Another great European Dog Show

At the time of writing the Czech canine organisation (CMKU) is hard at work on the last preparations for the FCI European Dog Show 2014 in Brno. The number of entries is impressive almost 15,000 dogs + those who take part in the circuit breed club shows.

The CMKU which back in 1991 also organised the EDS – also in Brno – is an experienced organiser and I am convinced that the event is in the best hands and that the FCI Europe Section will be proud of the show when the results are available.

Read more

Jørgen Hindse
President of the FCI Europe Section
The domestication and first utilizations of the dog (part 3/5)

Read the whole article and more in the FCI Centenary Book

Bernard DENIS, France
Honorary Professor, National Veterinary School, Nantes
Ex-member of the FCI Scientific Commission
Translation: J. Mulholland

How did we domesticate the Dog?

Without a doubt, there could have been many different ways of domesticating ani- mals belonging to predisposed1 species. While it may not have concerned all species, the capture of young animals is easily put forth and sustained by solid arguments:

  • ethnological arguments: women and children have a pre-disposition for rearing young animals. For young mammals, breast-feeding could have been done by women (today still, in primitive populations, we know that women, mainly for religious reasons, breast-feed puppies, piglets, kids..); thereafter, the presence of tame females makes mixed feeding easier;
  • ethological arguments: once the question of feeding is resolved, there must be, in order that domestication be accomplished, a privileged relationship estab- lished between Man and the animal. The phenomenon of maternal impregnation (“imprinting”) no doubt played a role but could only succeed with species which accepted to impregnate with Man in general and not only Man as a caretaker (nurse); this collaborates the notion of species pre-disposed to domestication.

It is commonly accepted that the capture of young animals was the privileged means of domesticating the Dog. It is in fact possibly true that prehistoric hunters willingly stole young wolf cubs, kept them alive out of curiosity, had their wives feed them ei- ther by breast-feeding or regurgitation of pre-masticated food and, thus, tamed them just like it can be still observed today in numerous South-East Asian, South American and Oceanic2 communities. However, it is not impossible that another mechanism had a role to play: the grad- ual reduction of the flight- distance of certain commensal animals as they became accustomed to the close presence of Man3.

Woman breastfeeding puppies, Musée de l’homme


Domestication has very significant consequences on animals: the morphology, anatomy, physiology, psychology and the genetic structure are for the least con- cerned. For sure, domestication in itself only triggers the modifications, as many of them will only really become perceptible much later as the influence of humans gradually increases but it is traditional to present them globally. We shall only dis- cuss a few of the consequences of domestication.

Morphological, anatomical and physiological consequences.

The shape of domestic animals is very different from that of wild animals. At the beginning of the domestication process, the format (height and weight) diminished and the skeleton became finer; these characteristics are used in archaeology to at- tempt to distinguish between fossils of wild animals and those of their domestic counterparts4. Thereafter, it diminished or increased according to the choice of se- lection and the quality of food. The degree of variation in Dogs is considered today to be vast (from 600g to more than 150 kg.). The profile and the proportions also vary considerably: practically all the possibilities can be encountered in the range between the English Bulldog and Whippet models.

With regard to coat colour, the variations are also numerous: in general, wild animals have only one coat colour whereas diversity is the rule in domestic species. New coats always appear at the onset because of mutation but they are eliminated through natural selection more often because of non-recognition of the mutants by their fel- lows. It can happen that parents kill a youngster, or that there is no reproduction due to the fact that the new coat creates a sexual barrier. In captivity, natural selec- tion is more organized: humans keep the better socialized animal (towards humans and other animals), and can eventually protect and breed from certain mutants: thus the new coats have the possibility of maintaining themselves and developing. An especially interesting experience of selection was conducted in Siberia on silver foxes which were kept and breed in captivity for their fur. The first subjects were conform to their wild counterparts and progressively, no doubt because of the choice of future breeding stock based on sociability, mutant colours appeared (principally white patches) and were easily transmitted. It was the same for other morphological traits (tail carriage especially).5

Concerning anatomical consequences, we can indicate well known modifications re- lating to the brain; domestic animals often have a smaller brain (weight and volume) compared to their wild counterparts. It is also classic to refer to the digestive tube which becomes longer and, in domestic carnivores, the tendency to have a less de- veloped jaw. On the physiological side, let us just mention better reproduction ca- pacities: earlier sexual maturity, increased prolificacy, longer sexual cycles etc…

Psychological consequences

They are significant. They are determined by “neoteny”, which implies that all do- mestic animals conserve, in regard to their interaction with humans, infantile be- haviour which is characteristic of relationships between child/mother and amongst youngsters. This can be explained by the fact that the breeder, who is close to the animals as from a very early age, progressively substitutes himself to the mother in order to satisfy feeding needs, thus playing the role of what ethologists refer to as “super mother”.

It is not always easy to identify infantile behaviour but, in domestic carnivores, we have two excellent examples: purring in the cat and the dog playing with its master.

1 : Contrary to what one might spontaneously believe any species is not likely to become domestic: there are predisposing factors , including the presentation is beyond the scope of this paper. We must not confuse " domestication " with " apprivoise- ment " or with "farming" . Animal species may well be tamed or be a breeding without merit for both the adjective " domes- tic ."

2 : DIGARD, J.P., “Essai d’ethnoarchéologie du Chien”, Ethnozootechnie, 2006, n° 78, 33-40.

3 : It's what think COP- PINGER, op. cit. (see note 7).

4 : Thus, readily estimated that the first dogs were hardly exceed 50 cm at the withers.

5 : BELYAEV, D.K., “Destabilizing selection as a factor in domestication”, Journal of Heredity, 1979, 70, 301-308.