How It Works
A close-up shot of a puppy chewing on a stick. Shot using natural lighting.

How did so many species of dog evolve from wolves?

A close-up shot of a puppy chewing on a stick. Shot using natural lighting.

People began to domesticate wolves at least 12,000 years ago, and probably in several parts of the world. Wolves would have been attracted to stone-age human encampments by food, and by taking in and bringing up puppies people found they could tame the animals, and use them for their own ends. The diversity of dog breeds came about by a process of selective breeding, basically the same as we use today – breeding from animals that had desired characteristics like tameness, obedience, speed or different shapes and sizes – for example the dachshund (meaning badger-dog in German) is long and thin to go down holes in search of badgers. By selecting the most favourable individuals to breed in the next generation, gradually across many generations the desired form was achieved. Different breeds were developed in each region and between regions of the world – multiplying the number of varieties. It was a form of evolution, producing genetic change by a process of selection, analogous – as Darwin recognised – to evolution in the wild, but with humans doing the selecting rather than the natural environment.

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How It Works Issue 71