For a lot of people like me, dogs are just a regular part of life. I grew up with at least two big dogs in the house at all times, and it just doesn’t feel like home without a big lovable slobber hound waiting for me when I walk in the door. Dogs are such a normal part of life here in America and all over the world, its easy to forget that these pooches all came from wolves. It is also very easy to forget that wild wolves are not dogs, something I have to remind myself of when I find myself 30 minutes into YouTube searching of wolf dogs. (I mean come on, who wouldn’t want this) When I was thinking about this, I realized that I have absolutely no idea how we went from the mighty wolf to the Chihuahua, and I was extremely surprised to find out that it is actually because of us.
The way that most species evolve over generations is through mutations in offspring that prove to be advantageous in its current environment. This mutation either helps the animal survive or makes it less likely to. If it survives, it passes this gene down to its offspring, and so on. The case of wolves becoming dogs is a bit different though. It started out with a small genetic mutation, making some wolves less prone to running away from a human (or anything it perceives as a threat) at a closer distance. Because of this, wolves would hang around camps where humans have settled, and feed off of any left overs or thrown away food, where other wolves would not get so close to the humans. This began a symbiotic relationship between wolves and humans. Eventually, humans began to take in these wolves slowly, seeing their potential as hunting partners and as protection. They would then breed the ones that were friendlier and more loyal, while not breeding the less desirable ones. This kind of artificial selection allowed humans to pick what qualities they liked in the wolves, and which they didn’t. For example, if they breed ten wolves, they then raise the puppies but only breed the friendliest 10% of those puppies, and so on. This process speeds up evolution exponentially, quickly leading to many different types of wolves that were fitted for their specific environment. In colder harsher climates, wolves with thicker coats would be preferred, whereas in warmer areas, shorter haired dogs were more useful. Some dogs were bred specifically for hunting, aka what became the retrievers, some dogs were bred for protection, German Sheppards and Rottweilers, and some just for companionship or warmth, poodles and many small dogs.
Over thousands of years, as dogs spread out over the world with humans, they began to develop into all of the diverse breeds we see today as a result of the needs of the humans they were with.