Dogs and wolves – different socks in the trousers of evolution

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Do you think dogs evolved from wolves? Do you think dogs behave like wolves?  Think again. In the trousers of evolution wolves took one leg and dogs took the other. Now, wolves are an itchy grey school sock whilst dogs are a variety of multi- coloured, patterned, ankle, knee-high, over-the-knee, woolly, sheer and even specialised socks with five individual little toes. Okay, they’re still in the same trousers, but you can’t make a matching pair of socks from dogs and wolves.
 
Dogs and wolves share the same ancestor (probably some kind of robust mountaineering sock) but neither is still the same. Experiments on various species such as silver foxes, otters and rats show that it is relatively easy to breed for the characteristic of ‘tameness’. In any natural population some individuals are a little bit tamer than others. By breeding these tamer ones together, and then the tamer ones of their offspring, it is possible to breed a domesticated version of the original creature.
 
They actively approach people and have all the friendly attributes of a pet dog. This is more or less the same way that dogs became domesticated from the wild population of ancient wolves that existed at the same time that hunter-gather humans started to settle down in fixed villages. The wild animals came to the village waste dumps to eat our left-overs, but only the tamer ones could actually stay there long enough to gain any benefit. The wilder ones ran away sooner and for further.
 
This wild population of wolf/dog type creatures must have contained a cross section of characteristics that are apparent in present day dogs and wolves.
Providing an ecological niche – an environment in which part of the species could make a living – split that population into present day dogs and wolves, but (and it is a big ‘but’) the original balance of tameness and wildness is no longer the same in the present day wolf population.
 
Dogs evolved to be tamer and wolves evolved to be wilder. There is now no ‘middle ground’ part of the population in existence because there is no ecological niche for them. The original ancestor of present day wolves and dogs does not exist. In the trousers of evolution wolves went down one leg and dogs the other, and they are now very different socks.
 
So, when people say that dogs evolved from wolves, it is only true in the sense that dogs evolved from the dog/wolf like creature that existed at the time (probably in the region of 15,000 years ago), not that they descended from animals with the characteristics of present day wolves.
 
Wolf behaviour is one thing and dog behaviour another and, although both arose from the original wolf/dog, there is no more reason for them to match behaviour now than there is for a scratchy grey knee sock to match a shocking pink silk ankle sock. People who confuse them can often look very silly.

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