Dogs and humans: best friends for (at least) 20 thousand years.

The process of dog domestication likely began between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, which is when humans started forming mutually beneficial relationships with these canines. Over the millennia, humans selectively bred dogs for various purposes, leading to the diverse array of breeds we have today.

Nov 3, 2023 - 18:00
Dogs and humans: best friends for (at least) 20 thousand years.
Image by Sven Lachmann / Pixabay

Dogs were likely domesticated by humans between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, and this process of domestication is thought to have occurred gradually. The exact timing and location of dog domestication are subjects of ongoing research and debate among scientists, but the prevailing theory suggests that it took place in different regions of Eurasia.

The domestication of dogs is believed to have been a mutual process. Early humans may have started taming and living alongside wild canines, such as wolves, due to their potential benefits for hunting, guarding, and companionship. Over generations, those wild canines that were more sociable and less aggressive would have been more likely to thrive in human settlements, and this would have set the stage for the development of the modern domestic dog.

The transition from wild canines to the diverse breeds of dogs we have today involved selective breeding to emphasize specific traits, such as size, appearance, behavior, and skills, depending on the needs and preferences of different human societies. This long history of coevolution between dogs and humans has resulted in the wide variety of dog breeds we have today, each adapted to different roles and environments.

It's challenging to provide an exact number for the global population of domestic dogs, as it constantly changes due to factors like breeding, births, and adoptions, and it varies from one country to another. However, estimates suggest that there are over 470 million domestic dogs worldwide. This number can fluctuate over time and might be higher as new generations of dogs are born and raised. The global dog population is substantial and diverse, with numerous breeds and sizes, serving various roles as pets, working dogs, and companions to humans.

The development of modern domestic dog breeds with specific characteristics, behaviors, and functions has occurred more recently, over the last few centuries. Many of the recognized dog breeds and breed standards were established in the 19th and 20th centuries, as breeders sought to produce dogs with distinct traits for particular roles, such as hunting, herding, guarding, and companionship.

So, while the initial domestication of dogs goes back tens of thousands of years, the modern breeds and their standardization are relatively recent developments in the history of dog-human relationships.

Valérie Tellier EA Global Coordinator