Known as men’s best friend, dogs are undoubtedly our favourite pets. They entertain, provide company, guard our houses and even work alongside security forces, hunters and shepherds. Estimations point at a worldwide population of over 900 million dogs which overwhelmingly dominate the global pet industry, with cats taking a distant second place. The sector was valued at nearly 224 billion US dollars, in 2020, revealing the importance we place in the relationship with our canine friends. The connection between the two species has deep roots and played a crucial role in human development, supporting our rise to the top of the planet’s food chain.
At least by some measures, humans are the most successful species on earth. According to United Nations estimates, the total number of men and women currently living is of 7.9 billion. A truly remarkable figure, especially when we consider that 10,000 years ago, around the time when the agricultural revolution was starting, it is thought that there were only 2 million of us. Since then the human population has been doubling in size, in gradually shorter periods of time, as technology evolved and allowed for increasingly sophisticated agriculture, medicine and living standards.
To put it all into perspective, experts estimate that it took roughly 1000 years for the number of humans on the planet to double from 2 to 4 million, between 10000 BC and 9000 BC. Fast forward to modern times and it took a mere 48 years for numbers to expand from 3.95 billion, in 1973, to the current 7.9 billion. Such growth was only possible because of our capacity to modify the environment and domesticate animals as well as plants.
Before the invention of smart phones and the internet, before the steam machine and the subsequent industrial revolution, even before the domestication of chicken and cows, or plants such as wheat, humans established a connection with wolves, forever altering the fates of both species. No one knows for sure how it all began, but it is assumed that wolves started following and scavenging the leftovers of our hunter-gatherer human ancestors. Eventually, the relationship became closer and some wolves evolved, becoming dogs.
In time, dogs became key partners of humans, assisting in the hunting of animals and providing security against rivals and predators. Dogs were the first domesticated species, preceding other animals such as cats, chicken, cows, pigs and plants like rice, wheat and corn. Without these domestications the destiny of our species would have been very different; probably the size of our population would have remained close to the 2 million of 10,000 years ago.
Modern Homo sapiens exist since at least 100,000 years ago. For most of this time our environmental influence was not significantly different from that of other primates. It was only after we altered our relationship with nature, a process triggered by establishing a partnership with wolves, that our footprint on the planet expanded until it became as dramatically singular and impactful as it is today.
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