It turns out there’s nothing new about the human-animal bond. Fear Free Happy Homes and the entire Fear Free initiative are, after all, at their core a celebration of the bond we all have with our pets, and it goes back for millennia.
That bond with dogs dates to approximately 14,000 years ago. We know this from archeological evidence that some humans of that time had dogs buried with them, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Other researchers previously revealed that our prehistoric relatives were buried alongside or with dogs. Now, there’s evidence that at least some of these dogs were buried adorned with jewelry made of antler bone and other items. People even tried to care for sick puppies – though no one has any idea today what veterinary care might have been like 14,000 years ago. The point, though, is that our ancestors cared enough about dogs to want to make them better. And when they died, at least in some cases, similar care was taken as when people died.
There’s no doubt, based on archeological evidence, that dogs had various utilitarian purposes, from assisting humans on hunts to guarding villages. There’s evidence that people shared sleeping quarters with dogs. That too may be utilitarian, as there were no space heaters back then.
But increasing evidence suggests there was a bond. One reason that dogs became more bonded with us is that humans selectively bred dogs, likely for hunting ability but also as likely for temperament. So, did we develop emotional attachment to dogs as long ago as 14,000 years?
The researchers write, “The Bonn-Oberkassel dog was a late juvenile when it was buried at approximately age 27–28 weeks, with two adult humans and grave goods. Oral cavity lesions indicate a gravely ill dog that likely suffered a morbillivirus (canine distemper) infection. A dental line of suggestive enamel hypoplasia appears at the 19-week developmental stage. Two additional enamel hypoplasia lines, on the canine only, document further disease episodes at weeks 21 and 23. Pathological changes also include severe periodontal disease that may have been facilitated by immunodeficiency.
Since canine distemper has a three-week disease course with very high mortality, the dog must have been perniciously ill during the three disease bouts and between ages 19 and 23 weeks. Survival without intensive human assistance would have been unlikely. Before and during this period, the dog cannot have held any utilitarian use to humans.”
That means, maybe, that the dog was loved for himself. Of course, we can’t know for sure. But if we buried dogs in our own graves and attempted to treat their illness, this suggests the answer is yes, most certainly there was an emotional attachment.
Dogs are emotional beings who evolved with us. This research further distinguishes domestic dogs from wolves, even 14,000 years ago. While dogs did develop from a long-extinct wolf species, even back then people clearly associated with dogs differently than they did with wild animals. Those early humans knew even then that dogs weren’t wolves but instead were beloved friends.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.