Dog BehaviorDogs in General

When did dogs become pets? Was it 12,000 years ago?

Since Christmas is drawing near, it’s a time to have fun and appreciate our families, including our canine companions of course. So for general interest, I thought it would be fun to take a look at when dogs actually became pets.



It may surprise you to hear that humans and dogs have had a special bond for more than 12,000 years! This was evidenced by the discovery in Israel of remains showing a puppy nestled in the arms of a human. These remains have been dates prior to 10,000BC, which is really eye-opening. Who knew?

An archaeologist photographs the grave of a she-shaman from the Natufian period, some 12,000 years old, in northern Israel. (Photo by Naftali Hilger/Hebrew University via Getty Images)
An archaeologist photographs the grave of a she-shaman from the Natufian period, some 12,000 years old, in northern Israel. (Photo by Naftali Hilger/Hebrew University via Getty Images)



There is much debate about where and when dogs actually became man’s best friend, but for this to happen they had to be first domesticated from their wild ancestors – the wolf.

The skulls of a German Shepherd and a Grey Wolf are put side by side to show their subtle differences
The skulls of a German Shepherd and a Grey Wolf are put side by side to show their subtle differences

There are many scientists that have theorized about the origin of dogs as we know them, and as technology advances, so do the scientific investigations, producing more and more robust theories about the process.

It’s now quite clear that there is a definite pathway from European wolves, but the taming of these into domestic dogs may have happened a lot earlier than originally thought. It could even be as much as 32,000 years ago – amazing, huh?


how did these wolves become tame?

Mammoth SkeletonSome scientists believe that this domestication happened from wolves who attached themselves to bands of hunters. Hunters who were going after large prey, such as the woolly mammoth. I can see the common sense in this – as these kills would have left carcasses for the wolves to feast on. Knowing how intelligent dogs are today, why wouldn’t their ancestors watch humans and learn they could benefit from what was left behind on hunting expeditions.

Whatever the scientific explanations from that point onward, it seems entirely plausible that over time a mutual tolerance would arise between the two parities, After all, both species are mammals and it’s highly likely that they could recognize consistent emotions and behaviors in each other’s species. This is still clear today. Did you know that some dogs can read human emotions, even if they have never met that particular human before?

Ice-age wolf likely ancestor of dogs


Who really knows what went on over 30,000 years ago, on the ice-covered steppes of Northern Europe, but animal behavior, including our own, does allow for some idea of a general tolerance between wolves and humans, graduating into a healthy respect for one another. It’s not a giant leap from there to an acceptance of each other’s presence and then on into a fondness and eventually a friendship. There’s even speculation that these wolves were then influenced, or inclined, to help with the hunting process. After all, a hunting pack of wolves is a fairly formidable force when chasing prey. It’s not unreasonable to think two different species can work together for the mutual benefit of both.


And so the ancient dog is “born”

European wolf or ancient dog?As these relationships cemented over time, the wolf species evolved into the first domestic dogs. In fact, some ancient dog remains have been found with necklaces or other decorative bits and pieces, which helps to prove the dog-human bond. It’s interesting to not this particular European wolf has no other living descendants – only the dog. The exact timing will likely never be clear cut, because fossils of ancient wolves and dogs are very hard to tell apart. It’s easier to think of the process as a gradual thing, and I think this is the most realistic way to view it. After all, evolution is never speedy!


But the argument rages on between scientists

From Europe, domestic dogs spread, eventually arriving into the Americas. Some scientists still believe the first domesticated dogs appeared in Asia around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. This is tied into the remains found in Israel mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Guardian-dog statue in AsiaSome scientists believe that dogs had more than one ancestor, and developed separately from two genetic lines – one in Europe as described above, and another in Asia. Some genetic geniuses of today say it is more likely they had only one ancestor in one region.

However, there are still other scientists who believe there is evidence dogs were first domesticated in China as a source of food. Not pleasant to think about really, especially with China’s record of treatment of dogs even today. Maybe the fact dogs are still used as a source of food across parts of Asia today is a reflection of this history. Who knows? Maybe both sets of scientists are a little bit right – as pointed out by Professor Greger Larson, from Oxford University. He said:

“Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species.

“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.”

Let’s take a look at some key points of interest on a timeline:

A Fun Timeline About Dogs

Following on from the discovery of the human holding a puppy in Israel pre-dating 10,000BC….

(There’s a bit of a gap here, but maybe that’s because nothing was recorded, or perhaps we just haven’t found it yet!)

A Chinese Emperor loves his dogs168–190 AD: A Chinese Emperor makes his dogs court officials because he loves them so much. As a result that get to eat the best food, have special oriental rugs for beds and even have their own bodyguards!

500–1500 AD roughly: Pets become more common, but usually only in wealthy households and “pet” becomes part of the English language, coming from the word “petty” meaning small.

Mary, Queen of Scots1542–1567: At the time Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded, it was rumored there was a small pet dog hiding in her dress. Prior to her death, and while she was still on her throne, she liked to surround herself with an entourage of tiny dogs dressed up in suits made from blue velvet.

1860 approximately: the first dog food is commercially prepared and sold in England

1931: Three German Shepherds (my favorite breed) become the first guide dogs for the blind. There names were Judy, Meta and Folly and they helped veterans who were blinded in World War One.

Queen Elizabeth II and her first corgi, Susan1944: The Queen of England gets her first Corgi, called Susan. She was given the gift as an 18th birthday present and has loved this breed ever since.

1950s: A trend emerges where women go crazy over tiny breeds of dog. It wasn’t unheard of that miniature poodles would go out with their coat dyed to match the clothes of their owners.

Cover of 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith1956: The famous story “The Hundred and One Dalmations” is published, popularizing this spotty breed. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a fad for some people, and many of these dogs ended up in animal shelters

1957: The Russians send Laika into space, as the first dog to travel there. This wasn’t really the scientific miracle it was intended to be, and it’s rumored the poor thing died within hours of takeoff after over heating. (Read more about Laika here)

1988: The first Labradoodle was bred in Australia, to try and reduce an owner’s allergies.



I’ve also found a video which talks more about the domestication of dogs, if you are interested to hear the theories verbalized:

I hope you’e enjoyed this exploration of how dogs became one of our most loved pets.

I would love to hear your reactions and any thoughts you have, so please do comment below.

8 thoughts on “When did dogs become pets? Was it 12,000 years ago?

  1. Wow. This is a very interesting article. I am a big dog lover, and I was surrounded with dogs my whole life!

    Dogs are such an amazing creatures. My favorite dog breed is golden retriever and bulldog (especially french bulldog).

    I find it disgusting that dogs are used as food in China, I could never imagine to eat a dog. That needs to be stopped immediately.

    Once again, very interesting article.

    1. Hi  Miroslav and thanks for reading my article. I agree with you about the situation in China – I find some social media accounts too traumatic to even follow, because they feature stories and images from China that are so upsetting. thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mara.

  2. I’ve always been a dog person and I just brought home a pug few days ago and just teaching him the basics like sit, stand etc is sometimes exhausting. I’ve always wondered how the ancient men must have domesticated and tamed the wild wolves.
    ‘ a puppy nestled in the arms of a human’, that is one of the most heartwarming description of a fossil remains I’ve ever read!

    1. Hi Mithra and thank you for leaving a comment. Basic training is hard work, but time invested now means a healthy and loving relationship for you both in the future. I’m glad you enjoyed the article – it was the description of the fossils that inspired me to write this article, so I’m glad it appeled to you too! Mara

  3. Being a dog lover all my life this information was very interesting for me, I find it amazing how man tamed the wild wolf and the domestic dog came about. Dogs are man’s best friend, my dog is my best friend I can count on him being right by my side all the time. He watches over me and our home, asks very little and gives so much as my faithful companion

    1. Hi Jeffrey and thanks for stopping by to read this article. I too found it very interesting to look at the link between wolves and dogs. Your faithful companion sounds amazing – sending you bothbest wishes, Mara.

  4. i read your post with great interest since i love dogs very much. I guess it’s no wonder we feel so bonded to them since our relationship goes back thousands of years. Interesting that ‘pet’ came from ‘petty’ …didn’t know that. I didn’t get a pet until much later in life, but now I know their joy and wouldn’t be without them. My daughter has a german shepherd and she is such a good dog! What do you think is the smartest breed? Thanks for the great post.

    1. Hi Jackie,

      I’m biased and would say German Shepherds! But I guess there will always be super intelligent dogs amongst most breeds, who are just born with above average intelligence. I think the famous head tilting by German Shepherds makes us think they are listening and understanding everything we say, which makes them look super intelligent!

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Mara

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