Skip to Content

What were the 1st dogs?

Dogs were the first domesticated animals, and have been companions to humans for tens of thousands of years. But where did dogs come from originally? And what were the very first dogs like?

When did dogs first appear?

The earliest undisputed dog remains date back approximately 15,000 years ago to the late Paleolithic period. These early dogs resembled modern wolves but were somewhat smaller. Genetic studies indicate that these early dogs likely split from wolves sometime between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.

There is some evidence that suggests an even earlier domestication date. A skull fragment found in a cave in Belgium dates back 31,700 years and possesses some dog-like features. However, its classification as a dog or wolf remains contentious among scientists.

Where were dogs first domesticated?

For many years, researchers believed that dogs were first domesticated in Europe, descended from European gray wolves. This was based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mothers to offspring.

However, recent research indicates that dogs were more likely first domesticated in East Asia, possibly China. This is based on nuclear DNA evidence, which represents contributions from both parents. The original European dog mitochondrial DNA likely reached Europe through migration of people and dogs from East Asia.

How were dogs domesticated?

There are a few leading theories about how wolves were first domesticated into dogs:

  • Wolves scavenged around human camps for food scraps, becoming accustomed to human presence.
  • Humans captured wolf pups and raised them.
  • Some wolves were less afraid of humans, allowing them to eventually cooperate.

In all likelihood, domestication was a gradual process involving both natural evolution and selective breeding. As wolves spent more time near humans, the friendliest ones were able to get closer and receive more food. Humans also likely intentionally bred those individuals to further develop dog-like traits.

What jobs did early dogs perform?

While the earliest dogs were not fully domesticated, they likely filled several roles around human camps:

  • Companionship: Dogs provided early humans with social bonds and emotional benefits.
  • Hunting: Dogs helped track, pursue, and retrieve prey.
  • Security: Dogs guarded camps and warned of approaching dangers.
  • Waste management: Dogs cleaned up scraps and food waste.
  • Fur: Dog pelts provided insulation for clothing and shelter.

Even in their proto-domesticated state, dogs had begun developing partnerships with humans that shaped both species’ evolution. Humans likely favored and cared for the most useful dogs, influencing their development.

What did the earliest dogs look like?

Based on remains and genetic studies, the earliest dogs would have resembled modern wolves in most respects. However, there were likely some notable differences:

  • Smaller sizes – Dogs were somewhat smaller than wolves initially.
  • Shorter snouts – Dog snouts shortened over time compared to wolves.
  • Wider skulls – Dog skulls were broader with a smaller brain size.
  • Curly tails – A mutation for curly tails arose in early dogs.
  • Coat colors – Coat colors expanded beyond wolf colors.

These changes likely arose both from natural selection pressures and selective breeding by humans. Even subtle physical changes helped distinguish dogs from wild wolves.

What genetic changes differentiate dogs from wolves?

In recent years, scientists have pinpointed some key genetic differences between dogs and wolves that underlie both physical and behavioral differences between the species.

Gene Effect
IGF1 Smaller body size
BMP3 Shortened snout
SMOC2 Curly tail
AMY2B Better starch digestion
WBSCR17 Domestication syndrome

Changes in digestion, skeletal morphology, and neural development all contributed to the split between wolves and dogs. Ongoing research is still uncovering new differences.

How did the dog-human relationship evolve?

As dogs became more domesticated over thousands of years, their relationships with humans deepened and became more multifaceted. Some key developments include:

  • Intentional breeding – Humans bred dogs selectively for desired traits like behavior, size, appearance, and abilities.
  • Increased companionship – Dogs became true companions rather than just cohabitors near human sites.
  • New roles – Dogs took on specialized new roles like herding, pest control, and sled pulling.
  • Closer integration – Dogs moved from camps into human homes and villages as trusted companions.
  • Spread across the globe – Migrating humans brought dogs with them to establish new populations worldwide.

This coevolution transformed wolf-like progenitors into the diverse dog breeds we know today. Humans and dogs both influenced each other’s development via artificial and natural selection.

What were some notable ancient dog breeds?

Once intentional breeding programs began, recognizable dog breeds started to emerge and spread around the world alongside humans. Some ancient breeds include:

  • Basenjis – One of the oldest dog breeds, originating in Africa. Used as hunters and village dogs.
  • Salukis – Ancient sight hound breed from the Middle East used for hunting and companionship.
  • Tibetan Mastiffs – Massive protectors originating in Tibet over 5,000 years ago.
  • Siberian Huskies – An ancient sled dog breed from Siberia.
  • Afghan Hounds – Elegant and independent-minded hounds from Afghanistan.

These early breed lineages developed distinct traits based on geography, culture, and purpose. Modern breeds descended from them retain many of their key characteristics.


The available archaeological, genetic, and behavioral evidence indicates dogs emerged from wolves at least 15,000 years ago, likely in East Asia. These proto-dogs filled symbiotic roles in early human settlements. Over many generations of selective breeding and coevolution, early dogs became true domestic companions. They assumed specialized jobs, spread around the world, and eventually diversified into the modern breeds we know today. But through it all, the special relationship between humans and dogs endures.