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Based on DNA evidence, the wolf ancestors of modern dogs diverged from other wolves about 100,000 years ago,[7][8] and dogs were domesticated from those wolf ancestors about 15,000 years ago.[9] This date would make dogs the first species to be domesticated by humans.

Evidence suggests that dogs were first domesticated in East Asia, possibly China,[10] and some of the peoples who entered North America took dogs with them from Asia.[10]

As humans migrated around the planet a variety of dog forms migrated with them. The agricultural revolution and subsequent urban revolution led to an increase in the dog population and a demand for specialization. These circumstances would provide the opportunity for selective breeding to create specialized working dogs and pets.


Ancestry and history of domestication

This ancient mosaic, likely Roman, shows a large dog with a collar hunting a lion.
This ancient mosaic, likely Roman, shows a large dog with a collar hunting a lion.

Molecular systematics indicate that the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) descends from one or more populations of wild wolves (Canis lupus). As reflected in the nomenclature, dogs are descended from the wolf and are able to interbreed with wolves.

The relationship between human and canine has deep roots. Converging archaeological and genetic evidence indicate a time of domestication in the late Upper Paleolithic close to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, between 17,000 and 14,000 years ago. Fossil bone morphologies and genetic analysis of current and ancient dog and wolf populations have not yet been able to conclusively determine whether all dogs descend from a single domestication event, or whether dogs were domesticated independently in more than one location. Domesticated dogs may have interbred with local populations of wild wolves on several occasions (a process known in genetics as introgression).

The earliest dog fossils, two crania from Russia and a mandible from Germany, date from 13,000 to 17,000 years ago. Their likely ancestor is the large northern Holarctic wolf, Canis lupus lupus. Remains of smaller dogs from Mesolithic (Natufian) cave deposits in the Middle East, dated to around 12,000 years ago, have been interpreted as descendants of a lighter Southwest Asian wolf, Canis lupus Arabs. Rock art and skeletal remains indicate that by 14,000 years ago, dogs were present from North Africa across Eurasia to North America. Dog burials at the Mesolithic cemetery of Svaerdborg in Denmark suggest that in ancient Europe dogs were valued companions.

Genetic analyses have so far yielded divergent results. VilĂ , Savolainen, and colleagues (1997) concluded that the ancestors of dogs split off from other wolves between 75,000 and 135,000 years ago, while a subsequent analysis by Savolainen et al. (2002) indicated a "common origin from a single gene pool for all dog populations" between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago in East Asia. Verginelli et al. (2005), however, suggest both sets of dates must be reevaluated in light of recent findings showing that poorly calibrated molecular clocks have systematically overestimated the age of geologically recent events. On balance, and in agreement with the archaeological evidence, 15,000 years ago is the most likely time for the wolf-dog divergence.[11]


Development of dog breeds

Dogs have been bred into a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Variation can be wide even within a breed, as with these Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Dogs have been bred into a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Variation can be wide even within a breed, as with these Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

There are numerous dog breeds, with over 800 being recognized by various kennel clubs worldwide. Many dogs, especially outside the United States of America and Western Europe, belong to no recognized breed. A few basic breed types have evolved gradually during the domesticated dog's relationship with humans over the last 10,000 or more years, but all modern breeds are of relatively recent derivation. Many of these are the product of a deliberate process of artificial selection. Because of this, some breeds are highly specialized, and there is extraordinary morphological diversity across different breeds. Despite these differences, dogs are able to distinguish dogs from other kinds of animal.

The definition of a dog breed is a matter of some controversy. Depending on the size of the original founding population, closed gene pool breeds can have problems with inbreeding, specifically due to the founder effect. Dog breeders are increasingly aware of the importance of population genetics and of maintaining diverse gene pools. Health testing and new DNA tests can help avoid problems, by providing a replacement for natural selection. Without selection, inbreeding and closed gene pools can increase the risk of severe health or behavioral problems. Some organizations define a breed more loosely, such that an individual may be considered of one breed as long as 75% of its parentage is of that breed. These considerations affect both pets and the show dogs entered in dog shows. Even prize-winning purebred dogs sometimes possess crippling genetic defects due to founder effect or inbreeding.[12] These problems are not limited to purebred dogs and can affect cross-breed populations.[13] The behavior and appearance of a dog of a particular breed can be predicted to a degree, while mixed-breed dogs show a broader range of innovative appearance and behavior.

This puppy is a mix of many breeds.
This puppy is a mix of many breeds.

Mixed-breed dogs or Mongrels (also called "mutts") are dogs that do not belong to specific breeds, being mixtures more than two in variant percentages. Mixed breed dogs and purebred dogs are both suitable as companions, pets, working dogs, or competitors in dog sports. Sometimes different breed dogs are deliberately bred, to create cross-breeds such as the Cockapoo, a mixture of Cocker Spaniel and Miniature Poodle. Such deliberate crosses may display some degree of hybrid vigor and other desirable traits, but may or may not inherit any of the desired traits of their parents, such as temperament or a particular color or coat. Without genetic testing of the parents, the crosses can end up inheriting genetic defects that occur in both parental breeds.

A breed is a group of animals that possesses a set of inherited characteristics that distinguishes it from other animals within the same species. Deliberately crossing two or more breeds is also a manner of establishing new breeds, but it is only a breed when offspring will reliably demonstrate that particular set of characteristics and qualities.


Breed popularity

The Bulldog is well known for its short muzzle and saggy skin on its face
The Bulldog is well known for its short muzzle and saggy skin on its face

Breed popularity varies widely over time[14] and in different parts of the world and different segments of the population. Counting by American Kennel Club (AKC) registration (not by licensing registration or by United Kennel Club (UKC) registration, which could present different statistics), the Labrador Retriever has been the United States's most commonly registered breed of dog since 1991. [15] However, even within parts of the United States, popularity varies; for example, in 2005 the most-registered breed in New York City was the Poodle while the Yorkshire Terrier was the second-most-registered breed in Houston. [16] However, animal shelters in many parts of the United States report that the most-commonly available dog for adoption is the American Pit Bull Terrier or pit bull-type mixes, making up as much as 20% of dogs available for adoption, none of which would be registered with the AKC.[17] Two decades ago, in 1983, the AKC's top two registered breeds were the American Cocker Spaniel and the Poodle.[18]

In the United Kingdom, The Kennel Club reports that the most-registered breed from at least 1999 to 2005 was the Labrador Retriever. It rounds out the top three for 1999 to 2005 with the German Shepherd Dog, also popular in the US, and the English Cocker Spaniel[19] , which is no longer in the top ten in the US. In the UK, a national dog adoption and rescue service indicates that the most common breed appearing in shelters is the Greyhound followed by the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. [20]




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