It’s widely believed that early humans domesticated dogs around 15,000 years, by feeding them scraps from our campsites in return for an early warning system about potential predators. However, unfortunately, we don’t have much-recorded evidence about the time, thus it’s difficult to be precise about how we did it and the processes we followed.
This lack of knowledge inspired a Russian zoologist called Dmitri Belyayev, who began an experiment that sought to domesticate foxes, by using selective behavior traits breeding, around 60 years ago. William Poor, from Verge Science, visited a ranch near San Diego to meet the results of this experiment.
Belyaev carried out the experiment, by only allowing the friendliest foxes to breed during each generation, eventually achieving levels of domestications by some measures. The foxes live with Amy and David Basset, who have noticed that this kind of genetic domestication is very different than the kind of domestication that you find in our traditional pets. They’re friendly without being affectionate, suggesting that domestication was an incredibly long process and that humans and dogs weren’t especially close 15,000 years ago.
The biggest difference between domesticated foxes and dogs was each animals approach to forming emotional bonds – the domesticated fox was happy to greet Poor, but then happily moved on to something more interesting, whereas dogs are ‘hyper-socialized’, meaning that most will seek out emotional bonds with total strangers. The scientists also tested out a wild fox that had been hand-reared by humans, which was scarred of entering the cave, demonstrating that the experiment had been successful to a certain extent.
Gain more fascinating insight into how dogs were originally domesticated, by meeting some semi-domesticated foxes in a ranch outside San Diego in the video below.