How Dogs Went From Hunting in the Shadows to Hiding in the Bed
Author: Louise Grubb July 2020
The relationship between pets and their owners has evolved considerably since their first days. These relationships have never been so defined and unique as in recent times, with our furry friends playing a far more significant role in our lives than ever before. In living memory, these have begun to change at exponential rates with pet humanisation, making us question their current forms when compared to their origins in the wilds of the world.
How we view our pets has developed at a significant rate, causing seismic shifts in a once non-existent market. 85% of people see their pet as a member of the family, which is greatly increasing the value and priority placed on these new family members. This can be seen in the meteoric rise in the animal health industry, with the companion animal industry accounting for €30.5b in revenues annually and the animal health market growing at a rate of 5.8% CAGR.
Our need for animal associates is unambiguous, with over 80% of EU households, and 75% of US households owning at least one pet, the most common of which being undoubtedly the dog. The dog’s tale of conquering our homes carves a unique path from the forests and mountains of yesterday, to our couches and beds today.
A Pact Amongst Packs
Our four-legged friends have walked a long road from the wild that they once roamed in packs, hunting and scavenging for survival. Along the way they adapted and developed, trading in their hunting instincts for a more subtle approach to world domination. It is sometimes hard to believe that every pug, chihuahua, or labradoodle, once walked the earth as a wolf. A journey that began some 20,000 years ago as tense clashes between hunters and wolves, evolved into tentative alliances. Humans realised they could avoid fighting wolves if they provided them with some food from a hunt, and wolves realised they could secure a meal without putting themselves at danger.
Friendlier wolves learned to trust and approach humans and act as regular satellites around campsites from which they could earn food. Initially, their duty was to not attack humans, however this relationship developed into protection. Alerting their new pack of any other animals or unknown humans which might approach settlements.
These traits passed down from pup to pup and became more pronounced, as the seeds for obedience began to take root genetically. With a careful eye on breeding friendlier, and more responsive dogs, some of the bite was taken out of the wolves.
Sniffing Out A New Purpose
For the next 19,900 years, the domestication of the dog continued unabated with the same fundamental purpose that hunter-gatherers had in prehistoric times. We chose dogs for their abilities in:
While their intelligence allowed us to train them in specific commands:
- Follow a scent
- Come here
- Attack specific targets
Their successful dominance as a wolf species, allowed them to populate almost every corner of the world. Ancient Chinese Emperors, great Egyptian Pharaohs, resplendent Maharajas of India, God-like Rulers of the Aztec Empire, and regal lords and ladies of Europe all led lives that were interwoven with dogs, leveraging their abilities for their personal needs. Many leaders were buried with their pets, denoting the significant value they placed on their lives.
Around the world dogs began to take on unique tasks and environments, developing different shapes, strengths, and characteristics, that best suited the job at hand. It is easy to overlook the sheer diversity in dogs’ sizes, features, and personalities. However, all of these are consequences of their original purpose, which more often than not, is no longer apparent.
- Golden Retrievers were prime hunting companions due to their intelligence and keen senses in hunting waterfowl. Their strong noses allowed them to locate any shot, even across water, while their powerful swimming legs traversed many open stretches. Their extremely delicate jaws also evolved to not damage any birds that they returned to their owners. A skill still seen today, a golden retriever can carry an egg without damaging it (best to attempt this outdoors).
- The unique spotted Dalmatian is a regular mascot of fire brigades due to their entwined history, which originally saw Dalmations guard horse-drawn fire brigades against wolves. The horses were able to distinguish the two canines thanks to the distinctive spotting.
- The stout square jaws of a bulldog, combined with the thick grooved wrinkles on their foreheads is another evolutionary consequence of their purpose. They were primarily bred for hunting, and these deep furrows acted as gutters, preventing any blood going in their eyes and impeding their vision.
- The pug is singularly unique in that it was the first dogs to be bred as a companion animal. These prized companions were often gifted to leaders of other countries. Chinese Emperors saw that they populated royal halls, and functionally used them to warm beds in their cold stone castles. In this respect, pugs have foreshadowed the future of all dogs by 2000 years.
Swapping kennels for couches
Dogs have changed more in the last 100 years, than the 19,900 preceding them. Visit a dog park today, and you will witness any number of different dog species in one location. Originating from every corner of the globe, they all can seem quite similar in their purpose. Dogs are no longer chosen for their working ability, and people are seldom even aware they once worked.
Dogs are primarily chosen as companions in life, to be there for us through thick and thin, dogs have gone from our best colleagues, to our best friends. We choose dogs today on new criteria:
- Shedding (!)
With their proven centuries of intelligence, we are now teaching them new commands:
- Get off the couch
- Get on the couch
- Roll over
- Give the paw
These commands create greater emotional connections, resulting in a more emotionally intelligent dog. Any owner will be able to tell you of the telepathic ways a dog can know if you are happy, sad, lonely, tired, or annoyed. Picking up on our body-language, smells, tones, and habits, dogs often learn far more than we intend.
A dog might know that begging is wrong for example, but persist through the scolding and the owner might cave. Utilising the dog’s irresistible new weapon, the puppy-dog eyes, they may have a sneaky scrap thrown to them. Thus, reflecting an owner’s true-style, even if they don’t wish it to be seen.
Dogs can now interpret what we really mean when we give a command – ‘Get off the couch’ is not always set in stone. These ‘soft skills’ can be seen in differing personalities, a more independent owner, is likely to have a more independent dog, and a more tactile owner, will more than likely have a more needy dog.
The main evolutionary advantage that a dog has today is its ability to emotionally imprint on its owner, forming a bond that is as unique as the individual themselves. The phrase ‘all dogs are like their owners’ is a true reflection that our ‘best friend’ has become genetically programmed to recognise and respond to us at an emotional level.
A nose in the next direction
We rely on technology for almost every aspect of our lives today, which has reduced our need for working dogs. Far from making the dog obsolete however, we rely on them more than ever as emotional companions. The value we place on them has risen to reflect this new change in priority, with the value of the pet health market outgrowing the volume of the same market annually. We have dramatically increased the standard of care which our new family members receive, and are willing to invest far more in their health and well-being.
As our pets live longer and are able to overcome more benign illnesses, they are however developing diseases of middle/old age such as cancer, heart problems, and stomach disease. Recent advances in veterinary diagnostics have increased our ability to detect these chronic illnesses. However the societal shift happened so quickly, the veterinary pharmaceutical industry has not yet had time to catch up. This has created a supplyhole in the market and increased the demand for new and sophisticated treatments for our companion animals.
As with human medicine, the increased prevalence of pharmaceuticals in our lives leads to other side-effects as we aim to perfect medication. Gastric ulcers are providing a problem for pets on long-term medications, with little or no treatments available. Without being able to verbalise these ailments, many dogs are forced to suffer until symptoms are noticed by their owners, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and gastric bleeding.
At TriviumVet we are dedicated to enrich the lives of family members by breaking through what is possible in animal health. Bringing together leading knowledge of cutting-edge healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and technologies, we are able to apply our wealth of understanding, to create innovative, effective, and functional products for the veterinary market.
Pet humanisation is resulting in people placing increased value on their pets. For many people there is no limit to what they would spend on a family member, including a four-legged one. We are dedicated to redefine what is possible, to provide owners with as much time as possible with their closest companions. While pets can command just a sliver of our lives in terms of years, their impact resonates in perpetuity long after they are gone.