The Probable Orgin Of The Dog

It is a significant circumstance when we come to consider the probable origin of the dog, that there are indications of his domestication at such early periods by so many peoples in different parts of the world. 

As we have seen, dogs were more or less subjugated and tamed by primitive man, by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans, as also by the ancient barbaric tribes of the western hemisphere. The important question now arises: Had all these dogs a common origin in a definite parent stock, or did they spring from separate and unrelated parents?

More than a century ago it was believed that all the evidence which could be brought to bear upon the problem pointed to an independent origin of the dog. Youatt, writing in 1845, argued that "this power of tracing back the dog to the very earliest periods of history, and the fact that he then seemed to be as sagacious, as faithful, and as valuable as at the present day, strongly favours the opinion that he was descended from no inferior and comparatively worthless animal; and that he was not the progeny of the wolf, the jackal, or the fox, but was originally created, somewhat as we now find him, the associate and friend of man."

When Youatt wrote, most people believed that the world was only six thousand years old, that species were originally created and absolutely unchangeable. Lyell's discoveries in geology, however, overthrew the argument of the earth's chronology and of the antiquity of man, and Darwin's theory of evolution entirely transformed the accepted beliefs concerning the origin of species and the supposed invariability of animal types.

The general superficial resemblance between the fox and many of our dogs, might well excuse the belief in a relationship. Gamekeepers are often very positive that a cross was obtained between a dog and a fox, but cases in which this connection is alleged must be accepted with extreme caution. The studies on this question, experiments and observations cannot positively affirmed hybrid between dog and fox and many conclusions are incontestable. However much in appearance the supposed dog-fox may resemble the fox, there are certain opposing characteristics and structural differences which entirely dismiss the theory of relationship.

One thing is certain, that foxes do not breed in confinement, except in very rare instances. Then, again, the fox is not a sociable animal. We never hear of foxes uniting in a pack, as do the wolves, the jackals, and the wild dogs. Apart from other considerations, a fox may be distinguished from a dog, without being seen or touched, by its smell. 

Whatever may be said concerning the difference existing between dogs and foxes will not hold good in reference to dogs, wolves, and jackals. The wolf and the jackal are so much alike that the only appreciable distinction is that of size, and so closely do they resemble many dogs in general appearance, structure, habits, instincts, and mental endowments that no difficulty presents itself in regarding them as being of one stock. Wolves and jackals can be, and have repeatedly been, tamed. Domestic dogs can become, and again and again do become, wild, even consorting with wolves, interbreeding with them, assuming their gregarious habits, and changing the characteristic bark into a dismal wolf-like howl. The wolf and the jackal when tamed answer to their master's call, wag their tails,lick his hands, crouch, jump round him to be caressed, and throw themselves on their backs in submission. When in high spirits they run round in circles or in a figure of eight, with their tails between their legs. Their howl becomes a business-like bark. They smell at the tails of other dogs and void their urine sideways, and lastly, like our domestic favourites, however refined and gentlemanly in other respects, they cannot be broken of the habit of rolling on carrion or on animals they have killed.

This last habit of the domestic dog is one of the surviving traits of his wild ancestry, which, like his habits of burying bones or superfluous food, and of turning round and round on a carpet as if to make a nest for himself before lying down, go far towards connecting him in direct relationship with the wolf and the jackal.

The great multitude of different breeds of the dog and the vast differences in their size, points, and general appearance are facts which make it difficult to believe that they could have had a common ancestry. 

One thinks of the difference between the Mastiff and the Japanese Spaniel, the Deerhound and the fashionable Pomeranian, the St. Bernard and the Miniature Black and Tan Terrier and is perplexed in contemplating the possibility of their having descended from a common progenitor. Yet the disparity is no greater than that between the Shire horse and the Shetland pony, the Shorthorn and the Kerry cattle, or the Patagonian and the Pygmy; and all dog breeders know how easy it is to produce a variety in type and size by studied selection.


General History Of The Dog
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