Altruism in wolves explains the coevolution of dogs and humans

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Pierre Jouventin Yves Christen F. Stephen Dobson


The date of historical domestication of dogs has been pushed back to between 15,000–30,000 years ago (estimates vary), a time when hunter-gatherer societies predominated in northern Europe and central Asia. We present insights from evolutionary behavioural ecology suggesting that wolves may have been “tricked” by their social evolution into contributing to the success of prehistoric human families or tribes. Four different wolves (one observed in great detail, as reported in recent book) that were raised by human families exhibited cooperative behaviours that protected their human “pack members.” Such hereditary altruistic behaviours may have been transferred by descent to the first dogs, which helped our ancestors hunt large animals and fight against other human tribes and wild carnivores. We hypothesize that the first need in domestication was for less aggressive wolf behaviour, within the wolf and human coevolution of the cooperative family or tribe that used wolves to increase their competitive fitness advantages.

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JOUVENTIN, Pierre; CHRISTEN, Yves; DOBSON, F. Stephen. Altruism in wolves explains the coevolution of dogs and humans. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, [S.l.], v. 9, n. 1, june 2016. ISSN 1918-3178. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 nov. 2017.
wolf; dog; altruism; domestication
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