If you have always thought that having a pet dog was the most natural thing in the world, then you may be right. DNA research shows that humans may have lived and worked alongside dogs for 20,000 or even 30,000 years.

It was thought that wolves were first domesticated around 10,000 years ago in either the Middle East or Asia. Most researchers believed that the idea behind domestication was so that the dogs could guard farmers’ livestock.

However, new research from the University of California suggests that the first wolves to be domesticated were European grey wolves, now extinct, possibly up to 30,000 years ago. This predates the development of farming.

The current theory, put forward by Professor Robert Wayne, suggests that wolves originally fed off the remains of the animal carcasses that hunter-gatherers left behind.

This raw dog food could have led to a symbiotic relationship, where the wolves got fed by the humans, becoming tamer, in exchange for protection and help with hunting. The two species then learned to live side by side.

Professor Wayne’s study analysed the mitochondrial DNA of ten ancient ‘wolf-like’ animals and eight ‘dog-like’ canines, most of which came from Europe. They ranged from 1,000 to 30,000 years old.

The study also analysed the mitochondrial DNA of 77 dogs and 49 wolves from the present day. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited directly from a creature’s mother, so it is very useful to determine ancestry.

The results showed that “instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them. This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record”, according to Professor Wayne.

Previous links between domestic dogs and wolves have suggested that they interbred in the Middle East. However, this interbreeding does not necessarily point to a Middle-Eastern origin for modern dogs.

Professor Wayne said: “As hunter-gatherers moved around the globe, their dogs trailing behind probably interbred with wolves." He added that: “Europe is where the oldest dogs are found."

Written by: Hannah