A couple holds a black-and-white dog. A couple holds a black-and-white dog. How long have humans and dogs lived together? Scientists are closing in on the answer to that question. (Photo: StockLite / Shutterstock)

5 key moments in the fascinating history of humans and dogs

How long pooches and people have lived together has long been debated by scientists, but we're getting closer to an answer.

Before we domesticated other animals like chickens, cows and horses, dogs and humans lived side-by-side. And since then, the dog-human bond has transcended cultures, persisted through time, and become part of the story of humanity itself. But how did it all begin?

Well, it's complicated.

We are getting closer and closer to solving the mystery of when people and pooches first joined forces. "I think we’ll come to quite conclusive evidence about time and place within a couple of years because the DNA technology has gotten so advanced," Dr. Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden told From The Grapevine. "Also, there are more scientists working on this and more samples. Things that were impossible to do 10 years ago, are today possible," he adds.

Below are five key findings in the history our long relationship with Fido.


1. Did it really start with wolves?

Scientists have found that European Grey Wolves travel in packs, just like dogs.Scientists have found that European grey wolves travel in packs, just like dogs. (Photo: Alan Jeffery/Shutterstock)

Wolves probably came to human camps and got food from the scrap-heaps: "Those wolves who came closest to humans – the less-aggressive and less-afraid ones – got the most food, and they would have a really big advantage over other wolves and would reproduce better," explains Savolainen. "So the wolves domesticated themselves," he explains. So, in essence, dogs chose us.


2. Were dogs domesticated 12,000 years ago?

Two men rafting with a dog. Rafting on the Dan River in Israel, a tributary of the Jordan River. Dogs have long accompanied people in boats of all types. (Photo: Chameleons Eye/Shutterstock)

In 1977, a key find from an archaeological site in northern Israel established one of the first hard dates in dog-human anthropological history. The skeleton of an elderly man and his puppy were found buried together under a house that could be dated to about 12,000 years ago. Paired with similar burials nearby, this evidence indicated that humans and dogs lived together before the advent of agriculture.


3. Or was it more like 15,000 years ago?

A woman and her dog on the beach. The human-dog connection is ancient, but how ancient is still a question scientists are puzzling. (Photo: BestShots/Shutterstock)

That date was soon revised to 15,000 years, when the remains of dogs and humans were found together in a German site called Bonn-Oberkassel, and a find in Kesserloch Cave in Switzerland was dated to the same time period. In the 1980s and 1990s, several other sites of dog and human burials were found throughout Europe – including Belgium, France and the Czech Republic.


4. Were dogs domesticated in many regions?

A young girl in a superhero costume hugs her dog, who is wearing a cape. Scientists have found that kids who grow up with dogs or other pets have more compassion and lower stress than those who don't. (Photo: Rob Hainer/Shutterstock)

A 2011 investigation into some of the oldest dog remains found thus far suggests that instead of dog domestication arising in one place and spreading out from there, it could have been multi-regional, meaning that it arose in more than one place at more than one time in human history (which is why dates and theories sometimes overlap or seem to contradict each other). Currently, some researchers think dogs originated in Europe, while others (including Savolainen) think they come from South or East Asia based on genetic evidence.


5. Were dogs different from other animals?

A man on a bicycle with a dog in his backpack. Dogs were treated as closer to human, even in ancient cultures; it's not just a modern phenomenon. (Photo: Photopen/Shutterstock)

Discoveries in Russia that were examined in a 2011 science paper were situated in such a way that it was clear that dogs were respected and purposefully buried. Archaeologists see this as proof that these ancient people saw dogs as having souls – as "persons" in a way that was different from other animals. Perhaps it was a harbinger of that famous saying: All dogs go to heaven.

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