How Humans Domesticated Animals
With ubiquitous pet ownership and millions of farm animals present in large and small-scale cultivation/farmlands, you’d be forgiven to think that domesticated animals have always been with humanity. In fact, in today’s world, animal domestication is taken for granted. However, from the meat and dairy products we consume to the loyal and sometimes fierce companionship some offer, domesticated animals provide us with many products, services and hours of labor that have had the most profound effect on the history of humanity.
So how did this relationship between humans and animals begin? The process centers on the term called Domestication. Domestication refers to the mutual relationship between animals and man, who exercises influence on their care and reproduction.
Domestication vs. Taming
However, domestication cannot and should not be used interchangeably with taming. Taming is defined as the conditioned behavioral alteration of a wild-born animal when its natural avoidance of humans undergoes a watering down, and it accepts the presence of humans, to certain extents and circumstances. Domestication, on the other hand, features a permanent genetic modification of the lineage of a breed of animals, such that interaction and subservience to human control/authority becomes an inherited disposition.
So you have instances where a ‘tamed’ lion, stationed in a zoo or circus, turns on its handler or others, when it is put under stress or some other undesirable position. This situation rarely happens with domesticated animals such as the cats, dogs or farm animals like cattle.
History of Domestication
The story of domestication finds many roots and foundations in myths and legends. The most notable tales center on humans and wolves preying on animals much more massive than themselves, beginning from the period of the Ice age, some 20,000 to 10,000 years ago.
These two groups of hunters – man and wolf, employed and still use, a social structure that helps them hunt and kill in packs. Scrutiny reveals that human and wolf packs are similar and display the same characteristics, especially in hierarchical structures and modus operandi. The relationships in both groups are family-based; a dominant male member receives support from the most influential female, whose authority is second only to his. Members of the group show comradeship and affection to each other but deeply suspicious of outsiders/intruders. All members (not restricted to the parents) also actively protect newborns and the young. Both species display natural aptitude at decoding the moods of others in the group, whether through facial expression or other forms of body language.
These shared characteristics mean there will be clashes between man and wolf, especially as the former’s civilization encroached on land and resources available to wolves and other lesser animals. However, avenues also exist for both species to benefit from a mutually rewarding relationship, concerning the hunt of prey. For the wolf, human resourcefulness and the use of weapons mean wolves will often partake in a higher number of kills and other leftovers. For humans, wolves’ inbred killer instinct, speed, and ferocity form the basis for fashioning new weapons and methodologies.
Myth has it that shared commonalities like these between these species mean stories abound of wolves raising children, who become equipped with natural hunting skills, including a heightened sense of smell. In turn, you would have heard of tales bordering on wolf cubs adapting quickly to life among humans. This story can point to the emergence of the domestic dog known to us today.
The Ramifications of Domestication
Domesticated species of animals often entails a willingness for breeding under human authority. While these animals might be seen as being bred in captivity, the case is not as simple as that. Regarding the exactitude of survival, species that have developed a relationship with man have fared better than their distant cousins in the wild.
The animals that fall under this categorization include cats, dogs, horses, cows, sheep, goats and horses among others. You will find that the domestic cat far outnumbers its counterparts in the wild including the tiger and cheetah, among others. The same principle applies to the dog and its cousins, the wolf, and the wild dog.
Dogs (stretching from 12,000 years ago)
This most loyal friend of man often serves as the quintessential example of the success of domestication. The earliest, most compelling evidence of the domesticated dog centers on the archaeological finding of a jaw bone in a cave in present-day Iraq, some 12,000 years ago.
The bone bears a striking resemblance to that of a wolf howbeit with slight modifications. These alterations lie in the fact that the dog’s environment imposed changes in the composition of teeth and layout of bones, reflective of the fact that the dog feeding patterns differ from that of the wolf.
While the former (wolf) needs a ferocious bite coupled with more prominent teeth for killing and tearing flesh, the domesticated dog receives meals and other nourishment without really working for it.
Now dogs are used as companion animals. In many homes this means the dog is a pet, or a treasured member of the family. There are numerous therapeutic reasons to keep a dog as a pet, as they provide psychological and health benefits to their owners. Studies have shown that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and stress levels than those who live without a companion. These animals also help to combat loneliness for their owners, and can help children learn responsibility and self esteem. Because of these benefits, calm, well-trained dogs are often taken into hospitals and nursing homes to provide companionship and positive interactions with the residents. Good companion dogs need proper training in order to make them a positive addition to the family.
Seeing Eye Dogs. Blind individuals often benefit from the services of a seeing eye dog, a specially trained dog that leads its owner and helps the blind individual avoid dangers and hazards. Seeing eye dogs are typically larger breeds, like labs or retrievers, which are easily trained and calm in nature.
Tracking Dogs. Because of their keen sense of smell, many dog breeds can be trained to be tracking dogs. These dogs can take a scent, such as an article of clothing from a person, and then track the origin of that scent. This can be used in finding a criminal and in rescuing a lost individual. It can also be used to track animals on a hunt. Training a dog to track takes some skill and understanding of a dog’s behavior.
Drug Sniffing Animals. Drug sniffing animals, usually dogs, use their strong noses to detect the presence of illegal drugs in a variety of situations. These animals are taken into schools, airports, bus stations, and other areas where illegal drugs may be present. Through special training, they are taught to show their handlers where drugs are, allowing the proper arrests to be made.
Protection Dogs. Dogs can also be used to protect people and their property. Some breeds of dogs are extremely territorial and possessive. When trained properly, they can be taught to keep intruders, both human and animal, away from someone’s property. Protection dogs need to be handled with care, however, because of the high risk that they may bite someone.
Herding Dogs. Some dogs are born with a natural in-born desire to herd things. They will herd people, children, or other animals that are in their area. This desire can be harnessed through proper training and used in a farm setting to herd animals such as sheep, goats, and cows. Many of the shepherd breeds earned their names because of this ability. Herding on the Web offers multiple resources relating to herding, including information about training and the best breeds for training. It also contains links for various herding organizations around the world.
Sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs (between 9,000 to 7,000 BC)
Sheep may arguably hold the record of being the first domesticated source of food in the Middle East. This theory is backed by excavated findings of a large number of bones of year old sheepling, at a site in Northern Iraq.
Not too long afterward, goats followed suit, and these two became standard bearers of food and milk; nomadic pastoralists ensuring that these animals enjoyed massive propagation, as they moved about in the search for grazing land.
Cattle and pigs came into the scene around the period 7,000 BC, with the peoples of present-day Western China credited with breeding the Ox. The chief reasons for keeping this group of animals was for the regular supply of fresh meat and milk. Other uses that developed included using their droppings as manure and their fur as base materials for leather and garments.
Cats (from before the period around 3,000 BC)
Cats are another domesticated animal that lives with humans. They are also the only ones who are solitary in the wild, as against living in communities or flocks. As a result, cats obtain their needs from man (comprising food, shelter, play) and performs its duties in return (such as pest control), while still maintaining its original identity.
Cats are unique in the sense that they have remained in close ties with their cousins in the wild. The reason is partly because it is hard to control their breeding patterns, in addition to the fact that they can fend for themselves if human care ceases.
Horses (in and around 3000 BC)
Horses are arguably the most important domesticated animals to humans in 3000 BC.
Before then wild horses roamed large swaths of the known world just before they became tame. The earliest signs of horse domestication were discoveries of their bones/remains in ancient America as well as paintings of them littering the walls of caves.
Horses moved from just providing meat and milk, like cattle and other animals, to other essential tasks. Riding a horse meant humankind’s ability to cover ground, with speed and accuracy, from one place to another, received great facilitation.
Today, the entire range of species of horses, from the sturdy carthorse to the smallest ponies, are consequences of human interventions via breeding.