Monday, April 1, 2013

The Influence of Dogs on Human Development

A recent archaeological dig found what is believed to be a dog’s head carbon dated over thirty-one thousand years ago. Whether our relationship with dogs goes back twelve thousand years or a hundred thousand years the fact remains that our relationship with “man’s best friend” goes back further than any other animal.

The debate about how dogs became domesticated is still widely debated. Most scientists and researchers believe that cave men would not have had the resources needed to breed wolves’ generation after generation culminating in today’s domesticated dog. These early humans would have been too busy hunting, gathering and would need to have pooled all of their resources just to survive.
The fact remains that there are very few animals that are both social hunters, carnivores, and hunt by the light of day. This combination of behaviors could have created a natural teamwork between man and wolf (the predecessor of domesticated dogs).

The domestication of the wolf likely fundamentally changed human life style by allowing us to be better hunters and thereby providing more food. This would enable the survival of more human offspring and helped to ensure our success as a species. There is also the theory that the domestication of the dog led to the creation of agriculture by helping early humans guard and protect their flocks as well as their crops. Some people even postulate that without dogs, man would still be hunter-gatherers and that civilization as we currently know it would not have been possible.
Recent studies by cognitive behaviorists showing that dogs are the only other species that responds to us pointing to an object – something that we take for granted with our dogs. These studies show that even highly intelligent species such as chimpanzees are not capable of understanding this type of gesture.  This does not imply that dogs are (arguably) smarter than most species, but it does show how uniquely suited they are for human companionship.
Dogs not only respond to finger pointing, but also are remarkably good at understanding our eye movements. Humans are one of the only species that have sclera (whites of the eye) that is visible. This is believed to be an adaptation to enhance human communication using nothing but our eyes. The dark coloration around most other animals’ eyes suggests an adaptation to camouflage gaze direction so that predators could not predict movements by watching their prey’s eye movements.
The truly fascinating aspect is that even though dogs do not use either of these two characteristics to communicate with each other, they have learned to watch for this type of input from people. Dogs are also very good at reading our emotions and body language, making them the undisputed winners of the title “man’s best friend”.
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