Experts agree that dogs evolved from a now-extinct species of wolf over 15,000 years ago. The move from wild predator to human companion began with a practical realization on the part of a few of those wolves…that if they overcame their fear and hung around our settlements they’d get an easy meal of leftover food scraps.
But how did the first wolves understand that living near people would be beneficial to them? And how did they pass that knowledge on to subsequent generations? An intensive study of modern wolf puppy behavior is providing scientists with evidence on the keys to domestication.
An in-depth article and accompanying video in The New York Times about a wolf puppy study taking place in Canada describes some important clues to how wolves became dogs.
Researchers working with wolf pups discovered that if the pups experience close human contact when very young, they can overcome their natural fear response, which kicks in as they mature. There is a critical period in a wolf puppy’s development that determines if a pup is afraid or curious when exposed to new things.
The researchers are studying the puppies’ DNA as well as their behavior to better understand the genetic basis for the development of anxiety vs. sociability in wolves. The research could ultimately lead to a greater understanding of dog (and human) development as well.
Check out the informative — and adorable! — video here: