This just in: Contrary to popular wisdom, today's dogs did not evolve from wolves, according to brand-new DNA analysis. Actually, the dogs of the present day evolved from older versions of dogs, and those dogs evolved from their great-great-grandparents, who were also dogs — all the way back to a "wolf-like animal" that was making the rounds between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago. This "wolf-like" creature, now long extinct, is apparently where dogs and wolves came from.
Until now, it was believed that early farmers had adopted wolves as their pets, and that those wolves grew more domesticated until they became present-day dogs. Simple, right? Nope: It turns out that dogs were always man's best friend, with some of the first humans, possibly Neanderthals, benefiting from keeping dogs around during all that hunting and gathering. Dogs were good for tracking down animals to hunt, researchers speculate, plus they scared off bigger animals.
But as we humans adapted to a more plant-based diet, we started feeding the dogs the same thing. Eventually, we started selectively breeding dogs, and this dramatically changed their appearance — and now we have pups like the Cava-Poo-Chon, which look absolutely nothing like a "wolf-like animal" and don't eat a whole lot of raw meat.
So how'd science work this one out? Well, on a hunch, the researchers examined genome sequences (DNA, basically) from dogs and wolves with the highest-quality DNA, meaning those most genetically similar to their ancestors. It's true that dogs and wolves do share some DNA — which has clearly been a cause for confusion here — but it's probably not because dogs were once themselves wolves. Actually, says lead researcher John Novembre, it's because humans decided to breed wolves with dogs, which still happens today.
Make no mistake, dogs and wolves are distant cousins — but not the kind of relatives you see every Christmas, if you get our gist. They evolved from the same animal (that "wolf-like" beast) but have gone down solidly different paths ever since. Now, dogs are just related to other dogs, and wolves' ancestors are all decidedly wolfy.
And what of that ancestor they share, that "wolfish" thing? Well, it probably lived in Europe, and was a whole lot bigger than dogs today. The big mystery now is how it died: Was it a disease, or a wolf-dog plague? Did other animals kill it off? Did the ice age wipe it out?
One thing is clear: Things sure have changed. I mean, look at this thing. Does this look like a wolf to you?