The dog is truly one of the two most widely popular and prevalent domestic animals in the entire world (and the cat is just the other). For over 12,000 years, it has remained with humans as both a hunting tool protector, and beloved pet, to boot. And throughout the history of mankind’s relationship with dogs, there have been many misconceptions, myths, legends and folklore concerning the doggie.
One of the most widely-known dog myths concerns the idea of the dog being domesticated long before mankind was around. In early times, the dog was indeed domesticated, but it was only because the wolves had become too plentiful for humans to hunt them. The wolves were also very tough and intelligent animals, which meant that they were better able to survive in packs than were people. Wolves even helped build the early human cities of Olduvai and Mohenjo-daro.
While some elements of this early myth are true – the dog did help build the earliest human settlements, for example – most of it comes from a misunderstanding of what exactly the word ‘domestic’ means. A domestic animal refers to a creature that belongs to a single household. It doesn’t typically mean that the animal is necessarily tame or friendly, unless that is the intent of the owner. While dogs have been domesticated through many different methods (such as by being trained for hunting, or being used as gun dogs, or as assistance animals for blind people or the deaf), the word ‘domestic’ itself does not refer to any sort of domestication process.
The most common image of a doggie is that of a working dog, bred to assist humans in their jobs. While the United States currently has fewer hunting dogs (due to their popularity and lack of hunting laws allowing hunting with dogs) than almost all other countries in the world, the term does still exist. Many American dogs are often bred to be strong, silent hunters, a type of dog that would likely do quite well as a field dog, or service dog, assisting humans in their day-to-day tasks. While some hunting dogs might be kept on a leash for security purposes, these are generally not the types of dogs used as service or assistance dogs in the United States.
The word ‘dog’ is used in many different contexts than simply referring to domestic dogs. In European cultures, and in many Asian countries and cultures, dogs are revered as the sentinal of the family. In many Native American societies and tribes, dogs are considered sacred and consider them to be a part of their families, instead of just companions. Even in some conservative Indian enclaves in the United States, dogs are the primary form of transportation, carrying out missions and collecting food.
All dogs, including wolves, are members of the class of mammals known as carnivores. Their diet consists of meat, plant material, eggs and insects. They have evolved from more ancient members of their genus, such as the Egyptians and rodents. Wolf and coyote are the only canids that predate humans. Domestic dogs, wolves and coyotes are a very important part of our biological and social history.