History Of Dogs: Do Pugs Really Come From Wolves?

By | December 9, 2020

test article image
Female pug dog painting, 1802. (Bonhams London/Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from being canine, pugs and wolves don't seem to have much in common. Really, pugs don't even have much in common with other dog breeds, from the towering Great Dane to the friendly Golden Retriever. The evolution of dogs that created a myriad breeds occurred over thousands of years, giving rise to cuddly creations that are each in their own way man's best friend.

Top Dog

Canis lupus, otherwise known as the big gray wolf, first appeared in Eurasia early in the Pleistocene period, about a million years ago. Shortly after that, around 750,000 years ago, it's believed that the gray wolf migrated to North America. For a brief period of a few thousands years, the gray wolf and dire wolf (Canis dirus) coexisted, but thanks to climate change and prey extinction, the dire wolf fell away and the gray wolf became the alpha canine in North America. By the time the Inuit people crossed the Beringia, the gray wolf was a well-established predator in North America. 

test article image
Skull of the "Altai dog" that is dated 33,500 years old. (Nikolai D. Ovodov, Susan J. Crockford, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin, Thomas F. G. Higham, Gregory W. L. Hodgins, Johannes van der Plicht/Wikimedia Commons)

The Evolution Of Dogs

The first step toward specific dog breeds was like an early visit to a canine adoption facility, just without the paperwork or shots. The Inuit people "adopted" wolf cubs (or just took them from their parents) and trained them to be docile, or at least as docile as a wolf can be. Referred to as "one of the most extraordinary events in human history," no one knows exactly how long it took to create the first docile canine, but the scientific community believes the animal that's closest to man's best friend has its origins somewhere in southern China, Mongolia, or Europe. By studying the D.N.A. of two Neolithic German dog fossils, dog researchers (researchers who study dogs, not dogs who have somehow scored jobs in scientific institutes) have concluded that domestication first occurred between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.