Hunter Gatherers and Dogs

by (30) Updated October 13, 2011 at 2:04 PM Created October 13, 2011 at 12:59 AM

I just saw a teaser for and upcoming PBS Nova show about the evolution and role of dogs in society. One snippet said "Without dogs, we would still be hunter gatherers". I'm curious....what are they talking about?

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6 Replies

Medium avatar
19355 · October 13, 2011 at 1:22 AM

I believe the domestication of dogs is thought to precede organized agriculture as well as sedentarism/settlement in general.

The dog, being a daytime, pack hunter was a good fit for daytime, pack hunting humans.

I've heard various theories regarding the impact having dogs had on human societies and recently thumbed through a book whose author proposed that dogs had an influence on human brain development.

I wonder if this new special is a response to that book? (Wish I could remember the name though!)

55320 · October 13, 2011 at 1:08 AM

Maybe the theory that keeping pets led to keeping livestock. I believe it. A lot of foraging tribes keep pet pigs, it's not a far step to breeding them and from there to greater reliance on livestock rather than game.

2923 · October 13, 2011 at 2:04 PM

Dogs came into the picture in various ways in various places, like the dawning of agriculture or writing. Always, they started as "junkyard dogs" in the stable middens of peoples who were settled or at least reliably migratory, as opposed to nomadic. In some cases they could have found their way into nomad culture from there, but never as an ideal fit. In the worst cases, they came aboard with people who followed sheep herds, who discovered they could be raised as sheep-dogs, and thus allowed the outright domestication of sheep. Critters of the sheep family are the real devils behind deforestation. They eat saplings. They become self-necessitated necessities, the only viable way to keep putting meat on the table when your countryside is increasingly devasted. They eat everything. Devils from hell! I say kill 'em! Kill 'em and eat 'em!

How come I can't find mutton at the grocery store? I wanna eat the devils!


Medium avatar
5619 · October 13, 2011 at 2:34 AM

A new-ish theory suggests that rather than being domesticated by humans, dogs, as opportunistic scavenging wolves, domesticated themselves in response to available food contained in midden heaps on the edges of our newly settled territories. In essence, the wolves with the lowest flight distance threshold hung around more, and were ultimately more successful at eating our scraps because they didn't run away when we dragged animal carcasses to the dump. Rather than taking several thousand years, it is thought that under these circumstances the change from wolf to dog happened rather more quickly. One human lifetime-quickly. I don't know if I buy it, and I think it may have been a combination of factors, but I'm no expert.

The basic postulation is that the first domesticated hooved animals were goats and sheep, whose natural habitats were dangerous, rocky/mountainous terrain, inaccessible to humans without the help of the dog. Once we harnessed the dog's natural stalking/hunting instinct and used it to our advantage, we were able to gather herds of these animals and bend them to our will.

5774 · October 13, 2011 at 1:23 AM

keeping sheep, cattle, and other herding animals is very difficult without the help of dogs. To keep livestock, you almost have to settle in one location (no moving the tribe with seasons). If you're not moving, you're farming because otherwise you and your animals will over harvest fruits, vegetables, and tubers.

Therefore, dogs enabled us to grow grains

6332 · October 13, 2011 at 1:10 AM

-Edited- Found this:

"Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors."


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