Dog Domestication & Related Concepts

Bred by Vahan Mkhitarian

Dog domestication is an inconclusive topic, mainly because the location of the first domestication of the dog seems to change depending on the method of investigation.
What has become apparent however, is that the original ancestor of all dogs was not exactly a dog, nor was it the same as any wolf living now; it was what may be called a proto-canid and lived until somewhere between 10,000-35,000 years ago.

The information below is compiled from many sources, and as is the case for the subject of domestication of the dog, there are diverse viewpoints.

However, "all zooarchaeologists support the contention that dogs were not only the first domestic animal, but that the appearance of dogs significantly predates the origins of domestic plants and early agriculture. They base this conclusion on the fact that the earliest dog bones found across the Old World from Europe to the Near East to the Kamchatka Peninsula have been reliably dated to several millennia prior to the first archaeological appearance of domesticated crops in the Near East and East Asia [4]."

The proto-canid has some very interesting descendants in groups of non-domesticated dogs in various locations around the world. These non-domesticated dogs have been referred to as pariahs, when in actuality they are dogs who were never domesticated, but in some cases acclimated to living among humans.

Some of these breeds, or possibly species, of non-domesticated dogs are:

These breeds can live entirely without human assistance. Most ovulate once per year, are able to live alone or in packs, and all can be domesticated.Typical features include upright ears, almond shaped eyes, short coat that is most commonly golden/tan in color, tapering muzzle, and many have a curled tail.

By mtDNA analysis, the dog species which has changed the least from the original proto-canid is the New Guinea Singing dog. These dogs are nearly extinct in the wild. They have a unique style of vocalizations and may be the most difficult to adjust to human cohabitation.

Many scientific studies of dog domestication seek to prove a single point of origin. The lens though which most professors see the process is that the domestication incident of a dog happened in one location; and from that location then spread to other areas; and that all dogs are descended from that one incident.

Various locations have been proposed and given scientific credence, including Southeast Asia, Mesopotamia, Siberia and Europe.

However, when we examine the localized populations of non-domesticated dog species, such as those listed above, we see multiple spontaneous incidences of the dog-human partnership continuing even in modern times. It has been documented in Isreal, India, Australia and various places in Malaysia, plus southeastern USA, in a population of wild dogs that has been disconnected from the others for over 10,000 years.

So to propose that dog domestication stemmed from a single incident rather than multiple incidents around the world is failing to look at the likelihood that the dog-human partnership is so natural and useful, it is an eventual foregone conclusion.

Furthermore, among the wild purebred dog species who have occasionally adapted to cohabitation with humans, various skills seem to be inherent; one such skill is an occasional natural inclination to work as a 'livestock guardian,' which requires a very complex set of abilities and instincts.

Individual dogs in India and in Isreal can be found guarding livestock. The act is well documented. The dogs can also perform other functions.

Photo at right and below by Rajashree Khalap, of the INDog project. The dogs are nearly identical to the example in the first photo, a Canaan dog of Isreal. They also very much resemble the Australian Dingo. The dogs in this photo, and others that Rajashree Khalap has documented, are filling the function of Livestock Guardian dog.

In Isreal, the Canaan dogs also have been known to work with livestock.

Below are some photos of wild dogs, in a common color type. There are darker and lighter colors also, but this buff color is the most common.

Canaan Dog


Australian Dingo


Carolina Dingo (USA)


New Guinea Singing Dog


In the photos below, are near-wild dogs who have become habituated to living with humans, but have not been changed much by domestication.

Korean Jindo


Nihon Ken




Indian Native Dog (INDog)


Mindanoao dog


Telomian Dog


The strong similarities among the dogs above are clear. These dogs are from several continents, and have not interbred in centuries, if not millenia. All show a strong phenotype similarity, and because they are genetically more similar to the ancient proto-canid ancestor of all dogs, we can assume that they do represent some sort of basic dog, not affected by domestication so much as merely the necessities of survival.

Biological and Phenotype change due to domestication processes

In analyzing the effects of the domestication process, most clearly presented in the Trut fox study, we can see that the natural results of domestication (selection for friendliness toward humans) are what can also be seen in nearly all species of domesticated animals:

When observing characteristics of domesticated animals, it becomes apparent that the process of domestication is linked to certain physiological traits (Trut, Lyudmila N., March-April, 1999) which progress in a surprisingly consistent manner for all species. Fifty years ago, Dr. Dmitry Belyaev and his team at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Siberia pioneered a strict study of domestication in foxes. Beginning with 130 foxes, the team permitted only specific, timed, consistent interactions with the captive foxes, and allowed only a small percentage of them to be bred. Selection was based only on friendliness, and disregarded any other means of distinguishing those which were allowed to reproduce. A remarkable progression of developmental and physiological changes were recorded by the team, even after the death of Dr. Balyeav.
With selection being based only on friendliness, the speed of the domestication process was dramatically increased, accomplishing inadvertently various developments in fifty years which had never been done, even with intention of doing so, in the history of the farm-fox business (Trut, 1999). Apparently the selection factor of friendliness is polygenic, bringing with it certain traits which can be observed in many other breeds of livestock. Three main physiological traits expressed themselves early and consistently. White pigmentation on first the head then the feet, flopping ears, and curling of the tail were all evident in the early stages of domestication.

Developmental changes were remarkable as well. Dramatically, the basal levels of corticosteroids in the blood plasma of the domesticated foxes had dropped to slightly more than half the level in a control group by just 12 generations, and within another six generations had halved again (Trut, 1999) Lower corticosteroid levels indicate a lower level of fear, and also less energy usage in order to produce the fear reaction. With this comes a higher level of seratonin, which in turn affects neonatal development. These changes affect the timing of certain growth markers, such as “earlier eye opening and response to noises and the delayed onset of the fear response to unknown stimuli.” (Trut, 1999).These in turn affect an animal’s ability to be aware of and to accept interaction with humans.
Other significant early changes in morphology were differences in skull proportions, more variety in fur color, and changes in size.

As domestication progresses, selection being based on a criteria arbitrarily selected by the desire of humans rather than functional need, many non-productive traits crop up. The Belyaev team began to see malformations of the jaw structure, short legs, bowed legs, extreme desire for closeness with humans, and less difference in size between the males and females (Trut, 1999). If the foxes had been living in a situation where their survival, and therefore ability to reproduce, depended on being physically functional, it may be safe to assume that some of these less desirable characteristics would not have become prevalent. However, since the study illustrates the connection between friendliness and these morphological differences, one could also surmise that the domestication of the foxes in a more normal environment would have also been halted or dramatically slowed at the point of non-functionality.

But, aren't dogs descended from wolves?

Until recently, the common assumption was that dogs are descended from domesticated wolves, most likely the common gray wolf. There are many references to show a genetic relationship, but, the leap from wolf to dog, specifically, was difficult to pinpoint. Until the discovery of the proto-canid, that is.

Viewed from the perspective that all domesticated dogs are descended from the proto-canid species that may have been ubiquitous, or became so throughout the millenia, we can easily see how intermittent mixing with wolves throughout history has affected populations of dogs in various places.

Recent mtDNA analysis of dogs selected within the modern boundaries of Georgia found that the native livestock guardians have ~23% local wolf genes, and the local wolves sampled had ~12% dog genes, indicating a significant level of natural crossbreeding between the Caspian wolf and local guardian dogs. Disturbingly, this article and others like it completely fail to mention the existence of Armenia except when absolutely unavoidable, in maps. As if Armenia does not exist....
The conclusions that can be drawn from this study and similar studies (even though they 'mysteriously' fail to admit the existence of Armenia but include every country and region surrounding Armenia) indicate that domestication and the thousands of years of development of livestock guardians of the Caucasus and Central Asia have been an ongoing refinement of dogs originally descended from native pariah/proto-dogs which have intermittently crossbred with wolves. The resulting offspring have been heavily selected for ability and inclination to protect livestock, family and home.

Generally, DNA analysis focuses on the common gray wolf as it has been the most wide-spread species. But, particularly in Armenia, there are other wolves. In the Caucasus there is the Caspian Sea wolf, or Caucasus Wolf (Canis lupus cubanensis, at left below), and to the south around the original Armenian homeland are the Iranian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes middle below).


According to a very thorough analysis published in PLOS Genetics,

the genetic exchange/mixture with various populations of wolves has happened intermittently and in various locations throughout the last ~15,000 years. Prior to this time, a genetic bottleneck occurred, reducing the diversity of Canus to a fraction of the previous populations.

The bottleneck, and subsequent various descendants, are illustrated in the graph at right.

The study analyzed various wolves, although not the Caucasus wolf, so specific data for that species is still unknown, a boxer dog, basenji, dingo and Golden Jackal.

The graphs at right show divergence of the populations after the genetic bottleneck, with the horizontal bands representing admixture during various spans of time. As you can see, the basenji and the Isreali wolf intermixed a few thousand years ago, and the dingo and Chinese wolf intermixed prior to the dingo becoming isolated on the Australian continent.

To read the charts correctly, please visit the article at PLOS Genetics.

(Localized Proto-canid descendants) + (various localized species of wolves) + (genetic changes due to developing relationship with humans) = aboriginal domestic dog

Because of the ubiquitous nature of the wild dog varieties, and the presence of several species of wolves from distant locations, within the genetic history of our domestic dogs, it is not logical to assume that domestication began as one single incident. As is said in the Reterieverman Blog,

"Now, it doesn’t mean that phenotypically distinct domestic dogs first appeared in the Middle East. It just means that this population contributed to the majority of dogs we have today. The small dog gene that is found in purebred dogs is also found in some Middle Eastern wolves–likely coming from Canis lupus arabs. The smallest members of that subspecies weigh only 25 pounds."

If we look at an overview of domestication of all animals, this gives a strong bias for some domestication event in mesopotamia:

  1. Dogs were the first domesticated animal, location(s) not clear
  2. Sheep and goats were first domesticated in mesopotamia
  3. Followed by pigs in mesopotamia
  4. Then cattle in Mesopotamia, with a second and separate domestication event in Pakistan
  5. Horses were then domesticated in multiple areas from different strains of wild horse (giving credence to the concept of multiple domestication events for dogs also)
  6. Llamas were domesticated in South America ~4,500 years ago
  • Images at right by Ani Hayaserian, found here.

Most farmers know, the best deterrent for predation of livestock is a Livestock Guardian Dog, or LGD. As Armenians know, it is nearly impossible to keep sheep safe without a pack of dogs for protection. For these domestication events to have taken hold and lasted, the livestock must have been protected in some way. And of course, there were none of our modern methods available at the time. The only logical conclusion is, the livestock was protected by dogs.

The two artifacts below are from Mesopotamia, and

  1. They both show a distinct similarity to the closest descendants of the proto-canid, as pictured above;
  2. Both are wearing collars, a sign of domestication not just cohabitation
  3. Dates given span 5000-2000 BC

Also, to the north, near Ayrum in Shirak, Armenia, these figurines have been found:

(Gevork Nazaryan)

These pendants are much more fierce and wolf-like than the dogs above; but they are not fully wolves, as can be seen by the small curl at the end of their tails.

Many gamprs today have this small curl at the very tip of their tail.

These figures have a much larger and heavier cranium compared to the dog figures above, however, they still have erect ears.

These are likely be representative of a stage of development of the gampr.

Within the current Republic of Armenia, at Metsamor, can be found remnants of a very advanced civilization.

The site was consistently inhabited from ~7000 BC until the late middle ages, pre-dating the founding of nearby Yerevan, one of the oldest capital cities in the world (founded ~2800 years ago).

Metsamor may be the oldest smelting site in the world.

Artifacts at the site include indications of trade with Egypt, a younger civilization.

Additionally, archaeologists have documented 2000 years of consistent dog breeding, from 2000 BC to around the time of Christ. By archaeologists determination, these were dog-wolf hybrids, intentionally bred and religiously significant. The dogs were buried with their owners, decorated with amulets. One figure discovered had a leash and collar, as well.

"Egyptian, Central Asian and Babylonian objects were also found at the site, indicating that from earliest of times Metsamor was on the crossroads of travel routes spanning the Ararat plain and linking Asia Minor with the North Caucasus and Central Asia. By the early Iron Age Metsamor was one of the “royal” towns, an administrative-political and cultural centre in the Ararat Valley."


"The astronomical observatory predates all other known observatories in the ancient world. That is, observatories that geometrically divided the heavens into constellations and assigned them fixed positions and symbolic design. Until the discovery of Metsamor it had been widely accepted that the Babylonians were the first astronomers. The observatory at Metsamor predates the Babylonian kingdom by 2000 years, and contains the first recorded example of dividing the year into 12 sections. Using an early form of geometry, the inhabitants of Metsamor were able to create both a calendar and envision the curve of the earth."

The resident culture was essentially a trading culture; to travel and visit distant lands, it was necessary to reliably navigate. See also:

The map at right illustrates some of the many migrations leaving from the areas of resident Armenian civilization. The map is based on linguistic analysis. From Societies, Networks, and Transitions, Volume A. Wadsworth Ed., Boston.

Generally, the Armenian civilization was consistently in residence in the purple area of the map at right; however, the succeeding Armenian kingdoms were given in a variety of names:

"Urartu in fact maintained its independence and power, going through a mere dynastic change, as a local Armenian dynasty (later to be called the Orontids) came to power. Ancient sources support this explanation: Xenophon, for example, states that Armenia, ruled by an Orontid king, was not conquered until the reign of Median king Astyages (585– 550 BC) – long after Median invasion of the late 7th century BC. [6]

Similarly, Strabo (1st century BC – 1st century AD) wrote that:

“In ancient times Greater Armenia ruled the whole of Asia, after it broke up the empire of the Syrians, but later, in the time of Astyages, it was deprived of that great authority …” [7]

Medieval Armenian chronicles corroborate the Greek sources. In particular, Movses Khorenatsi (5th c. AD) writes that Armenian prince Paruyr Skayordi helped the Median king Cyaxares and his allies conquer Assyria, for which Cyaxares recognized him as the king of Armenia, while Media conquered Armenia only much later—under Astyages. [8]

The name “Urartu” was simply stopped being used when the Persians stopped making trilingual and bilingual inscriptions and dropped Assyro-Babylonian altogether.

Different peoples throughout different times used to refer to Armenia by different names. The Sumerians in around 2,800 BCE called Armenia – Aratta, while the Akkadians that succeeded them in the second half of Third Millennium BCE called Armenia – Armani or Armanum. The Hittites who rose in the Second Millennium BCE called Armenia – Hayasa, while the Assyrians who arose in the second half of Second Millennium BCE called Armenia – Uruatri or Urartu (Ararat of the Bible)."

Recently, the 3000-year old remains of of a domesticated dog were unearthed near the Armenian city of Van. From pre-history until 100 years ago, Van was the home of Armenians - first as the people of Aratta, then Armani, Hayasa, Urartu, and much later as Armenians.
This dog was cared for as a pet, not just a utility animal. It was buried inside a residence.

In Summary, Regarding Armenia and the Gampr:

Documentation of Armenian dog breeding indicates a beginning at least 7000 years ago, unearthed at Metsamor. Metsamor, located about 30 minutes from the capital of Armenia, is also perhaps the oldest smelting site in the world. Among many of the mysteries at the site is an ancient form of writing, as yet undeciphered.

The remains of dogs were found buried with the owners, decorated with amulets and metal armbands. The period of time that dogs were consistently kept at Metsamor spanned 2000 years, until around the time of Christ. The discoveries at Metsamor span from 4000 years before the capital city of Yerevan was founded, until just a few hundred years ago: The continuity of Armenian dog breeding is unquestionable.

Ceremonial gold goblet.

1700 BC.


Source: Gevork Nazaryan

Anthropological findings indicate that the current gampr type became what it is today at least 3000 years ago (Richard Ney, n.d.), and as the breed was developed out of necessity and continues to be a necessary part of human survival in its native area, the gampr has retained a surprising amount of its original characteristics.

Located in a very fertile zone, at the crossroads of travel between ancient Persia, Asia, and Europe, the Armenian plateau has given rise to some of the earliest milestones of civilization. Armenian innovations and products have been at the forefront of the development of humanity, and many steps of human progress appeared first here. Armenia was the first country to define the zodiac, use astrology, first known shoe, first known wine making, create an astronomical observatory and a calendar with a 365-day year, and the Armenians even built a Stonehenge thousands of years before the well-known European site (Ney, n.d.).

A dog such as the gampr is invaluable in protecting one’s possessions, particularly livestock. Even now, it is common knowledge among owners of sheep or goats and livestock guardian dogs that a good dog will save the owner thousands of dollars in prevented losses. During the thousands of years of nomadic herding and trading, a good

dog could easily have meant the difference between life and death.
According to early petroglyphs beginning ca. 15,000-12,000 in the Armenian highlands, specifically “at Ughtasar and on the Geghama mountain range, up to 20% of the carvings resemble the modern gampr, while others show a remarkable diversity of dog that no longer exists.”(Ney, n.d.) The continued existence of domesticated animals at that time was most likely restricted to those which were particularly useful and relatively self-sustaining.

From a layman viewpoint, and from looking at the resident dogs of the various areas of Armenian habitation, we can draw a few conclusions:

  • Dogs were part of the culture of domestication of all animals, by necessity;
  • Dogs were religiously significant
  • Dogs were used for protection
  • Trading expeditions were frequent from the Armenian civilization at Metsamor
  • Early dogs resembled the descendants of the proto-dog
  • Breeding for protection necessitated an increase in size
  • Crossing with local wolves (at Metsamor, north of Mesopotamia) likely produced longer hair and more variety of coloration.
  • Consistent selection for friendliness to humans produced many genetic changes, such as more white, changes in coloring, modification of heads, more frequent estrus.

The dog at right, Voski, is strikingly similar to the wild descendants of the proto-canid, but much larger as would be needed for protection of sheep, the earliest domesticated livestock which were also domesticated in historically Armenian areas.

The sepia-tone photo below is almost 100 years old, taken in Nakhijevan. The dogs are more typical of what could be expected a proto-canid descendant that also had some local wolf in its ancestry, Then carefully selected for the correct traits over the centuries.

The dog at right and below, also Armenian and protecting sheep, may also reflect the consistent breeding at Metsamor, where crossing with wolves was regularly practiced.

Next page in the history of the gampr →