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The Domestication of Our Favourite Household Pets
Tuesday October 27th 2015
The pets we keep today tend to be social and friendly creatures, which fit almost seamlessly into our lives, but this was not always the case. We have travelled back in time to explore some of the theories behind the domestication of our favourite household pets.
How and when exactly dogs became domesticated is a source of much heated debate in the scientific community, for which many theories exist.
It has been suggested that the modern dog evolved from a European wolf that followed human groups and fed on their leftovers. From this stage there are two theories of domestications – self domestication and human domestication.
In this theory, wolves that were less aggressive towards humans were more likely to reproduce and produce offspring that were more likely to share these traits. These traits are favourable to humans, who would therefore not feel threatened by the wolves. It has also been suggested that wolves that were more social and less afraid of humans could feed closer to humans – this is favourable and allowed social wolves to reproduce, perhaps also helping to enable domestication.
In this theory, humans actively selected wolf pups to use in society. The least aggressive and most social animals would then have been allowed to reproduce, thereby passing on these traits to offspring. After several generations of this, the first “domesticated” dogs emerged.
It has been suggested that the domestication of pets began around 12,000 years ago when the first agricultural societies began to form in the Middle East. With a surplus of crops from agriculture, rodents were rife in stockpiles and thus wild cats began to enter societies with ample food supply. It is believed that a sort of self-domestication took place as a result of this. Humans preferred the friendlier felines and thus these cats were more tolerated and likely to reproduce. Over-time cats with these traits became more common and this is believed to be the beginning of the lineage of the modern house cat.
However, the relationship between human and feline has not always run smooth. During the Middle Ages cats were associated with the Devil and witchcraft and thus were often culled. Some have suggested that the effects of the plague were multiplied due to increasing numbers of rodents as a result of cats being killed.
It is believed that monks in Southern France kept wild rabbits as a means of easily eating their meat as early as the 5th century. The use of rabbits for meat and fur continued, and rabbits were bred for particular fur colours and patterns.
It was during the Victorian era in the 19th century that the domestic use of rabbit as pets became more widespread. Breeds of rabbit were kept for show, rather than simply meat and fur – this evolved into rabbits being kept as pets.
The domestication of rabbits is particularly interesting due to the stark contrast in behaviour between domesticated and wild rabbits, the latter of which show an almost un-matched fear response in the animal kingdom. The availability of both wild and domesticated rabbits in modern times has led to much scientific experimentation on the differences between the two.
This article was written on behalf of helpucover. helpucover is a trading style of Pinnacle Insurance plc, an insurance company who offers pet insurance.