Origin of the dog: prehistoric dog ancestors!

Narrated from: Dog History

Everything has a start somewhere. That’s what a guy called Charles Darwin taught us, when he explained the meaning of the term “evolution”.

We all know that out lovable canine friends evolved from the wolves in the woods (though who knows – the wolves themselves, being proud animals, might consider that demeaning!). However, this raises the question – where did wolves come from?!

And are dogs really descendants of wolves?

Recent research has put this well-known fact into doubt, as it has been suggested that the prehistoric dogs that got adopted by our ancient ancestors about 10 000 years ago, though related to wolves, in fact belonged to a completely different branch of the family! This theory would explain why dogs look nothing like wolves – and also why dogs love us so much, since all their wild brethren became extinct in the end, but with the help of humans, domesticated dogs lived on and eventually spread all over the world!

Doggy ancestors – Old Tom

To understand where dogs come from you need to imagine the roots of a tree – there are many roots, growing in different directions, but they all have the same starting point.

One of the direct ancestors of the dogs was a species called Tomarctus – or Old Tom for the benefit of our tongues! Old Tom was a sturdy, wolfish fellow, with a long, bushy tail. He was a runner and a hunter, and roamed North America for more than six million years, giving the start to a line of canids that would eventually become canines.

Bear dogs

Did you know that the bear is in fact a cousin to modern-day dogs? Well, probably twice-removed, but still…

Bears evolved from a species that we now call Bear dog, because it is a member of the same line as our canine friends. Bear dogs, or (brace your tongues) Daphaenus, were large, heavy hunters with a big head and short legs.

Civet dogs

However, it was the cousin to the Bear dog that would eventually give birth to modern-day dogs – the Cynodictis. The Cynodictis were still a long way off being ferocious wolves – in fact, they resembled civets! These small, furry hunters were the ancestors not only of the dog family, but also of foxes and jackals!

In fact, it turns out that the fox, for instance, is a closer relative of the dog than many of the wild hunting dogs found in Africa and India, or the South American Bush dog – these wild dogs developed from one branch of Cynodictis, while dogs, wolves and foxes come from another.

And the oldest dog ancestor is…

However, Bear dogs and Cynodictis are cousins – which means that they have common ancestors!

These ancestors were called Miacis – not so hard to pronounce, eh?

Modern day wolves would probably be disgusted if they found out they are related to the Miacis – these small carnivores preferred to climb trees like a cat or a squirrel. They had long, slender bodies, short legs with strong, sharp claws for gripping, and long furry tails that’d make any hunter drool.

In fact, Miacis looked like weasels, and often feasted on eggs, insects and other stuff that most canids would sneer at. They lived about 55 million years ago, and were still a long way off terrorizing the sheep-sized ancestors of the horse and the ancient camels that roamed the prehistoric plains!

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