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BFFs: Dogs and Humans Have A Long History

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

When walking around the Will County forest preserves, you’ll find lots of amazing animals: birds and butterflies, turtles and deer, chipmunks and dogs. Dogs?! Why, yes!

Photo by Chad Merda

While dogs don’t live in the forest preserves, they often visit with their humans. Let’s learn a little more about the natural history of our four-legged friends — and how we shaped each other.

Descended From Wolves

Before there were dogs, there were wolves. This is something most people know. But how did dogs evolve from wolves?

One version is that people took wolves in and eventually turned them into pets. But scientists don’t think it was quite so one-sided. It is now believed that wolves started spending time around people because we make a lot of garbage.

Wolves started scrounging around for people’s food scraps. The dogs that weren't spooked as easily by humans and showed the most curiosity got the most food from garbage piles. They passed on these traits to their pups and eventually became the dogs we know today.


Sled Dogs Made Arctic Hospitable

People have managed to make all kinds of environments home. In the frozen north, people needed help. Scientists think that without dogs like huskies to pull sleds for transportation and hunting, people would never have survived in the Arctic.

A Tax Collector’s Best Friend

Taxes are money collected to pay for things like roads and schools. Long ago, collecting taxes was dangerous work. In 19th-century Germany, people didn’t always want to give up their money. Plus tax collectors worried about thieves stealing money along the way.

So a man named Louis Dobermann bred a loyal guard dog, a dog we now know as a Doberman, to protect him on his tax-collecting trips. Dobermans (for some reason we’ve dropped the extra “n”) are one of the most popular working dogs today. They serve as police K-9s, therapy and service dogs, and even rescue dogs.

Fast Hunters Help Hunt in the Desert

Salukis are tall, thin dogs that are breed to race. Even more important, they helped people survive in another harsh environment: the desert.

The arid Sahara Desert is wide open with few hiding spots. A rabbit can spot a hunter from miles away and run safely out of sight before a hunter could string up a bow and arrow. However, lightning-fast salukis are able to hunt down prey for people’s dinner.

The Little Lion

When you look at a Pekingese, do you see a lion? No? Try looking from a different angle. A Pekingese has a short snout and a flat face, large eyes and a long mane. They were bred by monks in ancient China to resemble a tiny version of the sacred lions that had left the kingdom. Only royalty could own them. Stealing a Pekingese from the emperor was punishable by death!

Fast forward thousands of years. Pekingese dogs were brought to Queen Victoria of England in 1860. She loved them, which started the toy dog craze.

A Working Genius

Border collies help people do something that is nearly impossible on the steep cliffs of Scotland: They allow people to raise and herd sheep. Without these dogs to round up and keep track of livestock, they would probably wander away, leaving the shepherds with no food or way to make a living. How do they do it? With language!

Through whistles and spoken commands, border collies are able to work with shepherds. But that’s not all. Language scientists called linguists have found that border collies can learn more than 1,000 different words. They can understand whistles and words even if they’ve never heard that command before. How do they do it? The same way you would, by building on something you already know.

Dog, MD

Our relationship with dogs is deep. Doctors count on dogs to sniff out medical problems in patients. That’s right — some dogs can tell if a person has cancer or is about to have a stroke or needs to take medicine to control diabetes.

Photo by Chris Cheng

Dogs as healers is nothing new. Mexican hairless dogs, called Xoloitzcuintli, or Zolo for short, have been used for centuries in Mesoamerica to help with aches and pains. Because they have no hair, they feel warm to the touch. People could put the dogs on a sore muscle or joint for pain relief – think ancient heating pads!

Dogs have always been important to people. We hope you’ll enjoy time with your furry friend by taking a walk and exploring the forest preserves. Just remember a few things to keep you, your dog, other people and nature safe:

  • Keep your pet on a leash at all times.

  • Don’t let your dog swim in the water.

  • Remember to bring water when going on a walk – for you and your dog.

  • Want to let your dog run free? Buy a permit for the six dog parks operated by the Forest Preserve District of Will County.

  • Don’t forget that many dogs were bred to protect people. Never pet a dog unless its owner says it’s OK.


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