By Cherie Langlois
Everybody loves Jake. You see it in the smiling faces of PetSmart visitors pausing to greet the graceful German Shepherd Dog, and in the wiggling wags of puppies he welcomes to classes taught by trainer Jennifer Lewis of Orting, Wash. A certified therapy dog and Canine Good Citizen, Jake returns the attention with gentle good humor: barking his age for some captivated teens, grinning as a tot toddles over, dropping down to play with a mini Dachshund.
But you can tell his heart belongs to Lewis, who adopted him as a rescue puppy six years ago. “Jake does anything I ask of him, and often I don’t even need to ask him — he just knows what I want him to do,” she says. “In class, Jake socializes puppies and keeps the peace, and he does it all on his own. He’s a really special, engaging dog.”
We may not all have canine pals as popular and obedient as Jake, but every dog lover can relate to the heart tug of this powerful bond. How did our two species fall for each other, and why? Come explore this amazing connection.
Beginning of a bond
Although scientists and archaeologists still debate when and where domestic dogs evolved from the gray wolf, most everyone agrees on this: Dogs — our first domesticated animal — formed a close bond with humans about 14,000 to 17,000 years ago. Some experts theorize early hunters initiated the relationship when they toted home and raised orphaned, too-cute-to-resist wolf pups. Others think bolder wolves made the first advances by hanging around habitations to scavenge leftovers.
After researching the biological basis of the human-animal bond for 16 years, Meg Daley Olmert of Wittman, Md., author of “Made for Each Other, The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond” (Da Capo Press, 2009), believes it was woman who first felt the overpowering urge to take care of a crying wolf pup. “This friendly contact could have kick-started a potent oxytocin hormone feedback system that tamed wolves and charmed humans into keeping them close and feeding them,” she says.
According to Olmert, oxytocin, a hormone found in mammals, suppresses the fear response and lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels. It creates a calm connection and powerful anti-stress effect that instigates and rewards social interactions.
“Oxytocin has been proven to promote social recognition — like between mother and child — and create a broader sense of relatedness within and between species,” she says. “This is how wolves and humans came to see one another as best friends.”
In any case, these tamer wolves would have made useful sentries and perhaps hunting partners in exchange for food and security. “Initially, I think what we got out of wolves was the companionship of a good night’s sleep!” Olmert says. With their trusty dogs on the lookout for predators or enemies, our early ancestors probably experienced some peaceful rest.
It would have taken only 100 to 150 years to produce domesticated dogs, once people started aggressively selecting for tamer wolves around their villages, says Alan Beck, professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and director of its Center for the Human-Animal Bond. “The breeds initially reflected special roles that early people had for dogs, such as pulling, guarding, and herding,” he says.
Dogs also served, as they do now, as mankind’s best friend. Exactly when dogs transitioned from useful animals to companions we might never know. And for much of history, working dogs certainly outnumbered pets. According to Stanley Coren, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, small, companion-only canines also usually belonged to privileged people, like Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-1786), who apparently had a wing of his palace designated for his Italian Greyhounds.
Today, though many dogs still work for a living, most occupy a companion role in the United States. In fact, an ever increasing number of citizens consider — and adore — their pets as family. Another nice change from the old days: You don’t have to be royalty to keep a dog simply for love.
Why do I love thee, dog? Click here to read the full article
The explanation for why we love dogs is more complex.