Last updated

Temporal range: 0.0142–0  Ma
Late Pleistocene to present [1]
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Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
C. familiaris
Binomial name
Canis familiaris
Linnaeus, 1758 [2]
Synonyms [3]
  • C. aegyptiusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. alco C. E. H. Smith, 1839,
  • C. americanus Gmelin, 1792
  • C. anglicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. antarcticusGmelin, 1792
  • C. aprinusGmelin, 1792
  • C. aquaticusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. aquatilisGmelin, 1792
  • C. avicularisGmelin, 1792
  • C. borealisC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. brevipilisGmelin, 1792
  • C. cursoriusGmelin, 1792
  • C. domesticusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. extrariusGmelin, 1792
  • C. ferusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. fricatorGmelin, 1792
  • C. fricatrixLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. fuillusGmelin, 1792
  • C. gallicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. glaucusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. graiusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. grajusGmelin, 1792
  • C. hagenbeckiKrumbiegel, 1950
  • C. haitensisC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. hibernicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. hirsutusGmelin, 1792
  • C. hybridusGmelin, 1792
  • C. islandicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. italicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. laniariusGmelin, 1792
  • C. leoninusGmelin, 1792
  • C. leporariusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. lupus familiarisLinnaeus,1758
  • C. majorGmelin, 1792
  • C. mastinusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. melitacusGmelin, 1792
  • C. melitaeusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. minorGmelin, 1792
  • C. molossusGmelin, 1792
  • C. mustelinusLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. obesusGmelin, 1792
  • C. orientalisGmelin, 1792
  • C. pacificusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. plancusGmelin, 1792
  • C. pomeranusGmelin, 1792
  • C. sagacesC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. sanguinariusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. sagaxLinnaeus, 1758
  • C. scoticusGmelin, 1792
  • C. sibiricusGmelin, 1792
  • C. suillusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. terraenovaeC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. terrariusC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. turcicusGmelin, 1792
  • C. urcaniC. E. H. Smith, 1839
  • C. variegatusGmelin, 1792
  • C. venaticusGmelin, 1792
  • C. vertegusGmelin, 1792

The dog (Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris) is a domesticated descendant of the wolf. Also called the domestic dog, it is derived from the extinct Pleistocene wolf; the gray wolf is the dog's closest living relative. The dog was the first species to be domesticated by humans. Experts estimate that hunter-gatherers domesticated dogs more than 15,000 years ago, which was before the development of agriculture. Due to their long association with humans, dogs have expanded to a large number of domestic individuals and gained the ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet that would be inadequate for other canids. [4]


The dog has been selectively bred over millennia for various behaviors, sensory capabilities, and physical attributes. [5] Dog breeds vary widely in shape, size, and color. They perform many roles for humans, such as hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, assisting police and the military, companionship, therapy, and aiding disabled people. Over the millennia, dogs became uniquely adapted to human behavior, and the human–canine bond has been a topic of frequent study. This influence on human society has given them the sobriquet of "man's best friend".


In 1758, the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus published in his Systema Naturae , the two-word naming of species (binomial nomenclature). Canis is the Latin word meaning "dog", [6] and under this genus, he listed the domestic dog, the wolf, and the golden jackal. He classified the domestic dog as Canis familiaris and, on the next page, classified the grey wolf as Canis lupus. [2] Linnaeus considered the dog to be a separate species from the wolf because of its upturning tail (cauda recurvata in Latin term), which is not found in any other canid. [7]

In 1999, a study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) indicated that the domestic dog may have originated from the grey wolf, with the dingo and New Guinea singing dog breeds having developed at a time when human communities were more isolated from each other. [8] In the third edition of Mammal Species of the World published in 2005, the mammalogist W. Christopher Wozencraft listed under the wolf Canis lupus its wild subspecies and proposed two additional subspecies, which formed the domestic dog clade: familiaris, as named by Linnaeus in 1758 and, dingo named by Meyer in 1793. Wozencraft included hallstromi (the New Guinea singing dog) as another name (junior synonym) for the dingo. Wozencraft referred to the mtDNA study as one of the guides informing his decision. [3] Mammalogists have noted the inclusion of familiaris and dingo together under the "domestic dog" clade [9] with some debating it. [10]

In 2019, a workshop hosted by the IUCN/Species Survival Commission's Canid Specialist Group considered the dingo and the New Guinea singing dog to be feral Canis familiaris and therefore did not assess them for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [11]


Location of a dog's carnassials; the inside of the 4th upper premolar aligns with the outside of the 1st lower molar, working like scissor blades. Brechschere-Hund.jpg
Location of a dog's carnassials; the inside of the 4th upper premolar aligns with the outside of the 1st lower molar, working like scissor blades.


The earliest remains generally accepted to be those of a domesticated dog were discovered in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany. Contextual, isotopic, genetic, and morphological evidence shows that this dog was not a local wolf. [12] The dog was dated to 14,223 years ago and was found buried along with a man and a woman, all three having been sprayed with red hematite powder and buried under large, thick basalt blocks. The dog had died of canine distemper. [13] Earlier remains dating back to 30,000 years ago have been described as Paleolithic dogs, but their status as dogs or wolves remains debated [14] because considerable morphological diversity existed among wolves during the Late Pleistocene. [1]

This timing indicates that the dog was the first species to be domesticated [15] [16] in the time of hunter-gatherers, [17] which predates agriculture. [1] DNA sequences show that all ancient and modern dogs share a common ancestry and descended from an ancient, extinct wolf population which was distinct from the modern wolf lineage. [18] [17]

The dog is a classic example of a domestic animal that likely travelled a commensal pathway into domestication. [14] [19] The questions of when and where dogs were first domesticated have taxed geneticists and archaeologists for decades. [15] Genetic studies suggest a domestication process commencing over 25,000 years ago, in one or several wolf populations in either Europe, the high Arctic, or eastern Asia. [20] In 2021, a literature review of the current evidence infers that the dog was domesticated in Siberia 23,000 years ago by ancient North Siberians, then later dispersed eastward into the Americas and westward across Eurasia, [12] with dogs likely accompanying the first humans to inhabit the Americas. [12]


Dogs are the most variable mammal on earth, with around 450 globally recognized dog breeds. [20] [21] In the Victorian era, directed human selection developed the modern dog breeds, which resulted in a vast range of phenotypes. [16] Most breeds were derived from small numbers of founders within the last 200 years. [16] [20] Since then, dogs have undergone rapid phenotypic change and have been subjected to artificial selection by humans. The skull, body, and limb proportions between breeds display more phenotypic diversity than can be found within the entire order of carnivores. These breeds possess distinct traits related to morphology, which include body size, skull shape, tail phenotype, fur type and colour. [16] Their behavioural traits include guarding, herding, hunting, [16] retrieving, and scent detection. Their personality traits include hypersocial behavior, boldness, and aggression. [16] Present-day dogs are dispersed around the world. [20] An example of this dispersal is the numerous modern breeds of European lineage during the Victorian era. [17]



A lateral view of a dog skeleton Dog anatomy lateral skeleton view.jpg
A lateral view of a dog skeleton

All healthy dogs, regardless of their size and type, have an identical skeletal structure with the exception of the number of bones in the tail, although there is significant skeletal variation between dogs of different types. [22] [23] The dog's skeleton is well adapted for running; the vertebrae on the neck and back have extensions for back muscles, consisting of epaxial muscles and hypaxial muscles, to connect to; the long ribs provide room for the heart and lungs; and the shoulders are unattached to the skeleton, allowing for flexibility. [22] [23] [24]

Compared to the dog's wolf-like ancestors, selective breeding since domestication has seen the dog's skeleton larger in size for larger types such as mastiffs and miniaturised for smaller types such as terriers; dwarfism has been selectively used for some types where short legs are advantageous, such as dachshunds and corgis. [23] Most dogs naturally have 26 vertebrae in their tails, but some with naturally short tails have as few as three. [22]

The dog's skull has identical components regardless of breed type, but there is significant divergence in terms of skull shape between types. [23] [25] The three basic skull shapes are the elongated dolichocephalic type as seen in sighthounds, the intermediate mesocephalic or mesaticephalic type, and the very short and broad brachycephalic type exemplified by mastiff type skulls. [23] [25]


Dogs' senses include vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and magnetoreception. One study suggests that dogs can feel small variations in Earth's magnetic field. [26] Dogs prefer to defecate with their spines aligned in a north-south position in calm magnetic field conditions. [27]

Dogs' vision is dichromatic; the dog's visual world consists of yellows, blues, and grays. They have difficulty differentiating between red and green. The divergence of the eye axis of dogs ranges from 12–25°, depending on the breed. Dogs' eyes of different breeds can have different retina configurations. The fovea centralis area of dogs' eyes, which is attached to a nerve fiber, is the most sensitive to photons. [28]


The coats of domestic dogs are of two varieties: "double" being familiar with dogs (as well as wolves) originating from colder climates, made up of a coarse guard hair and a soft down hair, or "single", with the topcoat only. Breeds may have an occasional "blaze", stripe, or "star" of white fur on their chest or underside. [29] Premature graying can occur in dogs as early as one year of age; this is associated with impulsive behaviors, anxiety behaviors, and fear of unfamiliar noise, people, or animals. [30]


A dog's dewclaw is the five digits in the dog's forelimb and hind legs. Dogs' forelimbs' dewclaws are attached by bone and ligament, while the dogs' hind legs' are attached by skin to the limb. Most dogs aren't born with dewclaws in their hind legs, and some are without them in their forelimbs. Dogs' dewclaws consist of the proximal phalanxes and distal phalanxes. Some publications thought that dewclaws in wolves, who usually do not have dewclaws, were a sign of hybridization with dogs. [31] [32]


A dog's tail is the terminal appendage of the vertebral column, which is made up of a string of 5 to 23 vertebrae enclosed in muscles and skin that support the dog's back extensor muscles. One of the primary functions of a dog's tail is to communicate their emotional state. [33] The tail also helps the dog maintain balance by putting its weight on the opposite side of the dog's tilt, and it can also help the dog spread its anal gland's scent through the tail's position and movement. [34] Dogs can have a violet gland (or supracaudal gland) characterized by sebaceous glands on the dorsal surface of their tails; in some breeds, it may be vestigial or absent. The enlargement of the violet gland in the tail, which can create a bald spot from hair loss, can be caused by Cushing's disease or an excess of sebum from androgens in the sebaceous glands. [35]

A study suggests that dogs show asymmetric tail-wagging responses to different emotive stimuli. "Stimuli that could be expected to elicit approach tendencies seem to be associated with [a] higher amplitude of tail-wagging movements to the right side". [36] [37]

Dogs can injure themselves by wagging their tails forcefully; this condition is called kennel tail, happy tail, bleeding tail, or splitting tail. [38] In some hunting dogs, the tail is traditionally docked to avoid injuries. Some dogs can be born without tails because of a DNA variant in the T gene, which can also result in a congenitally short (bobtail) tail. [39]

A black Standard Schnauzer with a docked tail BlkStdSchnauzer2.jpg
A black Standard Schnauzer with a docked tail


Some breeds of dogs are prone to specific genetic ailments such as elbow and hip dysplasia, blindness, deafness, pulmonic stenosis, a cleft palate, and trick knees. Two severe medical conditions significantly affecting dogs are pyometra, affecting unspayed females of all breeds and ages, and gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat), which affects larger breeds or deep-chested dogs. Both of these are acute conditions and can kill rapidly. Dogs are also susceptible to parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and heartworms that can live in their hearts. [40]

Several human foods and household ingestibles are toxic to dogs, including chocolate solids, causing theobromine poisoning, onions and garlic, causing thiosulfate, sulfoxide or disulfide poisoning, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, and xylitol. [41] The nicotine in tobacco can also be dangerous to dogs. Signs of ingestion can include copious vomiting (e.g., from eating cigar butts) or diarrhea. The symptoms of hydrocarbon mixture indigestion can be abdominal pain, aspiration pneumonia, oral ulcers, vomiting, or death. [42] [43] The most common deaths among dogs were neoplasia and heart disease, followed by toxicosis and gastrointestinal disease. [44] [45] [46] A 20-year-record study found that respiratory disease was the most common cause of death in Bulldogs. [47] Puppies were more likely to die from infection or congenital disease. [48] Dogs can also have some of the same health conditions as humans, including diabetes, dental and heart disease, epilepsy, cancer, hypothyroidism, and arthritis. Type 1 diabetes mellitus, resembling human diabetes, is the type of diabetes seen most often in dogs. [49] Their pathology is similar to that of humans, as is their response to treatment and their outcomes. The genes involved in canine obsessive-compulsive disorders led to the detection of four genes in humans' related pathways. [20]


The typical lifespan of dogs varies widely among breeds, but the median longevity (the age at which half the dogs in a population have died and half are still alive) is approximately 12.7 years. [50] [51] Obesity correlates negatively with longevity with one study finding obese dogs have a life expectancy approximately a year and a half less than dogs with a healthy weight. [50]


Two dogs tied after mating Dogs mating 2.jpg
Two dogs tied after mating

In domestic dogs, sexual maturity happens around six months to one year for both males and females, although this can be delayed until up to two years of age for some large breeds. This is the time at which female dogs will have their first estrous cycle, characterized by their vulvas swelling and producing discharges, usually lasting between 4 and 20 days. [52] They will experience subsequent estrous cycles semiannually, during which the body prepares for pregnancy. At the peak of the cycle, females will become estrous, mentally and physically receptive to copulation. Because the ova survive and can be fertilized for a week after ovulation, more than one male can sire the same litter. [5] Fertilization typically occurs two to five days after ovulation. After ejaculation, the dogs are coitally tied for around 5–30 minutes because of the male's bulbus glandis swelling and the female's constrictor vestibuli contracting; the male will continue ejaculating until they untie naturally. [53] 14–16 days after ovulation, the embryo attaches to the uterus, and after seven to eight more days, a heartbeat is detectable. [54] [55] Dogs bear their litters roughly 58 to 68 days after fertilization, [5] [56] with an average of 63 days, although the length of gestation can vary. An average litter consists of about six puppies. [57]


Neutering is the sterilization of animals, usually by removing the male's testicles or the female's ovaries and uterus, to eliminate the ability to procreate and reduce sex drive. Because of dogs' overpopulation in some countries, many animal control agencies, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), advise that dogs not intended for further breeding should be neutered, so that they do not have undesired puppies that may later be euthanized. [58] According to the Humane Society of the United States, three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. [59] Many more are confined to cages in shelters. Spaying or castrating dogs is considered a major factor in keeping overpopulation down. [60]

Neutering reduces problems caused by hypersexuality, especially in male dogs. [61] Spayed female dogs are less likely to develop cancers affecting the mammary glands, ovaries, and other reproductive organs. [62] However, neutering increases the risk of urinary incontinence in female dogs, [63] prostate cancer in males, [64] and osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, cruciate ligament rupture, pyometra, obesity, and diabetes mellitus in either sex. [65]

Inbreeding depression

A common breeding practice for pet dogs is to mate them between close relatives (e.g., between half- and full-siblings). [66] Inbreeding depression is considered to be due mainly to the expression of homozygous deleterious recessive mutations. [67] Outcrossing between unrelated individuals, including dogs of different breeds, results in the beneficial masking of deleterious recessive mutations in progeny. [68]

In a study of seven dog breeds (the Bernese Mountain Dog, Basset Hound, Cairn Terrier, Brittany, German Shepherd Dog, Leonberger, and West Highland White Terrier), it was found that inbreeding decreases litter size and survival. [69] Another analysis of data on 42,855 Dachshund litters found that as the inbreeding coefficient increased, litter size decreased and the percentage of stillborn puppies increased, thus indicating inbreeding depression. [70] In a study of Boxer litters, 22% of puppies died before reaching 7 weeks of age. Stillbirth was the most frequent cause of death, followed by infection. Mortality due to infection increased significantly with increases in inbreeding. [71]


Dog behavior is the internally coordinated responses (actions or inactions) of the domestic dog (individuals or groups) to internal and external stimuli. [72] Dogs' minds have been shaped by millennia of contact with humans. They have acquired the ability to understand and communicate with humans and are uniquely attuned to human behaviors. [73] Behavioral scientists thought that a set of social-cognitive abilities in domestic dogs that are not possessed by the dog's canine relatives or other highly intelligent mammals, such as great apes, are parallel to children's social-cognitive skills. [74]

Unlike other domestic species selected for production-related traits, dogs were initially selected for their behaviors. [75] [76] In 2016, a study found that only 11 fixed genes showed variation between wolves and dogs. [77] These gene variations were unlikely to have been the result of natural evolution and indicate selection on both morphology and behavior during dog domestication. These genes have been shown to affect the catecholamine synthesis pathway, with the majority of the genes affecting the fight-or-flight response [76] [78] (i.e., selection for tameness) and emotional processing. [76] Dogs generally show reduced fear and aggression compared with wolves, though some of these genes have been associated with aggression in certain dog breeds. [79] [76] Traits of high sociability and lack of fear in dogs may include genetic modifications related to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans, which cause hypersociability at the expense of problem-solving ability. [80] In a 2023 study of 58 dogs, some dogs classified as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-like showed lower serotonin and dopamine concentrations. [81] A similar study claims that hyperactivity is more common in male and young dogs. [82] A dog can become aggressive because of trauma or abuse, fear or anxiety, territorial protection, or protecting an item it considers valuable. [83] Acute stress reactions from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seen in dogs can evolve into chronic stress. [84] Police dogs with PTSD can often refuse to work. [85]

Dogs have a natural instinct called prey drive (the term is chiefly used to describe training dogs' habits) which can be influenced by breeding. These instincts can drive dogs to consider objects or other animals to be prey or drive possessive behavior. These traits have been enhanced in some breeds so that they may be used to hunt and kill vermin or other pests. [86] Puppies or dogs sometimes bury food underground. One study found that wolves outperformed dogs in finding food caches, likely due to a "difference in motivation" between wolves and dogs. [87] Some puppies and dogs engage in coprophagy out of habit, stress, for attention, or boredom; most of them will not do it later in life. A study hypothesizes that the behavior was inherited from wolves, a behavior likely evolved to lessen the presence of intestinal parasites in dens. [88]

Dog swimming over to catch a ball

Most dogs can swim. In a study of 412 dogs, around 36.5% of the dogs could not swim; the other 63.5% were able to swim without a trainer in a swimming pool. [89] A study of 55 dogs found a correlation between swimming and improvement of the hip osteoarthritis joint. [90]


A female dog is nursing her newborn puppies. Saugende Hundin.JPG
A female dog is nursing her newborn puppies.

The female dog may produce colostrum 1–7 days before giving birth, lasting for around three months. [91] [92] Colostrum peak production was around 3 weeks postpartum and increased with litter size. [92] The dog can sometimes vomit and refuse food during child contractions. [93] In the later stages of the dog's pregnancy, nesting behaviour may occur. [94] Puppies are born with a protective fetal membrane that the mother usually removes shortly after birth. Dogs can have the maternal instincts to start grooming their puppies, consume their puppies' feces, and protect their puppies, likely due to their hormonal state. [95] [96] While male-parent dogs can show more disinterested behaviour toward their own puppies, [97] most can play with the young pups as they would with other dogs or humans. [98] A female dog may abandon or attack her puppies or her male partner dog if she is stressed or in pain. [99]


Researchers have tested dogs' ability to perceive information, retain it as knowledge, and apply it to solve problems. Studies of two dogs suggest that dogs can learn by inference. A study with Rico, a Border Collie, showed that he knew the labels of over 200 different items. He inferred the names of novel things by exclusion learning and correctly retrieved those new items after four weeks of the initial exposure. A study of another Border Collie, Chaser, documented that he had learned the names and could associate them by verbal command with over 1,000 words. [100]

One study of canine cognitive abilities found that dogs' capabilities are similar to those of horses, chimpanzees, or cats. [101] One study of 18 household dogs found that the dogs could not distinguish food bowls at specific locations without distinguishing cues; the study stated that this indicates a lack of spatial memory. [102] Dogs demonstrate a theory of mind by engaging in deception. [103] Another experimental study showed evidence that Australian dingos can outperform domestic dogs in non-social problem-solving, indicating that domestic dogs may have lost much of their original problem-solving abilities once they joined humans. [104] Another study showed that after undergoing training to solve a simple manipulation task, dogs faced with an unsolvable version of the same problem look at humans, while socialized wolves do not. [105]


Dog communication is how dogs convey information to other dogs, understand messages from humans, and translate the information that dogs are transmitting. [106] :xii Communication behaviors of dogs include eye gaze, facial expression, [107] [108] vocalization, body posture (including movements of bodies and limbs), and gustatory communication (scents, pheromones, and taste). Dogs' scent marks their territories by urinating on them, which is more likely when entering a new environment. [109] [110] Both sexes of dogs may also urinate to communicate anxiety or frustration, submissiveness, or when in exciting or relaxing situations. [111] Aroused dogs can be a result of the dogs' higher cortisol levels. [112] Between 3 and 8 weeks of age, dogs tend to focus on other dogs for social interaction, and between 5 and 12 weeks of age, they shift their focus to people. [113] Belly exposure in dogs can be a defensive behavior that can lead to a bite or to seek comfort.

Humans communicate with dogs by using vocalization, hand signals, and body posture. With their acute sense of hearing, dogs rely on the auditory aspect of communication for understanding and responding to various cues, including the distinctive barking patterns that convey different messages. A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that dogs respond to both vocal and nonvocal voices using the brain's region towards the temporal pole, similar to that of humans' brains. Most dogs also looked significantly longer at the face whose expression matched the valence of vocalization. [114] [115] [116] A study of caudate responses shows that dogs tend to respond more positively to social rewards than to food rewards. [117]



The dog is probably the most widely abundant large carnivoran living in the human environment. [118] [119] In 2013, the estimated global dog population was between 700 million [120] and 987 million. [121] About 20% of dogs live as pets in developed countries. [122] In the developing world, it is estimated that three-quarters of the world's dog population lives in the developing world as feral, village, or community dogs. [123] Most of these dogs live as scavengers and have never been owned by humans, with one study showing that village dogs' most common response when approached by strangers is to run away (52%), or respond aggressively (11%). [124]

Competitors and predators

Feral and free-ranging dogs' potential to compete with other large carnivores is limited by their strong association with humans. [118] Although wolves are known to kill dogs, they tend to live in pairs in areas where they are highly persecuted, giving them a disadvantage when facing large dog groups. [125] [126] In some instances, wolves have displayed an uncharacteristic fearlessness of humans and buildings when attacking dogs, to the extent that they have to be beaten off or killed. [127] Although the numbers of dogs killed each year are relatively low, it induces a fear of wolves entering villages and farmyards to take dogs, and losses of dogs to wolves have led to demands for more liberal wolf hunting regulations. [125]

Coyotes and big cats have also been known to attack dogs. In particular, leopards are known to have a preference for dogs and have been recorded to kill and consume them, no matter their size. [128] Siberian tigers in the Amur River region have killed dogs in the middle of villages. Amur tigers will not tolerate wolves as competitors within their territories, and the tigers could be considering dogs in the same way. [129] Striped hyenas are known to kill dogs in their range. [130]


A Golden Retriever gnawing on a pig's foot Golden retriever eating pigs foot.jpg
A Golden Retriever gnawing on a pig's foot

Dogs have been described as omnivores. [5] [131] [132] Compared to wolves, dogs from agricultural societies have extra copies of amylase and other genes involved in starch digestion that contribute to an increased ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet. [4] Similar to humans, some dog breeds produce amylase in their saliva and are classified as having a high-starch diet. [133] However, more like cats and less like other omnivores, dogs can only produce bile acid with taurine, and they cannot produce vitamin D, which they obtain from animal flesh. Of the twenty-one amino acids common to all life forms (including selenocysteine), dogs cannot synthesize ten: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. [134] [135] [136] Like cats, dogs require arginine to maintain nitrogen balance. These nutritional requirements place dogs halfway between carnivores and omnivores. [137]


As a domesticated or semi-domesticated animal, the dog has notable exceptions of presence in:

Dogs were introduced to Antarctica as sled dogs. Starting practice in December 1993, dogs were later outlawed by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty international agreement due to the possible risk of spreading infections. [146]

Dogs shall not be introduced onto land, ice shelves or sea ice.

Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1991 in Madrid, amended version of Annex II, Article 4 (number two)

Roles with humans

The domesticated dog apparently originated as a predator and scavenger. [147] Domestic dogs inherited complex behaviors, such as bite inhibition, from their wolf ancestors, which would have been pack hunters with complex body-language. These sophisticated forms of social cognition and communication may account for dogs' trainability, playfulness and ability to fit into human households and social situations, [148] and probably also their co-existence with early human hunter-gatherers.

Dogs perform many roles for people, such as hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, assisting police and the military, companionship and aiding disabled individuals. These roles in human society have earned them the nickname "man's best friend" in the Western world. In some cultures, however, dogs are also a source of meat. [149] [150]


A Siberian Husky with a human companion Siberian Husky pho.jpg
A Siberian Husky with a human companion

The keeping of dogs as companions, particularly by élites, has a long history. [151] Pet-dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased. [151] In the 1980s, there have been changes in the pet dog's functions, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their human guardians. [152] [ page needed ] [153] [ page needed ] [154] Within the second half of the 20th century, the first dogs' social status major shift has been "commodification", shaping it[ clarification needed ] to conform to social expectations of personality and behavior. [154] The second has been the broadening of the concepts of family and the home to include dogs-as-dogs within everyday routines and practices. [154]

A vast range of commodity forms aim to transform a pet dog into an ideal companion. [155] The list of goods and services available for dogs, such as dog-training books, classes, and television programs, has increased. [156] [155] The majority of contemporary dog-owners describe their pet as part of the family, although some state that it is an ambivalent relationship. [154] Some dog-trainers, such as on the television program Dog Whisperer , have promoted a dominance model of dog-human relationships. However, the idea of the "alpha dog" trying to be dominant is based on a controversial theory about wolf packs. [157] [158] It has been disputed that "trying to achieve status" is characteristic of dog-human interactions. [159] Human family members have increased participation in activities in which the dog is an integral partner, such as dog dancing and dog yoga. [155]

According to statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in the National Pet Owner Survey in 2009–2010, an estimated 77.5 million people in the United States have pet dogs. [160] The source shows that nearly 40% of American households own at least one dog, of which 67% own just one dog, 25% own two dogs, and nearly 9% own more than two dogs. The data also shows an equal number of male and female pet dogs; less than one-fifth of the owned dogs come from shelters. [161]

Dogs as introduced predator-mammals can affect the ecology of (for example) New Zealand, which lacked indigenous land-based mammals before human settlement. [162]


In addition to dogs' role as companion animals, dogs such as collies and sheepdogs have been bred for herding livestock; for hunting; for rodent control (such as terriers); as search and rescue dogs; [163] as detection dogs (such as those trained to detect illicit drugs or chemical weapons); [164] [165] as homeguard dogs; as police dogs ("K-9"); as welfare-purpose dogs; as dogs who assist fishermen retrieve their nets; and as dogs that pull loads (such as sled dogs). [5] In 1957, the dog Laika became one of the first animals to be launched into Earth orbit aboard the Soviets' Sputnik 2 ; she provided evidence that mammals could survive in space, but died during the flight from overheating. [166] [167]

Various kinds of service dogs and assistance dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs, assist individuals with disabilities. [168] [169] A study of 29 dogs found that 9 dogs owned by people with epilepsy were reported to exhibit attention-getting behavior to their handler 30 seconds to 45 minutes prior to an impending seizure; there was no significant correlation between the patients' demographics, health, or attitude towards their pets. [170]

Shows and sports

There are breed-conformation shows and dog sports (including racing, sledding and agility competitions) for dogs to participate in with their guardians. In dog shows, also referred to as "breed shows", a judge familiar with the specific dog breed evaluates individual purebred dogs for conformity with their established breed type as described in a breed standard. [171] Weight pulling, a dog sport involving pulling weight, has been criticized for promoting doping and for its risk of injury. [172]

Dogs as food

Meat from dogs is consumed in some East Asian countries, including China, [149] Vietnam, [150] Korea, [173] Indonesia, [174] and the Philippines; [175] such traditions date back to antiquity. [176] It is estimated that 30 million dogs are killed and consumed in Asia every year. Han Chinese traditionally ate dog meat. [177] China is the world's largest consumer of dogs, with an estimated 10 to 20 million dogs killed every year for human consumption - a figure derived from extrapolating industry reports on meat tonnage. [178] Switzerland, Polynesia, and pre-Columbian Mexico historically consumed dog meat. [179] [180] [181] In some parts of Poland [182] [183] and Central Asia, [184] [185] dog fat is reportedly believed to be beneficial for the lungs.

Eating dog meat is a social taboo in most parts of the world; debates have ensued over banning the consumption of dog meat. [186] Emperors of the Sui dynasty (581-618) in China attempted to outlaw dog-meat consumption, with the Tang dynasty (618-907) partially prohibiting dog meat consumption at events. [187] Proponents of eating dog meat have argued that placing a distinction between livestock and dogs is Western hypocrisy and that there is no difference in eating different animals' meat. [188] [189] [190] [191] In some countries, selling or slaughtering dogs for human consumption is prohibited, though some still consume it in modern times.

In Korea

The most popular Korean dog dish, bosintang , a spicy stew, aims to balance the body's heat during the summer months. Some followers of the custom claim this is done to ensure good health by balancing one's gi, or the body's 'vital energy'. Dogs are not as widely consumed as beef, pork and chicken. [192]

The primary dog-breed raised for meat in South Korea is the Nureongi, a breed not recognized by international bodies. [193] In 2018, the South Korean government passed a bill banning restaurants that sell dog meat from doing so during that year's Winter Olympics. [194] On 9 January 2024, the South Korean parliament passed a law banning the distribution and sale of dog meat, to take effect in three years. [195]

Health risks

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 59,000 people died globally from rabies, with 59.6% of the deaths in Asia and 36.4% in Africa. Rabies is a disease for which dogs are the most significant vector. [196] Dog bites affect tens of millions of people globally each year. Children in mid-to-late childhood are the largest group bitten by dogs, with a greater risk of injury to the head and neck. They are more likely to need medical treatment and have the highest death-rate. [197] Sharp claws can lacerate flesh, which can lead to serious infections. [198] In the United States, cats and dogs are a factor in more than 86,000 falls each year. [199] It has been estimated that around 2% of dog-related injuries treated in U.K. hospitals are domestic accidents. The same study concluded that dog-associated road accidents involving injuries more commonly involve two-wheeled vehicles. [200]

Toxocara canis (dog roundworm) eggs in dog feces can cause toxocariasis. In the United States, about 10,000 cases of Toxocara infection are reported in humans each year, and almost 14% of the U.S. population is infected. [201] Untreated toxocariasis can cause retinal damage and decreased vision. [202] Dog feces can also contain hookworms that cause cutaneous larva migrans in humans. [203] [204]

Health benefits

Walking a dog Walking the dog (1945527533).jpg
Walking a dog

The scientific evidence is mixed as to whether a dog's companionship can enhance human physical and psychological well-being. [205] Studies suggest that there are benefits to physical health and psychological well-being, but they have been criticized for being "poorly controlled". [206] [207] One study states that "the health of elderly people is related to their health habits and social supports but not to their ownership of, or attachment to, a companion animal".[ citation needed ] Earlier studies have shown that pet-dog or -cat guardians make fewer hospital visits and are less likely to be on medication for heart problems and sleeping difficulties than non-guardians. [208] People with pet dogs took considerably more physical exercise than those with cats or those without pets; these effects are relatively long-term. [209] Pet guardianship has also been associated with increased survival in cases of coronary artery disease. Human guardians are significantly less likely to die within one year of an acute myocardial infarction than those who do not own dogs. [210] Studies have found a small to moderate correlation between dog-ownership and increased adult physical-activity levels. [211]

A 2005 paper states:

"recent research has failed to support earlier findings that pet ownership is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a reduced use of general practitioner services, or any psychological or physical benefits on health for community dwelling older people. Research has, however, pointed to significantly less absenteeism from school through sickness among children who live with pets." [205]

In one study, new guardians reported a significant reduction in minor health problems during the first month following pet acquisition, which was sustained through the 10-month study. [209]

Health benefits of dogs can result from contact with dogs in general, not solely from having dogs as pets. For example, when in a pet dog's presence, people show reductions in cardiovascular, behavioral, and psychological indicators of anxiety, [212] and are exposed to immune-stimulating microorganisms, which can protect against allergies and autoimmune diseases (according to the hygiene hypothesis). Other benefits include dogs as social support. [213] One study indicated that wheelchair-users experience more positive social interactions with strangers when accompanied by a dog than when they are not. [214] In 2015, a study found that pet owners were significantly more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood than non-pet owners. [215]

Using dogs and other animals as a part of therapy dates back to the late-18th century, when animals were introduced into mental institutions to help socialize patients with mental disorders. [216] Animal-assisted intervention research has shown that animal-assisted therapy with a dog can increase smiling and laughing among people with Alzheimer's disease. [217] One study demonstrated that children with ADHD and conduct disorders who participated in an education program with dogs and other animals showed increased attendance, knowledge, and skill-objectives and decreased antisocial and violent behavior compared with those not in an animal-assisted program. [218]

Cultural importance

Cerberus with the gluttons in Dante's third circle of hell, depicted by William Blake Cerberus-Blake.jpeg
Cerberus with the gluttons in Dante's third circle of hell, depicted by William Blake

Artworks have depicted dogs as symbols of guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, faithfulness, alertness, and love. [219] In ancient Mesopotamia, from the Old Babylonian period until the Neo-Babylonian period, dogs were the symbol of Ninisina, the goddess of healing and medicine, [220] and her worshippers frequently dedicated small models of seated dogs to her. [220] In the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, dogs served as emblems of magical protection. [220] In China, Korea and Japan, dogs are viewed as kind protectors. [221]

In mythology, dogs often appear as pets or as watchdogs. [221] Stories of dogs guarding the gates of the underworld recur throughout Indo-European mythologies [222] [223] and may originate from Proto-Indo-European traditions. [222] [223] In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a three-headed, dragon-tailed watchdog who guards the gates of Hades. [221] Dogs also feature in association with the Greek goddess Hecate. [224] In Norse mythology, a dog called Garmr guards Hel, a realm of the dead. [221] In Persian mythology, two four-eyed dogs guard the Chinvat Bridge. [221] In Welsh mythology, Cŵn Annwn guards Annwn. [221] In Hindu mythology, Yama, the god of death, owns two watchdogs named Shyama and Sharvara which each have four eyes - they are said to watch over the gates of Naraka. [225] A black dog is considered to be the vahana (vehicle) of Bhairava (an incarnation of Shiva). [226]

In Christianity, dogs represent faithfulness. [221] Within the Roman Catholic denomination specifically, the iconography of Saint Dominic includes a dog, after the saint's mother dreamt of a dog springing from her womb and became pregnant shortly after that. [227] As such, the Dominican Order (Ecclesiastical Latin: Domini canis) means "dog of the Lord" or "hound of the Lord". [227] In Christian folklore, a church grim often takes the form of a black dog to guard Christian churches and their churchyards from sacrilege. [228] Jewish law does not prohibit keeping dogs and other pets, but requires Jews to feed dogs (and other animals that they own) before themselves and to make arrangements for feeding them before obtaining them. [229] [230] The view on dogs in Islam is mixed, with some schools of thought viewing them as unclean, [221] although Khaled Abou El Fadl states that this view is based on "pre-Islamic Arab mythology" and "a tradition [...] falsely attributed to the Prophet". [231] The Sunni Maliki school jurists disagree with the idea that dogs are unclean. [232]


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog breed</span> Group of closely related and visibly similar domestic dogs

A dog breed is a particular type of dog that was purposefully bred by humans to perform specific tasks, such as herding, hunting, and guarding. Dogs are the most variable mammal on Earth, with artificial selection producing upward of 360 globally recognized breeds. These breeds possess distinct traits related to morphology, which include body size, skull shape, tail phenotype, fur type, body shape, and coat colour. However, there is only one species of dog. Their behavioral traits include guarding, herding, and hunting, and personality traits such as hyper-social behavior, boldness, and aggression. Most breeds were derived from small numbers of founders within the last 200 years. As a result of their adaptability to many environments and breedability for human needs, today dogs are the most abundant carnivore species and are dispersed around the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog breeding</span> Mating selected dogs for specific qualities

Dog breeding is the practice of mating selected dogs with the intention of maintaining or producing specific qualities and characteristics. When dogs reproduce without such human intervention, their offspring's characteristics are determined by natural selection, while "dog breeding" refers specifically to the artificial selection of dogs, in which dogs are intentionally bred by their owners. Breeding relies on the science of genetics, hence a breeder who is knowledgeable on canine genetics, health, and the intended purpose of the dogs attempts to breed suitable dogs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wolfdog</span> Dog-wolf hybrid

A wolfdog is a canine produced by the mating of a domestic dog with a gray wolf, eastern wolf, red wolf, or Ethiopian wolf to produce a hybrid.

Dog intelligence or dog cognition is the process in dogs of acquiring information and conceptual skills, and storing them in memory, retrieving, combining and comparing them, and using them in new situations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog communication</span> Communication of dogs with other dogs and as well as humans

Dog communication is the transfer of information between dogs, as well as between dogs and humans. Behaviors associated with dog communication are categorized into visual and vocal. Visual communication includes mouth shape and head position, licking and sniffing, ear and tail positioning, eye gaze, facial expression, and body posture. Dog vocalizations, or auditory communication, can include barks, growls, howls, whines and whimpers, screams, pants and sighs. Dogs also communicate via gustatory communication, utilizing scent and pheromones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog training</span> Practice of teaching behaviors to dogs

Dog training is a kind of animal training, the application of behavior analysis which uses the environmental events of antecedents and consequences to modify the dog behavior, either for it to assist in specific activities or undertake particular tasks, or for it to participate effectively in contemporary domestic life. While training dogs for specific roles dates back to Roman times at least, the training of dogs to be compatible household pets developed with suburbanization in the 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog aggression</span> Behavior in dogs

Dog aggression expressed by dogs is considered to be normal behaviour and various types of aggression are influenced by a dog's environment and genetic predisposition. Dogs commonly display possessive aggression when defending resources or themselves.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bark (sound)</span> Sound mainly produced by Dogs

A bark is a sound most often produced by dogs. Other animals that make this noise include, but are not limited to, wolves, coyotes, foxes, seals, frogs, and barking owls. "Bark" is also a verb that describes the sound of many canids.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Domestication of vertebrates</span>

The domestication of vertebrates is the mutual relationship between vertebrate animals including birds and mammals, and the humans who have influence on their care and reproduction.

Canid hybrids are the result of interbreeding between the species of the subfamily Caninae.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Domestication of the dog</span> Process which created the domestic dog

The domestication of the dog was the process which led to the domestic dog. This included the dog's genetic divergence from the wolf, its domestication, and the emergence of the first dogs. Genetic studies suggest that all ancient and modern dogs share a common ancestry and descended from an ancient, now-extinct wolf population – or closely related wolf populations – which was distinct from the modern wolf lineage. The dog's similarity to the grey wolf is the result of substantial dog-into-wolf gene flow, with the modern grey wolf being the dog's nearest living relative. An extinct Late Pleistocene wolf may have been the ancestor of the dog.

Canine reproduction is the process of sexual reproduction in domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes and other canine species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dog behavior</span> Internally coordinated responses of dogs to internal and external stimuli

Dog behavior is the internally coordinated responses of individuals or groups of domestic dogs to internal and external stimuli. It has been shaped by millennia of contact with humans and their lifestyles. As a result of this physical and social evolution, dogs have acquired the ability to understand and communicate with humans. Behavioral scientists have uncovered a wide range of social-cognitive abilities in domestic dogs.

Socialization of animals is the process of training animals so that they can be kept in close relationship to humans.

<i>Canis lupus dingo</i> Subspecies of canine

In the taxonomic treatment presented in the third (2005) edition of Mammal Species of the World, Canis lupus dingo is a taxonomic rank that includes both the dingo that is native to Australia and the New Guinea singing dog that is native to the New Guinea Highlands. It also includes some extinct dogs that were once found in coastal Papua New Guinea and the island of Java in the Indonesian Archipelago. In this treatment it is a subspecies of Canis lupus, the wolf, although other treatments consider the dog as a full species, with the dingo and its relatives either as a subspecies of the dog, a species in its own right, or simply as an unnamed variant or genetic clade within the larger population of dogs. The genetic evidence indicates that the dingo clade originated from East Asian domestic dogs and was introduced through the Malay Archipelago into Australia, with a common ancestry between the Australian dingo and the New Guinea singing dog. The New Guinea singing dog is genetically closer to those dingoes that live in southeastern Australia than to those that live in the northwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bite inhibition</span>

Bite inhibition, sometimes referred to as a soft mouth, is a behavior in carnivorans whereby the animal learns to moderate the strength of its bite. It is an important factor in the socialization of pets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free-ranging dog</span> Dog not confined to a yard or house

A free-ranging dog is a dog that is not confined to a yard or house. Free-ranging dogs include street dogs, village dogs, stray dogs, feral dogs, etc., and may be owned or unowned. The global dog population is estimated to be 900 million, of which around 20% are regarded as owned pets and therefore restrained.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paleolithic dog</span> Late Pleistocene canine

The Paleolithic dog was a Late Pleistocene canine. They were directly associated with human hunting camps in Europe over 30,000 years ago and it is proposed that these were domesticated. They are further proposed to be either a proto-dog and the ancestor of the domestic dog or an extinct, morphologically and genetically divergent wolf population.

Calming signals is a term conceived by Norwegian dog trainer and canine ethologist, Turid Rugaas, to describe the patterns of behavior used by dogs when interacting with each other in environments that cause heightened stress and when conveying their desires or intentions. The term has been used interchangeably with "appeasement signals." Calming signals, or appeasement signals, are communicative cues used by dogs to de-escalate aggressive encounters or to prevent the development of aggressive encounters completely. Calming signals are performed by one dog and directed towards one or more individual(s), which could be dogs or individuals of other species, such as humans. When calming signals are ignored, a dog may display warning signals of aggression, and this has the potential to escalate to outright conflict between individuals.

Wild ancestors are the original species from which domesticated plants and animals are derived. Examples include dogs which are derived from wolves and flax which is derived from Linum bienne. In most cases the wild ancestor species still exists, but some domesticated species, such as camels, have no surviving wild relatives. In many cases there is considerable debate in the scientific community about the identity of the wild ancestor or ancestors, as the process of domestication involves natural selection, artificial selection, and hybridization.


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