Animals have been domesticated as pets since ancient times — even dating back to 10,000 B.C. European art from the 19th century depicts dogs as cared-for members of a household, rather than as possessions. And we all know about Queen Elizabeth II and her corgis, who are considered members of her family.

So when it comes to man’s best friend these days – or woman’s – it is common to see dogs dressed up in outfits walking down the street with their human companions. Pet canines dressed up in sweaters have sure come a long way from their closest relatives — the wolf.

Many studies have compared the similarities and differences between wolves and dogs since they are classified as related. Wolves became predecessors to dogs, one of humanity’s most popular companion animals. Adult wolves are known to be aloof, withdrawn and even aggressive, but when they are quite young they resemble puppies — playful, cute and even barking like a dog. It is remarkable how a once vicious animal has evolved into family members. Yet there is still a fine line.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2001, more than 368,000 dog bites resulted in emergency room visits. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that in 2012, more than 27,000 people received reconstructive surgery as a result of a dog attack. The costs accrued from dog bites include medical bills, homeowners insurance, lawyer fees, animal control fees and of course pain and suffering, which can all be astronomical.

Although much ongoing debate continues as to whether humans have corrupted dogs or whether they contribute to a dog’s behavior, the point is that dogs were once wild wolves and we must acknowledge and respect that. A dog’s innate defense mechanisms differ from a human’s and many of these defense mechanisms may involve aggression.

As pack animals, wolves are fiercely loyal to the pack and submissive to the alpha wolf. This innate characteristic has transferred to domesticated dogs in that they are loyal to their human families — or “the pack” — and obedient to the person who serves as their primary caretaker — or the “alpha dog.”

Our beloved canines are not just companions, they serve many roles in society – search and rescue, police dogs, herding dogs, guard dogs, service dogs and even emotional support dogs.

Oscar, our first "foster failure". He never left.

Oscar, our first “foster failure”. He never left.

Dogs can be the most compassionate animals that truly benefit from human companionship and vice versa. I should know. Though we currently only have three (only), we have had up to six at one time, have fostered dozens of dogs over the past decade, and often dog sit for friends and former fosters. We cannot imagine our life or our home without dogs in them.

In fact, when it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people, including physical, mental and emotional improvements, from enhancing social skills to decreasing a person’s risk of heart attack. Ironically, a number of studies have demonstrated that having a pet in the home can actually lower a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent.

While domesticated dogs have evolved from their more aggressive ancestors, there are still a few traits left in the DNA. For instance, every dog owner has noticed the circle dance, i.e. prior to laying down almost every dog goes into a circle once or twice. It is cute but it is also how wolves made sure there were no snakes or insects in the immediate area prior to going to sleep. It is a protective move that now just serves as fodder for Facebook videos.

Melody K. Smith, Blog Wrangler
Access Innovations, Inc.