Dogs and Men

Razib Khan talks about a new article that suggests that dogs were domesticated quite a long time ago, perhaps more than 35,000 years ago, well before the last glacial maximum.

We know that dogs have adapted to life with people, have changed in many ways.

I wonder how humans adapted to dogs.  If they were like modern pariah dogs, hanging around the village and eating garbage, doesn’t seem that they would have been that influential. But if used in hunting, they could have been very important, especially back in the Ice Age – and if they were that important, the partnership might have generated significant selective pressures in humans.

Parenthetically, there was an article a few years back that claimed that dogs had probably been domesticated for ~100,000 years, while most other estimates were around 14,000 years. Obviously there was a simple way to reconcile those two numbers.



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44 Responses to Dogs and Men

  1. Sesquiterpene says:

    The oldest dog-like fossils are from around this time (

    Domestication around 100,000 ybp is not impossible, but many genetic studies tend to overestimate domestication dates by such a margin that their estimation of the mutation rates seems questionable (

  2. Weltanschauung says:

    Do you mean the higher number was stated in dog years?

  3. dearieme says:

    They might also serve as guard dogs e.g. barking at the approach of a bear or the like.

  4. MawBTS says:

    Dogs can be used to guard stuff, too. That would have been useful in the development of private property.

    • MawBTS says:

      ^ yeah what he said

    • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

      Thats was my hunch too. That dog domestication roughly coincided with early sedentarism.

      But this new time estimates, push domestication way before people had any permanent private property other than what they could carry on their backs. It may still be that the early warning capabilities of dogs were important for nomads, but hunting looks to me as a more promising hypothesis.

      What is the evidence on cave art about dogs?

  5. Matt says:

    Relaxation on selection for sense of smell (that’s what the dog can bring to the partnership).

    • Paul Conroy says:

      Sounds right!

      The Pygmies have a much better sense of smell than most humans.

      I’d say also, living in open areas like grasslands/savannahs, without dogs would be difficult.

  6. Sean says:

    It has been suggested that wolves hunt in packs to keep thieving ravens away from the kill. Ravens steal quite a lot of the carcass from wolves Some say wolves are actually guided to prey by the ravens.

    Anyway, humans must have been pestered by wolves. On the ice age steppe tundra 35,000 years ago the lone hunter would have been quite easy to steal from once he had made a kill. However reindeer are the most mobile animals on earth, and wolves with their sense of smell and superior mobility would be capable of locating prey. The big problem for the human hunter would be finding the reindeer without going too far, as they were on foot. So I suppose the humans listened for howls and went towards the wolves, reasoning they were probably on the trail of prey, while wolves hung around humans hunters to get what they could (assuming the hunters had gutted the prey to make it easier to carry there might have been quite a lot of waste).

  7. Chip Smith says:

    I know that I am hardly alone in experiencing a very strong sense of moral revulsion toward cruelty against animals, and I have often puzzled introspectively over the fact that this visceral response is profoundly more acute than what I experience when I witness or become aware of acts of cruelty toward humans. Conversations and observation convince me that this is relatively common, at least among WEIRD profiles like myself. Is there evidence that such a response is more pronounced among populations with a long history of custodial interaction with domesticated dogs? Are there human populations where this trait is absent? If anyone is aware of such research I would be interested in references.

    • You ask an interesting question. Any animal that exhibits baby cuteness triggers this response from humans. We don’t give a crap about a fish. We will drag it by it’s lip for miles and never consider the feelings of the fish. But a cute little wolf puppy, awwwww, lets take it home with us. Plenty of baby animals are cuter than grown humans so they are better protected from our cruelty.

      • Chip Smith says:

        I’m sure you’re using shorthand here, but it’s worth emphasizing that no animal really “exhibits” cuteness. It’s something we project. This is an obvious adaptation where human babies are concerned, but it seems to present an interesting puzzle where nonhuman mammals provide the stimulus for such projection. Is it an offshoot of a broadly evolved adaptive mechanism? Or is it as targeted as it feels? My hunch is that animal domestication and more specifically dog companionship conferred substantial adaptive benefits that had the side-effect of pacifying humans by selecting for a wider range of empathic projection. Evidence for this would be if the predicted responses — and predicted behavioral/temperamental correlates — fell into line by reference to the human sub-populations according to their natural history with domesticated animals and pets.

        • Uptown Resident says:

          Interesting line of questioning. I would assume that WEIRD populations have a longer history of animal agriculture/companionship than non-WEIRD populations, but do you think they are really more empathetic toward animals? To be sure, you have the loudest animal welfare advocates and dog lovers among WEIRD populations, but you also have factory farming and animal experimentation. Descartes’s bete-machine theory has been pervasive and persistent. And although I, like you, remain basically sanguine when presented with human suffering but feel overwhelming outrage and heartbreak when presented with animal suffering, I don’t agree that this apportioning of empathy is relatively common. Generally, people don’t care about the suffering of 10s of billions of animals raised and slaughtered on factory farms every year in the US, and they don’t care about laboratory experiments on animals. Generally WEIRD people get more worked up about … the boat people drifting in the Mediterranean, or poor urban blacks getting brutalized by police, or abortion.

          Some years ago, when I could still stomach it, I would watch the news for reports of animal abuse charges being made against employees at factory farms and slaughterhouses. I noticed that most of the offenders had Hispanic surnames. The slaughter industry’s use of illegal immigrants is legendary. It reminds me of Thomas More’s vision of Utopia, where the citizens are not allowed to slaughter animals or even to witness the slaughter of animals. Even in Utopia slaves are necessary to perform the office of butcher.

          • Chip Smith says:

            The response I get from intelligent peers is that the phenomenon I’m describing is likely the result of mammals hijacking an evolved human affinity for neoteny in offspring. This is plausible, but I’m just not convinced it’s the whole story. It seems there is little in the way of relevant research — certainly not with reference to population differences — in any case.

            Factory farming is curious because it is concealed, I would say carefully. People guard themselves from discomfiting realities.

          • Martin says:

            The privately atheist French priest Jean Meslier blamed cat burning in France on Cartesian philosophy:


    • fnn says:

      In John Keegan’s book, The Face of Battle, he reports that soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt were often more moved by the plights of wounded horses than wounded men.

      • Rifleman says:

        I read somewhere that the English were especially morally outraged when IRA bombers killed several horse at a parade in 1980(?).

        It’s one thing to kill British soldiers, but to murder some horses! Barbaric!

        There are photos online of the horse dead in the street.

    • Martin says:

      Part of the empathy and affection people have for their pets and other animals could be that they serve as an opiate for the loss of total fertility rates and “empty nest” syndrome.

  8. People rarely appreciate the importance of hunting with dogs, especially before the invention of guns. What in the hell are you going to kill chucking a spear at an animal (the bow and arrow is a relatively recent invention) that has vastly superior ears, nose, and legs. Neanderthals had a really really small population even at their peak. From the best we can tell they were ambush hunters preying on those animals that migrated in huge herds in predictable patterns. But once we had dogs that could track an animal by it’s scent we were able to not just successfully hunt many more animals but hunt them to extinction.

    Speaking of superior nose and ears Cochran asks the question “How did humans adapt to dogs?”
    Once we had this canine hunting partner we could evolve our brain with different priorities. We didn’t need such keen senses for smell and hearing so a trade off could be made in the brain emphasizing intelligence at the expense of those areas of the brain left for the senses of scent and sound.

  9. Jaim Klein says:

    There is much more to dogs than better smell and sight. Dogs are faster than men and more courageous. Dogs will harass and bite large animals, frequently receiving severe wounds. They are willing to sacrifice themselves. They are faithful.

    • ursiform says:

      So you’re saying dogs actually have characteristics that people like to claim to have. And they don’t brag about having them! No wonder people like them.

  10. Dogs are also effective against small animals (so are cats). It would of course be lovely for dogs to run down a reindeer for you, after you caught up an hour or so later and the dogs and ravens had gotten a lot of the good stuff for themselves, but keeping rats and weasels away might have been more valuable.

    Also, humans trade. Providing more regular, easily acquired food might a trade canines responded to without anything that resembled thought. The humans might have gradually understood what was happening, however, and become more intentional about it.

    Cautionary point. Cuddly pet dogs are not exclusively modern, but most “domesticated” dogs until quite recently have been rough characters. Traveling in Eastern Europe in the late 1990’s, I did not encounter a single dog that let me pet it, though it might be comfortable with 2-3 other humans. Even the dogs I recall from my childhood (I am 62) were generally unpredictable, even at friends and relatives’ houses. And frankly, half the dachshunds I have owned have liked no other dogs and only half of the people living in the house. Training dogs is a lot of work. I’m thinking wolves and coydogs aren’t likely to be easier. While there is clear symbiosis, let’s not overestimate how chummy this interaction was.

  11. Cracker1 says:

    I wonder how humans adapted to dogs.
    Maybe they helped us develop our herd behavior. They are pretty good at herding.

    • Bruce says:

      Dogs are wolves that eat their vegetables. Wolves are meat-eater dogs. Longer gut tube, slower metabolism. Humans and dogs maybe evolved together, or maybe it was raccoons, back when they were the size of bears and dug spiral tunnels like in The White Goddess. Baby raccoons purr and look cuter than dogs. If I was a Neandertal I’d hang with coons.

  12. Garvan says:

    I doubt that “humans adapted to dogs” in any significant way, and the posts above do not convince me otherwise. But I can only judge based on my personal observations living and working in SE-Asia. I am looking for better examples of how dogs are used for hunting in hunter-gather societies, before agriculture. Are there any?

    In my own experience, dogs are not used for hunting. They are too undisciplined and untrained. It is possible to train modern breeds, but it is not easy, and I doubt a half wolf is easy to train. One dog is useless to catch anything. A pack of dogs is deadly, but difficult to control, and if the prey is small enough, and the dogs are hungry, they will run off with it.

    Where I work, dogs are considered essential by people entering the forest for gathering. First of all everybody is afraid of snakes, and the dogs warn them of danger. Secondly they observe where the dogs find prey (which they usually do not catch) and depending on what they observe, they will make plans for setting traps. They can design traps to catch anything, from a squirrel, to a wild pig, to a leopard. Each trap can be specific to the prey, or a generic ‘catch all’ type trap.

    The first dog in SE-Asia arrived with farmers from the Yangtze river. Dogs and wolves are not native to the region. So dogs have been in America far longer than in SE-Asia.

    How did the native Americans use dogs for hunting?

    • Sandgroper says:

      While you were noting that “one dog is useless to catch anything”, someone on another blog was writing about how it is a great advantage to have a dog to track game.

      You can’t both be right.

      I have been hunting with one dog – as it happens, a sheep dog, not a dog trained to track game, and I know the outcome.

      So, guess who is wrong.

    • TWS says:

      The only dogs I am aware of that were exclusive hunters were ‘bear dogs’. They were smallish dogs used to bring bears to bay. They were smart and agile and hunted in a pack. But one dog will tree a cougar even though the cougar will eat dogs it’s weird.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Dogs are generalists, unless they are really overbred and bizarre. An intelligent dog can do all manner of things and solve all kinds of problems.

        And I’m not anthropomorphising them; this is based on my own personal experience with both pet dogs and working dogs, observing their behaviour as dogs.

        Generally, working dogs are going to be more useful than pets, and they can be useful for all kinds of things that they were not primarily trained for. Get a good Kelpie sheepdog, and keep it as a working dog, not a pampered pet, and you may have many happy adventures together when the dog is not actually working. When it is working, of course, it’s all business.

        And they are far from useless, and no problem at all to control. In fact, just about everything Garvan said is diametrically wrong.

  13. dearieme says:

    “In my own experience, dogs are not used for hunting.” Fair enough, but they are used in (for example) Britain, for hunting in the British sense (e.g. foxhounds, staghounds or otter hounds), as part of shooting game (e.g. retrievers and pointers), and as part of vermin control (e.g. terriers).

    • Sean says:

      In general dogs are used for locating game, and getting it to make mistakes so a human can kill.. For example when hounds hard press an otter it will sometimes break out onto dry land, although this is certain to result in its death. There was some discussion a while ago about European animals being naive to the danger of humans. Perhaps the wolves could locate game and make it take flight (wild wolves drive caribou into ambushes), but had quite a bit of trouble killing it, while humans couldn’t always find game, but could approach close enough to kill with a dart thrower.

    • Garvan says:

      dearieme & Sandgroper.

      Thank you for your replies. I was hoping for examples of how ancient people, or even other cultures, hunted with dogs, I already know how Europeans hunt with modern dog breeds, and I just don’t think it is relevant to how humans may have adapted to dogs through their domestication 35,000 years ago. I do not believe modern breeds are the same as dogs were 35,000 years ago.

      I did find some interesting reading searching on the Internet. Older, but still interesting.

      Quote: “Wolves are extremely difficult to condition to reliably inhibit inherent behavior (Fox 1973; Frank & Frank 1983, 1987). They instinctively chase large prey, and thus would hinder humans hunting cursorial game, rather than assist. Wolves are also extremely food-possessive (Klinghammer & Goodman 1985; Goodman & Klinghammer 1990; Koler-Matznick personal observation). If hungry tamed wolves did secure prey, humans would have to fight them for it. Dingoes provide a modern example of tamed wild canids as hunting aids (Hayden 1975). The Aboriginies used dingoes to locate small prey that goes to ground or trees, but 3 prevented dingoes from following when hunting kangaroos because the dingoes chased them off (Meggitt 1965). If tamed wild canids are not useful aids for hunting cursorial game and smaller canids are as proficient at locating smaller prey, there is no reason to keep large wolves in domestication.”


  14. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    it is listed as vulnerable to extinction due to its proposed susceptibility to genetic pollution: a controversial concept according to which interbreeding with

    No doubt, Neanderthal was listed as vulnerable to extinction due to is susceptibility to genetic pollution as well.

  15. TWS says:

    I thought I read an article that the earliest dogs were larger more rugged types but I cannot find the article I read. Has anyone else found anything on that?

  16. Rifleman says:

    I wonder how humans adapted to dogs.

    Or to the germs dogs brought back to camp? Considering the dead things partially domesticated dogs might have brought back to camp maybe they contributed to human adaptation to germs and viruses.

    • TWS says:

      My siberian/malmute mix used to bring absolutly disgusting things home. And she would go get it back from the dump miles away if she really liked it.

  17. Karl says:

    It seems plausible that humans and dogs are adapted with respect to pathogens. Are there diseases that infect dogs and can also affect humans? There are such problems with other pets, e.g. parrots which have not been domesticated for a comparable time.

  18. Brian says:

    It appears redheads are particularly adapted to dogs

  19. Steve Sailer says:

    Jerry Pournelle suggests that maybe domesticating dogs to serve as trackers allowed humans to devote more of their expensive brains to tasks other than smell-processing.

    Pygmies supposedly have great senses of smell. Do they not have dogs?

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