Regardless of whether your dog is a Mexican Chihuahua or a Chinese shih tzu, her genes are essentially European.
Just as humanity started in Africa, UCLA scientists this week say they have proof that canine-kind got its start from domesticated wolves on the European continent more than 1,000 years ago.
Researchers believe wolves might have been used to help us hunt:
Results of the study by UCLA evolutionary biology professor Robert Wayne and his UCLA colleagues was published in the journal Science today.
The academics analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of 10 ancient “wolf-like” animals and eight “dog-like” animals, the school says. The subjects were 1,000- to 30,000-years-old.
Then they compared the results to the DNA of 77 domestic dogs, 49 wolves and four coyotes.
A UCLA statement says Wayne and his team concluded that …
… domestic dogs were genetically grouped with ancient wolves or dogs from Europe — not with wolves found anywhere else in the world or even with modern European wolves. Dogs, they concluded, derived from ancient wolves that inhabited Europe and are now extinct.
The researchers theorize that humans took wolves along for hunts, thus making them the “only large carnivore humans ever domesticated,” Wayne said:
… If domestication occurred in association with hunter-gatherers, one can imagine wolves first taking advantage of the carcasses that humans left behind — a natural role for any large carnivore — and then over time moving more closely into the human niche through a co-evolutionary process.
The prof says wolves in the tundra follow caribou around and don't mix with other wolves. This fact could help prove that dogs are the product of wolf packs that broke off from their breed to hang with humans:
We have an analog of this process today, in the only migratory population of wolves known existing in the tundra and boreal forest of North America. This population follows the barren-ground caribou during their thousand-kilometer migration. When these wolves return from the tundra to the boreal forest during the winter, they do not reproduce with resident wolves there that never migrate. We feel this is a model for domestication and the reproductive divergence of the earliest dogs from wild wolves.
So next time Fido howls at the moon be aware that the call of the wild is in her European genes.