There are 7.8 billion humans on Earth and nine hundred million domesticated dogs. Excluding humans, the domesticated dog is the most populous terrestrial carnivore on the planet. Considering the evolutionary success of these two species, perhaps it is no surprise that we have become besties. But, the fact of the matter is that the long and storied relationship between man and dog is a rarity in nature.
While there are many examples of symbiotic relationships amongst animals in the natural world, none resemble the emotionally charged relationship shared between man and canine. In fact, most symbiotic relationships in nature are strictly transactional. That is to say that both parties in the relationship gain something from it. Sharks and remora fish are a great example. The Remora fish attaches itself to the shark and cleans parasites from its skin. In return, the remora gets first dibs on the shark’s leftovers at feeding time.
The human and dog relationship is also transactional at times, with humans caring for and feeding dogs in exchange for hunting and herding services, but the bond has evolved in an emotional way not seen in other animal relationships.
So, What Makes The Dog-Human Relationship Different
We all know that domestic dogs are descendants of wolves, a species with which we humans have had a less than loving relationship for millennia. In fact, dogs and wolves share 99.9% of their DNA. So why is our relationship with dogs so different than our relationship with wolves?
It turns out that point one percent of DNA can make a huge difference. Researchers have found that a single chromosome and three distinct genes within that point one percent of DNA contain the genetic code for hyper-sociability. This means that the biggest difference between dogs and wolves is their desire to be social.
That desire for social companionship became apparent to humans some 14,000 years ago and the rest, as they say, is history. The most likely scenario is that a few of these wolf-like scavengers began lurking around human encampments in search of food. And with that ‘puppy dog look’ with which we are all so familiar, they melted early man’s heart and a friendship was born.
Over time the dog proved to be loyal and loving, compassionate and empathetic, and eager to please – all traits that we humans relate to and find incredibly endearing. The relationship became so intertwined that we learned to communicate with each other, to rely upon each other, and to respect one another – three keys to a loving relationship.
It is fair to say that the relationship between humans and dogs is still a transactional one; both species derive something of value from the relationship. The big difference is the emotional bond that has developed. While we have dogs that provide services like hunting and herding, and we humans provide shelter and food, it seems that the real currency in the human-dog relationship is more emotional than tangible.
So, the next time you come home to a dog that is overwhelmed with happiness at the sight of you, return the love, give them a hug, take them for a walk, let them know how much you appreciate them.