Perspectives on Domestication: The History of Our Relationship With Man's Best Friend

J Anim Sci. 2008 Nov;86(11):3245-51. doi: 10.2527/jas.2008-1147. Epub 2008 Jul 3.


We are a nation of dog lovers. Never before in our history have we spent more time, money, and emotional energy on a group of animals that are kept solely for companionship. Pet food sales are a multi-billion dollar industry, and pet owners are spending more than 11 billion dollars each year on veterinary care. This devotion is further illustrated by the exponential growth of the pet supply industry, including increasing numbers of pet superstores, play-parks, training centers, and doggie day care centers. During the 1980s, recognition of the human-animal bond led to serious study of the roles that dogs play in our lives. These studies have shown that pets provide significant benefits to our emotional, physical, and social well being. It is ironic then, that at a time when we recognize and appreciate our bonds with animal companions, dark elements of this relationship are equally pervasive. Animal shelters in the United States kill between 3 and 4 million dogs and cats annually. Dog fighting, although outlawed, has reached epidemic proportions in some areas of the country. Episodes of animal cruelty and neglect are reported with alarming frequency in the media; so frequently that discussions of the connection between animal cruelty and human violence have become daily parlance. How then did we come to have such paradoxical perceptions and treatment of our canine companions? This question is explored through an examination of the ancestry of the dog and the prevailing myths and facts about domestication. Historical and present-day perceptions of the wolf and the impact that these attitudes may have upon perceptions of dogs are examined.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / history*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic*
  • Animals, Wild
  • Bonding, Human-Pet*
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Dogs / psychology*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Wolves / physiology