Dogs have given us their absolute all.
We are the center of their universe.
We are the focus of their love and faith and trust.
They serve us in return for scraps.
It is without a doubt the best deal (hu)man had ever made.
~ Roger Caras ~
Dogs have long been referred to as “man’s” best friend. However, it is much more appropriate to refer to them as “human’s” best friend, to include all the women and children who have close, personal relationships with their dogs. Our companionship with dogs is a direct product of domestication. A prominent British anthrozoologist named John Bradshaw explains that dog domestication marked the technological innovation that provided the blueprint for the domestication of other animals, like the pigs, sheep, cattle and goats (Kawczynska 2011). Thus, the domestication of dogs is the model upon which all other domestications are based.
Although exactly when dogs and humans started their long and fruitful relationship is unknown, it is believed to have started somewhere between 10,000-100,000 years ago. Also, it appears that dogs associated with Homo sapiens (humans) only, and did not become companions of cavemen referred to as Neanderthals. Were dogs the reason Homo sapiens outlasted the Neanderthals? That is an interesting question to ponder. Gorman’s (2012) New York Times essay discusses this question and presents 2 different views to understand dog’s role in the evolution of the human species.
The human-dog companionship is an example of a mutualistic, co-evolutionary relationship at its finest. It is believed that humans and dogs co-evolved to form this long-term and highly benefical companionship. We are just starting to understand all the amazing benefits we gain from our dog companions. Scientific studies demonstrate the positive effects dogs have on human health, and in turn, the positive effects humans have on dog health.
Bradshaw’s suggestion that dogs were the first domesticated animals, upon which others domestications are based, appears to be true. The domestication of dogs probably led to the domestication of pigs, sheep, cattle, goats (Kawczynska 2011). However, the objective of these farm animal domestications is very different from that of dogs, if considering the “friend or foe” analogy. In our relationship with dogs, we are friends. With the exception of certain situations, humans and dogs live side-by-side in harmony.
When considering pigs, sheep, cattle or any other farm animals, however, they are often treated like foes and then slaughtered. There really is no harmony in these relationships, especially when they display predator-prey relationships where one species eats the others. In fact, pigs, sheep, cows and goats are all very trainable and can act like “dogs” when they are treated kindly and not just as potential food sources. My time as a seasonal keeper at Brookfield Children’s Zoo first brought this to light personally. The 1995 movie Babe is a great example of how adorable, lovable and trainable farmyard animals can be or at least appear to be.
Cats are also a domesticated animals; however, for the most part they are nothing like dogs. When was the last time a cat was known to do anything for a human? They don’t fetch the paper or herd sheep. How could cats offer any type of assistance? Cats are in a league of their own. Dogs are the domesticated species that are truly human’s best friends! However, is it a reciprocal relationship? Are humans really dog’s best friend? Are you your dog’s best friend?
Gorman, J. 2012. “What Is” Meets “What If”: The Role of Speculation in Science. New Your Times, Retrieved in http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/science/dogs-and-humans-speculation-and-science.html?_r=1&
Kawczynska, C. 2011. Q&A with Dog Sense Author John Bradshaw: Making Sense of Dogs. The Bark. Retrieved from http://thebark.com/content/qa-dog-sense-author-john-bradshaw?page=4