What role have humans played in modifying animal behaviour? A case study of the domestic dog.
The role of humans in shaping the behaviour of modern dogs is striking. Modern dog breeds, having arisen through extensive artificial selection, number in the hundreds and all have distinctive behavioural characteristics. However, the role humans have played in the original behavioural modifications that occurred during the domestication of grey wolves and the origin of the domestic dog are much less clear. How did dogs become tame? How did they develop the ability to follow human commands and cues? What genetic changes may have occurred during this process? And crucially, what role did humans play in this process? This essay explored the role of humans in altering behaviour during the early domestication of dogs by drawing together current theories from three key areas of research; the origins of dog domestication, models for behavioural modification and the genetic basis for behavioural change. These areas of research have shed new light on the behavioural origins of the domestic dog, reassessing the role of humans dramatically from an active force, purposefully domesticating dogs and altering their behaviour, to an environmental factor that the dogs themselves adapted to. In addition to this, research into behavioural traits of dogs, phylogeny of domestication and genetics of behaviour suggests that early dogs evolved cognitive behavioural skills that allowed them to read human body language and adapt to human social environments and that selection for genes conferring tame behaviour were key in driving the domestication of dogs from their wild ancestors. When drawn together, this broad range of research spanning over fifty years, challenges the long held romantic images of savage beasts coming in from the cold to sit round mans fire and instead paints a far more complex and fascinating picture of the role of humans in behavioural change and domestication of the dog.