Evolution of Dogs: How Domestic Dogs Evolved

Dogs, Dog, Kutta, Kutti, Bitch
Dog, Dogs, Woof

The dog is a part of the wolf-like canids. The genetic divergence between the modern wolves and dog’s ancestors transpired between 25,000 and 50,000 years ago, just before or during the Last Glacial Maximum. This time span represents the upper time limit for the origin of domestication because it is the time of mutation but not the time of domestication, which happened later.

Watercolor tracing made by archaeologist Henri Breuil from a cave painting of a wolf-like canid, Font-de-Gaume, France dated 19,000 years ago.

Let’s look at the origin and evolution of domestic dogs right from the very start. 

Six million years ago, towards the Miocene era’s conclusion, the earth’s climate slowly cooled. This would lead to the Pleistocene, and the Pliocene glaciations, commonly referred to as the Ice Age. In many regions, savannahs and forests were replaced with grasslands or steppes, and only those species of creatures that adapted to these changes survived.

In North America, small forest foxes grew more extensive and larger and better adapted to running. By the latter half of Miocene, the first of the genus Canis had evolved—the ancestors of wolves, coyotes, and the domestic dog. In eastern Africa, a separation occurred among the giant primates. Some stayed in the trees, while others came down from the trees, learned to walk upright, grew larger brains, and in the more open region learned to dodge predators while becoming predators themselves. The ancestors of dogs and humans would ultimately meet in Eurasia..

From Wolves to Dogs — The Evolution

Genetic examinations prove that the grey wolf is the most intimate living relative to the dog.

Attempting to restore the dog’s lineage through the phylogenetic study of DNA sequences from modern dogs and wolves has given contradictory results for various reasons:

Cave wolf skull, Natural History Museum, Berlin
  1. Researches indicate that a mysterious and extinct Late Pleistocene wolf is the most related common ancestor to the dog, with present-day wolves not being the dog’s direct ancestor.
  2. The split (genetic divergence) between the modern wolves and the dog’s ancestor occurred over a short period. The time of the separation is difficult to date. This is hampered further by the cross-breeding that has happened between wolves and dogs since domestication.
  3. There have been merely tens of thousands of dog generations since domestication. The number of mutations between the wolf and the dog is few, making domestication challenging to date.

Where did the first evolved dog originate?

Genetic investigations have found that dogs from South China and Southeast Asia show higher genetic diversity than those dogs from other areas, suggesting that this was the site of their origin. A similar study found higher genetic diversity in rural African dogs than in breed dogs.

. Skull of the Razboinichya canid indicating sampling location for 14C AMS dating (black arrow)..

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An East Asian origin has been extensively questioned because dog fossils have been found in Europe, recording around 15,000 YBP but only 12,000 YBP in Russia. The answer is that archaeological studies in East Asia lag behind those in parts of Europe and that the ancient environmental conditions in southern East Asia do not support the complete preservation of bone fossils. Although primitive forms of the wolf-dog mutation may have survived in Europe in the past, the genetic evidence indicates that these were later succeeded by dogs that have moved from southern East Asia. 

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