There was a time when dogs, humanity’s most widely kept animal, were maintained as something more than a couch-warmer. Our historical association is so old, we’re not even entirely sure why we named them what we did:
Due to the archaic structure of the word, the term dog may ultimately derive from the earliest layer of Proto-Indo-European vocabulary, reflecting the role of the dog as the earliest domesticated animal.
Interestingly, we’ve been chummy with canines so long, we (and by we, I mean humanity in general,) actually domesticated them multiple times, independently.
From the Canadian Museum Of Nature:
Genetic evidence suggests that Native Americans and Europeans domesticated dogs independently, and that North American pre-contact dogs were almost completely replaced by dogs that came over on European ships.
The earliest probable dog remains found in North America are about 8700 to 14 000 years old. These dogs were medium-sized and likely used in hunting. Dogs of this time-period and region are not very common.
- 10 200 year-old remains were found in Colorado, U.S.A., at the Jones Miller site
- 11 000 to 14 000 year-old remains were found in Wyoming, U.S.A., at the Agate Basin site
- 8700 to 9300 year-old remains were found in Wyoming, U.S.A., at the Horner site.
Which, to my mind, leaves a question as to what these original North American dogs must have looked like. Something akin to Huskies is my best guess, but that’s derived entirely from the idea that they looked like the wolves common to the continent.
While some of the uses the mutts were put to were common between all peoples, it seems to me the North American breeds had some novel roles to play.
Again from the CMN:
- they were draft animals in the plains as well as the high Arctic
- they were bred for wool like sheep and their hair was used to make blankets
- there were hairless dogs that were used as living hot-water bottles to ease achy joints
- they were eaten
- they were important in religion
- they were buried in graveyards like people.
I love the idea that the people of history might have rubbed a chihuahua-analogue on their shoulder while complaining about a hard-day’s hunt.
That last item does concern me, however – the textbooks may say European disease wiped out millions of Native Americans when the tall ships landed, but I know better: I’ve seen/read Pet Sematary.