Gray Wolf Image by Peupleloup
Gray Wolf
Image by Peupleloup

A scientific study, published a couple weeks ago, dispels the commonly-believed theory that dogs descended from gray wolves.  Research indicates that wolves and dogs likely evolved from some unknown wolf-like ancestor, but they were running on their own evolutionary tracks.

Dogs still originated in a hunter-gather society, making them carnivores at heart. However, something in the dog breeds made them more prone to domestication than wolves.

How Did Researchers Show that Dogs Did Not Evolve From Gray Wolves

Basenji Image by Ibethagreatone
Image by Ibethagreatone

The researchers studied the genomes (the part of DNA that contains complete hereditary information) of three gray wolves, an Australian dingo, a basenji and a golden jackal. Each wolf was from a different region, representing the areas where dogs were believed to have originated,

Dingo Image by ,SeanMack
Image by ,SeanMack

The dingo and basenji were included in the study, because they are from Australia and Africa, respectively, and wolves never extended that far south. This geographic isolation reduces the likelihood of wolves overlapping and mixing with the dingo and basenji. The jackal was, in essence, a wild card.

Research Findings Summarized:

According to Scientific Daily:

“Dogs and wolves evolved from a common ancestor between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, before humans transitioned to agricultural societies, according to an analysis of modern dog and wolf genomes from areas of the world thought to be centers of dog domestication…

…dogs are more closely related to each other than wolves, regardless of geographic origin. This suggests that part of the genetic overlap observed between some modern dogs and wolves is the result of interbreeding after dog domestication, not a direct line of descent from one group of wolves…”

The original (super scientific) version of the study:
PLOS Genetics, published January 16, 2014
Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs

A version that is scientific, but a lot easier to understand:
Scientific Daily, Published January 16, 2014
Genomes of modern dogs and wolves provide new insights on domestication