With hundreds of millions of pet dogs in the world, it’s perfectly natural to wonder just when people started keeping dogs as pets. And for a long time, people accepted that humans first domesticated dogs around 15,000 years ago, but new evidence suggests that humans domesticated wolves long before that. It is now believed that humans could have begun domesticating wolves as early as 40,000 years ago.
So, when exactly did humans start keeping dogs as pets, and why did they feel the need to add some furry companions to their lives? We’ll break it all down for you here.
A Word on Conflicting Timelines
While we know that dogs are our oldest domesticated friends, there’s some disagreement on when humans first domesticated dogs. The original theory stated that humans domesticated dogs about 15,000 years ago in the Middle East.
However, a study from geneticist Pontus Skoglund published a study of a 35,000-year-old Siberian wolf bone he claims comes from a domesticated wolf. According to Skoglund’s theory, humans first domesticated the wolf between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago!
No matter which number stands or if it’s somewhere in-between, both numbers make the dog the first domesticated pet.
It’s also worth noting that while humans likely first domesticated dogs between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago, humans have kept baby animals as pets for as long as we can track. However, as the animals grew up, humans either released them back into the wild or served them up for dinner.
The First Domestic Animal
While there are conflicting timelines and conflicting theories on why people first domesticated dogs, one thing that everyone can seem to agree on is that dogs were the first domesticated animals. Yes, people domesticated our furry friends before ruminant animals like cows and even before horses. Dogs aren’t just our best friends, they’re our oldest friends too!
Pets and Their Roles
While humans might’ve domesticated dogs 40,000 years ago, their roles in our communities have changed quite a bit through the years. When people first started to domesticate wolves into dogs, it was likely for purely functional purposes.
People used dogs to help with hunting, guarding, and herding, which were all super important uses during those times. As humans started to transition towards farming about 8,000 years ago, dogs helped there too, keeping animals away from crops and helping with mice and rat control.
But not only did dogs have extremely functional roles, but in many societies, they had cultural roles too. For instance, during ancient times, many societies viewed pets as intermediaries between us and the dead. Some societies believed dogs needed to consume a human body to allow it to pass into the afterlife, and some societies even believed dogs could prevent death. Additionally, in ancient Greece, therapists and doctors kept dogs around because they thought they could heal!
By the Middle Ages (starting around the 13th century AD), dogs had developed into pure companions too. This was especially true with nobility since they had the extra income to spend on pets. Female nobility often preferred smaller lap dogs, while male nobility preferred “working dogs” that could help during hunts.
But during this time, pet keeping was almost exclusively for the noble and rich. It wasn’t for another 500 years that pet keeping made its way to the middle class. While there are many theories as to why pets became more popular during this time, it’s likely that food simply became more prevalent, allowing humans to acquire pets without negatively impacting their lives!
Today pets are extremely common, with an estimated 471 to 900 million pet dogs alone in the world. In addition, there are an estimated 300 to 600 million pet cats in the world, so pet-keeping certainly isn’t going anywhere any time soon!
Dogs might be known as man’s best friend, but it doesn’t take much research to realize that they’re man’s oldest friend too! They have a long history of hanging out by our side through the years, and with almost a billion pet dogs in the world, that’s not going to change any time soon!
Featured Image Credit: Lizardflms, Shutterstock