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History of domesticated dogs

21 August 2015

Statistics indicate that there are over 9 million pet dogs in the UK, in all shapes, sizes and colours, but how have these wild, wolf-like creatures transformed into man’s best friend?


A young wolf cub


Approximately 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, prehistoric man discovered that young wolf cubs could be trained to remain subordinate to humans and subsequently taught to hunt, guard and herd. There are many conflicting views on whether the wolf is the common ancestor of domestic dogs, with some scientists believing that today’s dog breeds have not evolved from the gray wolf, but rather dogs and gray wolves ‘share a common ancestor in an extinct wolf lineage that lived thousands of years ago’.

From the earliest days of domestication, dogs would have had practical uses. They were kept because they could perform tasks such as hunting, guarding, and herding. Domesticated dogs were probably treated with respect in primitive societies and there is evidence even that some were also thought to be companions as long as 12,000 years ago. In Northern Israel, a Paleolithic tomb was discovered in which a human was buried with a dog or wolf puppy, and the dead person's hand had been arranged so that it rested on the animal's shoulder, as if to show a deep bond of affection during life.


Cave drawings


In the Middle Ages, owning pets was popular among the aristocracy and some senior clergy – a status symbol; lap dogs for the noble ladies and hunting hounds and falcons for the gentlemen. At this time, the number of dog breeds throughout Europe increased as different types of hound were developed for hunting different prey. The Christian Church frowned on the keeping of pets, believing the food given to these animals should instead be given to the poor.

Until the end of the 17th century, owning a pet wasn't generally accepted in Europe and it wasn't common among the middle classes until the late 18th century. It is generally believed that the 19th century Victorians are responsible for the way in which we own and keep pets today. Following the first formal competitive dog show in Newcastle in 1859, Britain experienced a massive growth in what was deemed a very fashionable hobby. The first field trial took place in 1865 and this sport also became very popular.

In today’s society, dogs can take on many roles – from pets and companions to guide dogs, hearing dogs, dogs for the disabled, farm dogs, gun dogs and police and military dogs responsible for sniffing out drugs and explosives or tackling criminals.

Willows have a comprehensive range of Looking after your pet dog information sheets. These care guides cover such aspects as feeding, exercise, training, grooming, vaccination, worming, insurance, Pet Passports and responsible pet ownership. There is also more specific information relating to the different life stages of your dog and they provide links to our more detailed Pet Health Information Sheets and other external sources of information. We hope you will enjoy using this resource.

Getting a new dog or puppy

Looking after your puppy

Looking after your Dog

Looking after your pregnant bitch

Looking after your senior dog