San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection

DOGS: Wolf, Myth, Hero & Friend

"The average dog is a nicer person than the average person is."   Andrew A. Rooney

Chew on this!
Facts about our "best friends"


Natufian burial--human with dogDogs and people share an enduring bond

  • Between 14,000 and 9000 years ago, people began to include dogs in human burials.
  • Some of the oldest archaeological evidence we have of the bond between humans and dogs is a 12,000-year-old Natufian burial site located in what is now known as Israel. It shows an elderly person buried cradling a puppy in the left hand, perhaps to assist the deceased in the transition to the afterlife.
  • Archaeologists have even discovered ancient cemeteries exclusively for dogs. One in Ashkelon, Israel, is approximately 2500 years old.


  • Dogs come in many shapes and sizes
  • Dogs appeared in the fossil record 40 million years ago. These dogs looked like a cross between a weasel and a fox.
  • Flower girl with poodle
  • Today, 35 species of wild dogs can be found from the tropics to the tundra.
  • There are nearly 400 domestic dog breeds.
  • Most dog breeds were developed in Europe after 1850, when having a special kind of dog--a purebred--became a status symbol and fashion accessory, and showing dogs became a sport.
  • The Basenji is the only dog that does not bark.
  • Pictured in Egyptian tombs, Salukis are considered by many to be among the first breed of dogs, originating in the dry grasslands of Asia.
  • Like puppies, the adult dogs of many breeds are small, with short snouts, floppy ears and large eyes. Scientists call these puppy-like features neotenic. Why do we find these traits so charming? Perhaps because they appeal to our own genetically programmed bond to babies.


  • Dogs have skills that help us
  • World War I Red Cross DogDogs can sense odors at concentrations 100 million times lower than humans can. They can detect one drop of blood in 5 quarts of water. Their amazing sense of smell can help humans in countless ways--such as tracking, rescue, and drug and bomb detection.
  • A dog's eyesight is great for hunting. Dogs have better night vision than we do, along with a wider field of view and a better ability to detect motion on the horizon.
  • Dogs' super-sensitive hearing is probably one of the first reasons we tolerated wolves and early dogs near our camps. We used them as guards, alerting us to possible danger. Today, we also rely on their ears to help us find people buried by accident.
  • Assistance dogs serve about 20,000 people in the United States.
  • The first assistance dogs were developed in Germany in the 1920s as guide dogs for veterans who lost their sight in World War I.


  • A little wolf in every dog
  • Plains indian with dogFossil and genetic evidence confirms that all dogs are descendants of wolves.
  • Wolves followed nomadic hunter-gatherers, scavenging the refuse of human encampments or hunting locations. Some prehistoric peoples took advantage of this close contact, adopting wild animals into their settlements for companionship and protection.
  • The process of domestication thus began as people favored specific wolf personalities. Sturdiness, demeanor, and submissiveness were key traits. Later, fully domesticated dogs were bred for every aspect of human life.


  • What can we do to help dogs?
    LuckyWhen dogs breed at will, the number of dogs needing homes soon exceeds the number of homes available to them. In six years, one female dog and all of her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies. Dogs that have been spayed or neutered:
  • Live longer and healthier lives
  • Are better behaved and more focused on training
  • Are less likely to roam and be hit by vehicles
  • Are less expensive to license in many cities and counties
  • Will not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem

  • Shelters and rescue groups often place purebred dogs as well as the mixed-breed variety. So before you look for a breeder, consider contacting a breed rescue group. Check your phone book or the Internet to find one. You'll find rescue groups for nearly every breed, from Afghans to Yorkies.


    Wild dogs: separating fact and fiction
  • Many people fear wolves, sometimes for good reason. Wolves attack livestock, and rabid wolves pose a terrifying threat. Our fear is reflected in folk remedies, like wolfbane, for driving wolves away, and in folklore--consider Aesop's Fables, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Three Little Pigs.
  • Wolves
  • Nineteenth-century Americans saw wolves as obstacles to frontier expansion. As a result, wolves were poisoned and hunted, often with government bounties, as their habitat was claimed for ranches and farms. From coast to coast, wolf numbers plummeted.
  • Recently we've begun to better understand the role of wolves in a healthy ecosystem. Wolf populations are now on the rebound.
  • In 1925, a federal bounty had led to the elimination of wolves from Yellowstone Park. Without wolves to prey on elk, elk populations expanded. The overabundant elk overgrazed young aspen trees, turning forests into pasture. The elimination of the wolf changed the delicate balance of the entire park ecosystem. Today, wolves have been successfully introduced in Idaho, Arizona, and Yellowstone. Yellowstone is home to 160 wolves, bringing the elk population in check.
  • DOGS: Wolf, Myth, Hero & Friend was developed by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County;
    made possible by Pedigree® Food for Dogs; and supported by the National Science Foundation.

    Dogs | Exhibits