Dog and Man…A Brief Look Back

A grizzled, unshaven man sits in a crude hut and huddles next to a tiny fire.  He is clothed only in the skin of an animal.  Nearby his wife sleeps, and on the other side of the shelter sleeps his nearly grown son with his younger son and tiny daughter.

Sharing the fire with him is a dog with pointed ears, but of no recognizable breed.  It has just awakened and is now standing and looking in the direction of a faint sound, one too weak for the man to hear.  The dog sits back down, its head still cocked to follow the sound.  Then, as humans have always done, the man speaks to the dog quietly: “What do you hear, my dog?  You will tell me if I should worry?”…

…The dog settled to the ground, placing its head down on its paws, and the man knew that there was no danger near.  He yawned and stirred the fire, then lay down to sleep as well, secure in the knowledge that his guardian would warn him if anything dangerous lurked by.  In the morning they would hunt together and if they were successful, in the afternoon his dog and his daughter would have time to play together.  His rough hand reached out and stroked the dog’s fur, and that touch made them both feel content.

Stanley Coren, The Pawprints of History

Although no one knows for sure how those first bonds were forged, it is likely that a scene much like the one quoted above happened on more than one occasion.  Bones and artifacts point to the fact that dogs and man have long shared a symbiotic relationship.  Evidence exists tying dogs to humans as much as 15,000 years ago.  Evidence of the emotional bond between human and dogs can be documented in a grave in Israel dating 12,000 to 10,000 BC.  natufianburialIn it was found a woman cradling a puppy as she left this world to continue to the next.

The earliest evidence of dogs in Europe was found in Star Carr in Yorkshire.  Those bones date back to 7,000 BC.  There has been documented evidence of the actual burial of dogs on every major land mass in the world, except Antarctica.

There are two major trains of thought as to how this relationship was forged.  One idea is that early man recruited dogs into their societies because they recognized their superior sense of smell and their acute sense of hearing.  That combined with the dog’s natural ability to travel long distances and assist in hunting made them worthy companions.  Another train of thought suggests dogs themselves chose to live close to humans, living off the scraps of food discarded by our ancient relatives.  Eventually their close proximity to humans allowed the two species to begin to forge the relationship that has evolved into what we now have.  However that first connection was made dog and man have an intimate relationship.

Strong evidence exists that dogs were revered in ancient societies.  For instance, Ancient Egyptians would shave their bodies and heads when a beloved dog would die of natural causes.  And in Greece, dogs were considered geniuses.  Plato called his dog “a lover of learning” and “a beast worthy of wonder”.

“The disposition of noble dogs is to be gentle with people they know and the opposite with those they don’t know…How, then, can the dog be anything other than a lover of learning since it defines what’s its own and what’s alien.”
— Plato

Socrates once referred to his dog as a “true philosopher” and Thucydides believed that dogs had the power to predict earthquakes.

Scientists have even found evidence that Romans made use of dogs as guide dogs.  On the wall of a home in Pompeii, buried under the ash from the eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius dated 74 BC, scientists have uncovered an illustration of a blind man with a staff being led by a small dog.  Additionally, they have found the first ‘Beware of Dogs’ signs.  Found in Rome and Pompeii, the warning ‘cave canem’canem was actually intended to protect the dogs from the humans.  Scientists believe they were designed to warn humans to avoid stepping on the small Italian greyhounds that were in vogue at the time.  Scientist have been able to make death casts of people caught in the deluge of ash trying desperately to make their escape. Perhaps one of the more poignant casts resulting from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is that of  a dog that had been chained and therefore unable to even attempt escape.

dog cast Pompeii

In South America, dogs were so much a part of society that human mothers who had lost their own baby, often acted as wet nurses for orphaned puppies.  The practice continues today in some primitive societies.

Dogs have been worshipped as deities and proclaimed eaters of excrement.  They have been associated with the afterlife and treasured as companions in the here and now.  Their status in the world of man has varied from society to society and has been influenced by the times at hand.  Today, as in history, the status of the dog depends greatly on where it is.  More and more, in civilized countries, dogs are being recognized as the amazing creatures that they are and laws are being enacted to protect them from people who minimized their value.  They serve as valuable coworkers to police and the military, assistants to the handicapped and important co-workers  in rescue situations.  They have forged their ways into the daily lives of humans and have proven to be more than just companions, but actual working partners.  However those first relationships developed so many eons ago, man is better off because of them.

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  1. […] Vinsant presents Dog and Man…A Brief Look Back « posted at A Dog Lover’s Blog.  Check out A Dog Lover’s Blog to find information on the […]

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