Dogs were good boys and girls long before they looked the part. According to new research, pups from the past changed their wild, wolflike behavior and became tame long before their physical features altered (like getting cute ears, for example).
The June 2018 study published in BMC Biology revealed some interesting science behind the domestication of dogs. As you may already know, dogs are related to the much wilder wolves, but it’s only now that scientists are beginning to understand how the earliest doggos transformed into the fur babies we know and love today. After studying the genes of 10 wolves and 43 “village dogs” (dogs who roam around, scavenge for food, and mate freely), researchers found that in the early days of dog domestication, behavior traits such as tameness and reduced fear of humans eventually led to the adorable physical traits of modern-day dogs. Experts call this the neural crest hypothesis.
“The neural crest hypothesis posits that the phenotypes we see in domesticated animals over and over again — floppy ears, changes to the jaw, coloration, tame behavior — can be explained by genetic changes that act in a certain type of cell during development called neural crest cells, which are incredibly important and contribute to all kinds of adult tissues,” study co-author Amanda Pendleton, PhD, said in a press release.
The researchers specifically chose to study village dogs instead of breed dogs so that they could eliminate any genetic factors that breeders deliberately influenced to get certain physical traits. While specific doggo colors and markings are in high demand with pet owners these days, our early human ancestors were likely more concerned with simply picking tamer furry companions over wilder ones (and for darn good reason!).
We’re so thankful that our ancestors chose the best wild dogs so we could enjoy our lovable fluffballs today!
Next, watch some adorable dogs react to being told how good they are in the video below: