated this selective breeding process generation after generation. After only 8 generations, the tame foxes started showing affection toward humans. They started wagging their tails. After over 40 generations, the tame foxes practically became lapdogs. Lapfoxes, I guess. The aggressive foxes became completely vicious.
But get this - selective breeding actually caused physical and physiological changes in the foxes. The tame foxes developed floppy ears, short curly tails, and changes in fur color. (They became adorable.) They also produced less adrenaline (which is a hormone produced under stress) compared to the aggressive foxes. So it's possible that dogs became domesticated in a similar fashion (although over a much longer period of time) - via selection based on behavior.
My dog is thoroughly domesticated. But he refuses to help fold my laundry.