Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize the long-dormant wolf genes in your adorable French Bulldog puppy, but they are there. Once, thousands of years ago, her ancestors roamed the wild hunting for their food. So, how long have we been keeping dogs as pets? The answer may surprise you.
When Dogs Roamed Wild
The first dogs were likely descended from wolves that made their homes near camps of hunter-gathering people. These wolves would have scavenged scraps and carcasses left in waste pits by the people. As the two groups became more familiar with each other, the wolves became part of camp life.
There is still a lot of debate about when exactly dogs became domesticated. Most evidence points to it being a gradual process that was in full force by around 10,000 years ago. Some researchers believe there were separate domestication processes at work: one in Europe and another in Asia. What is known is that dogs were the first domesticated animal.
Dogs may not have been the first wild animals to be kept as pets, however. Researchers have found evidence of baby animals being kept for amusement in even very early archaeological sites. However, there is no evidence of adult animals, meaning the babies were either released into the wild, eaten, or met some other fate.
By 7,000 years ago, give or take a thousand years, dogs were living and traveling with their human families. They had taken on a more permanent role. Scientists believe early domesticated dogs were used as working animals for hunting, protection, and pulling heavy loads. Some were likely kept for their fur and as a source of food.
Dogs as Companions and More
Today, in countries around the globe, dogs are often kept as pets in homes. They receive routine medical care, wear clothes, and snuggle on therapeutic pet beds in the winter. They are friends, family, and companions.
Some dogs aren't just for companionship. Trained working dogs help with farm tasks or serve as a means of protection. Law enforcement and the military uses dogs to sniff out explosives, drugs, and other unsafe substances. They can also be trained to find missing people and cadavers after an emergency or disaster.
People with disabilities use specially-trained dogs as service animals. They can fill in as a spare set of eyes or ears, detect seizures or panic attacks, and even alert you if your blood sugar drops too low.
Descended from wolves, dogs were the first truly domesticated pets. While no one is sure exactly when dogs first became domesticated, it is known that they have lived and traveled with groups of people for thousands of years. New DNA research is constantly uncovering connections, patterns of movement, and ancestral links between dogs and their distant relatives, so it may just be a matter of time before we know more about when dogs first became pampered pets.