Why did humans domesticate dogs in the first place? What drew these two species together to begin a relationship that would last for millenia? It is likely that humans first saw early canids as a threat- they competed for the same resources, and could potentially attack humans directly as well. However, it was their similarities that made these animals such valuable companions. Both humans and canids were pack hunters, highly reliant on communication, with complex social hierarchies that were essential to their survival as a species (8). It is believed that wild canid puppies were taken in by some early humans, and kept (5). It’s unclear whether they were first intended to be a source of food, a companion, or perhaps even source of fur, however this sparked the beginning of the domestication process (4). Eventually these animals were valued as pets for their ability to be trained as companions and hunters, and a symbiotic relationship developed between the human-raised canids and people that was mutually beneficial for their survival.
Today, we value dogs for much the same reasons. This is evidenced by the way we have bred them into different categories for different purposes- herding, sporting, working, guarding, and companion, just to name a few (23). We value dogs for their ability to learn and work as well as their ability to empathize as companion animals, so much so that we breed them specifically to our own purposes. We breed hypoallergenic dogs because we refuse to let pet dander interfere with our ability to form relationship with these animals. We spend hundreds of dollars on them for specialty food, healthcare, even toys and clothes. We invest thousands to be able to compete in dog shows. The relationship between a person and a dog even has the ability to bring cultures together- people all over the world have an ability to understand each other through our interactions with our dogs.
Dogs have helped us hunt, fought for us, and comforted us, and with the advancement of modern science they are helping us on other frontiers as well. The similarities between humans and dogs make them an excellent model for medical research. In fact, recent discoveries from cancer treatment research in dogs made by the National Canine Cancer Foundation are being applied to the way we approach cancer treatment in humans as well (14).
Of course, there are cultures today that still value dogs as a source of food, notably in Eastern Asia and some parts of Africa (23). But however they may be viewed in cultures across the globe, there can be no doubt that without dogs, life as we know it would be very different.
Top image source: http://www.examiner.com/article/questions-to-ask-yourself-before-becoming-a-dog-owner
Middle image source: http://khanrahan.com/2012/03/07/urgent-write-your-legislators/
Bottom image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_meat
Thumbnail image source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lilyboo/50-toddlers-who-are-best-friends-with-their-dogs-538l