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The Amazing History of Dogs

Tens of thousands of years ago, during the Ice Age, a new creature appeared on Earth: the dog. How did this happen? And how has the relationship between humans and dogs changed over the years? Two fascinating articles tell an incredible story that connects to science, history—and of course, lots of adorable doggies.

By Sarah Albee and Lauren Tarshis
From the September 2017 Issue
Lexiles: 860L, 650L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
Topics: Animals, History, Science,

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UP CLOSE: Synthesizing

As you read these articles, look for how dogs, and their relationships with humans, have changed over time.

 

How the Wolf Became the Dog

Life was tough for humans during the Ice Age. A new kind of friend made things better.

Be happy you didn’t live on Earth 35,000 years ago.

That was a time known as the Ice Age. Large sheets of ice covered much of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. There were no nations yet, no cities or towns. For many of our early human ancestors, life was a daily struggle for survival. They lived in caves or huts made of animal bones. They hunted reindeer with sharpened stones and sticks. Danger lurked everywhere—diseases with no cures, saber-toothed tigers with 11-inch fangs, elephant-like mastodons with swordlike tusks.

But it was during this harsh time that something beautiful was born: the friendship between humans and dogs.

Be glad you didn’t live on Earth 35,000 years ago.

That was a time known as the Ice Age. Large sheets of ice covered much of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. There were no nations yet, no cities or towns. Many of our early human ancestors struggled to survive. They lived in caves or huts made of animal bones. They hunted reindeer with sharpened stones and sticks. Danger was everywhere. There were diseases with no cures. There were sabertoothed tigers with 11-inch fangs. There were elephant-like mastodons with long, sharp tusks.

But during this harsh time, something beautiful was born: the friendship between humans and dogs.

From Wolf to Dog

Dogs have been guarding us, working with us, and snuggling with us for thousands of years. But scientists are only now starting to understand the long history of dogs. There
are many mysteries. One thing is certain though: Every dog has the same ancestor, the gray wolf.

This does not mean that a fierce wolf suddenly and magically morphed into a yapping Chihuahua with a pink bow. The change occurred gradually, over thousands of years. Scientists speculate that the first dog appeared between 15,000 and 38,000 years ago.

At that time, many animals—including the wolf—posed a threat to humans. But at some point, a group of humans and a group of wolves teamed up. How did this happen?

One theory: A few wolves crept into human campsites, lured by tasty food scraps. These wolves were less aggressive than other wolves. But they still helped protect humans from dangerous predators. And so humans let these wolves stick around. The gentler wolves, their bellies full of human food, lived longer than other wolves. They gave birth to even gentler babies, which grew up to have gentle babies of their own. On and on this went, until a new, calmer breed of wolf emerged.

Dogs have been living with humans for thousands of years. But scientists are only now starting to understand the history of dogs. There are many mysteries. But one thing is certain: All dogs have the same ancestor, the gray wolf.

This does not mean that a fierce wolf suddenly morphed into a yapping Chihuahua with a pink bow. The change happened slowly. It took thousands of years. Experts speculate that the first dog appeared between 15,000 and 38,000 years ago.

At that time, many animals posed a threat to humans. Wolves were among them. But at some point, a group of humans and a group of wolves teamed up. How did this happen?

One theory: A few wolves crept into human campsites to eat food scraps. They were less aggressive than other wolves. But they still helped protect humans from other animals. And so the humans let them stay. The gentler wolves ate human food. This helped them live longer than other wolves. They gave birth to even gentler babies, which grew up and had gentle babies too. After a while, there was a new, calmer breed of wolf.

Hunters, Napkins

As the centuries passed, the wolves living near humans continued to change. Their bodies got smaller, their ears floppier. They became friendlier and more eager to please humans. Soon, a new kind of creature had developed: the dog.

Dogs were the first domesticated animals—that is, animals bred and raised to live among us. Today, there are many kinds of domesticated animals—cows that give us milk, chickens that lay eggs, horses that we ride, and sheep that provide wool. But dogs were the first.

Eventually, humans put dogs to work in new ways. Dogs became trained hunters, fighters, and animal herders. Roman warriors marched into battle alongside enormous war dogs. In ancient Egypt, some hunting dogs were so prized that they were turned into mummies and buried with their owners.

Dogs helped in less ferocious ways too. Before people used forks, spoons, and napkins, they’d wipe their greasy hands on dogs that sat by their tables. On icy winter nights, people used dogs as foot warmers. Some European kings wouldn’t take a bite of food until their dog had tasted it first. Only then could they be sure the food hadn’t been poisoned.

Centuries went by. The wolves living near humans continued to change. They got smaller. Their ears got floppier. They became friendlier and more eager to please humans. Over time, a new kind of creature developed: the dog.

Dogs were the first domesticated animals—that is, animals bred and raised to live among us. Today, there are many kinds of domesticated animals. There are cows that give us milk, chickens that lay eggs, horses that we ride, and sheep that provide wool. But dogs were the first.

Humans began putting dogs to work in new ways. They trained dogs to hunt, fight, and herd animals. Roman warriors marched into battle alongside huge war dogs. In ancient Egypt, favorite hunting dogs were turned into mummies and buried with their owners.

Dogs helped in other ways too. Before people used forks, spoons, and napkins, they’d wipe their greasy hands on dogs. On cold nights, people used dogs as foot warmers. In Europe, some kings wouldn’t eat their food until their dog had tasted it first. That way, they could tell if the food had been poisoned.

A Stronger Bond

In the Americas, dogs have been working alongside humans for thousands of years. Native peoples used dogs as guards and hunting companions. George Washington plotted Revolutionary War battles with his hunting dog Sweetlips by his side. In the early 1800s, explorers Lewis and Clark journeyed across America’s western wilderness with a big black dog named Seaman.

As the centuries have passed, the bond between dogs and people has gotten stronger and stronger. And it all began tens of thousands of years ago, with a family of wolves howling across a dangerous, frozen land.

In the Americas, dogs have been helping humans for many years. Native peoples used dogs as guards and hunting companions. George Washington planned Revolutionary War battles with his hunting dog Sweetlips by his side. In the early 1800s, explorers Lewis and Clark crossed America’s western wilderness with a big black dog named Seaman.

Over time, the bond between dogs and people has grown very strong. And it all began thousands of years ago, with a family of wolves howling across a dangerous, frozen land.

How America Went DOG Crazy

Today, dogs are more than pets. They’re members of the family.

iStockPhoto/Getty Images

Courtesy of Family

Yap, yap, yap!

Pant, pant, pant.

Lick, lick, lick.

Scout, a little brown dog, seems to be going crazy. He bounces up and down like a furry ball. His tiny pink tongue flaps from his mouth as he licks everyone
in sight.

 “He’s just excited,” sighs 12-year-old Ruby. “He’s always excited.”

Since Scout’s arrival in Ruby’s home two years ago, the dog has been an endless source of ear-splitting yaps, slobbery licks, smelly indoor puddles, and brown stains on the rug.

Nobody in Ruby’s family ever imagined that they would own such a spoiled, badly behaved little beast. Nor did the family imagine that they could love an animal as much as they love Scout.

“He’s so annoying,” Ruby moans. But then she snatches up the little dog and kisses his slimy black nose.

“But he’s so CUUUUUUTE!”

You can practically see Ruby’s heart melting with love.

And Ruby is not alone.

Yap, yap, yap!

Pant, pant, pant.

Lick, lick, lick.

Scout, a little brown dog, seems to be going crazy. He bounces up and down like a furry ball. His tongue flaps from his mouth as he licks everyone in sight.

“He’s just excited,” sighs 12-year-old Ruby. “He’s always excited.”

Scout lives with Ruby’s family. He yaps loudly. He slobbers. He leaves puddles on the floor. He stains the rug.

No one in Ruby’s home ever imagined that they would own such a spoiled, badly behaved little beast. Nor did they imagine that they could love an animal as much as they love Scout.

“He’s so annoying,” Ruby moans. But then she grabs Scout and kisses him.

“But he’s so CUUUUUUTE!”

You can almost see Ruby’s heart melting with love.

And Ruby is not alone.

From Workers to Pets

Today, nearly 50 percent of American families own at least one dog.  Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on their dogs each year—on everything from veterinarian visits and grooming to gourmet treats and high-tech gadgets like doggy treadmills. A 2015 poll found that 38 percent of U.S. dog owners cook special meals for their dogs. It’s not surprising that 96 percent of owners consider their dogs to be members of the family.

Dogs have been by the sides of humans for tens of thousands of years. But until recently, dogs were mainly valued for the work they could do. They could chase foxes away from chicken coops and clear restaurant kitchens of rats. They could hunt for ducks and pull sleds over snowy hills. When fires broke out in cities, firehouse dogs cleared the way for fire wagons pulled by horses.  

These hard-working dogs were too dirty and smelly to be allowed indoors. Dogs that became sick or injured either healed on their own or died; most veterinarians provided care only for valuable animals, like horses and cows.

Today, nearly half of all American families own a dog. We spend tens of billions of dollars on our dogs each year. There are vet visits, grooming, gourmet treats, and more. A 2015 poll found that 38 percent of U.S. dog owners cook special meals for their dogs. It’s no surprise that 96 percent of owners think of their dogs as family members.

Dogs have been by the sides of humans for thousands of years. But until recently, dogs were mainly valued for the work they could do. They chased foxes away from chicken coops. They cleared restaurant kitchens of rats. They hunted for ducks. They pulled sleds over snow. When fires broke out in cities, firehouse dogs cleared the way for fire wagons pulled by horses.

These hard-working dogs were too dirty and smelly to live indoors. If they got sick or hurt, they healed on their own or they died. Most vets treated only animals that were seen as valuable at that time, like horses and cows.


From Workers to Pets

But by the late 1800s, that was starting to change. America was becoming wealthier. More people could afford to feed and care for a pet. New and powerful soaps scrubbed dogs clean and killed fleas. Companies started selling dog food, which made feeding a dog more convenient. Veterinarians opened offices just for treating dogs and other pets. In the 1950s, some of the most popular TV shows, like Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, helped turn dogs into all-American pets.

Of course, Americans have embraced other pets too. For instance, there are more cats in American homes than dogs. But humans have a uniquely powerful relationship with dogs, one that scientists are just beginning to figure out.

But by the late 1800s, that was changing. America was becoming wealthier. More people could afford to feed and care for a pet. New and powerful soaps scrubbed dogs clean and killed fleas. Companies started selling dog food, which made feeding a dog simpler. Vets opened offices just for treating pets. In the 1950s, TV shows like Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin helped turn dogs into popular pets.


Americans love other pets too. There are more cats than dogs in American homes. But humans have a special connection with dogs. Scientists are just starting to figure out this connection.

A Surprising Discovery

Studies show that dogs really do improve our lives. Walking a dog several times a day improves the health of elderly people. Dogs can help kids with autism and other challenges cope with stress.

New research is helping to show the scientific basis for our connection to dogs. In 2015, Japanese researchers found that when humans and dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, something happens inside both species’ bodies. Both the human’s and the dog’s brains release a chemical that makes them feel close. This is the same chemical that helps mothers feel close to their babies.

Another study showed that when humans point to something, dogs look where we’re pointing. This shows that dogs try to understand us. Not even our closest animal relative—the chimpanzee—does that naturally.

Today, dogs help humans in many incredible ways. They lead people who can’t see. They find people who are lost. They comfort wounded soldiers.

But most dogs are like Scout, with just one main job: loving us. And for most of us, that’s enough.

Studies show that dogs make our lives better. Dog owners tend to get more exercise; those daily walks make them healthier. Dogs can help kids with autism and other challenges cope with stress.

New research is helping to uncover the scientific reason for our connection to dogs. In 2015, Japanese researchers found that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, something happens inside their bodies. Both the human’s and the dog’s brains release a chemical that makes them feel close. It’s the same chemical that helps mothers feel close to their babies.

Another study showed that when humans point to something, dogs look where we’re pointing. This shows that dogs try to understand us. Not even our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, does that naturally.

Today, dogs help humans in many ways. They lead people who can’t see. They find people who are lost. They comfort wounded soldiers.

But most dogs, like Scout, have just one main job: to love us. And for most of us, that’s enough.

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More About the Story

Skills

Synthesizing, vocabulary, text evidence, main idea, key details, tone, compare and contrast, cause and effect, text structure, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Purpose

“How the Wolf Became the Dog” explains where dogs came from and the history of their relationship with humans. “How America Went DOG Crazy” is about how dogs became popular and beloved pets in the United States.

Structure

The first text is mainly chronological. Both texts include cause-and-effect and compare-and-contrast structures.

Language

The articles include challenging academic and domain-specific vocabulary (e.g. ancestors, domesticated, morphed, predators), as well as figurative language like similes and rhetorical questions.

Knowledge Demands 

Some knowledge of dog characteristics and behavior will aid in comprehension. The articles also include historical references (George Washington, Lewis and Clark) and mention of old TV shows.

Lexile

860L (on level), 650L (lower level)

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes)

  • Have students look at the photos and captions in both articles. Ask: What difference do you notice between the dogs featured in the first article and those in the second? (The dogs in the first article have important jobs: hunting, fighting, delivering medicine. The ones in the second article seem to be adored pets.)
  • Distribute the vocabulary activity to introduce challenging terms in the text. Highlighted terms: ancestors, mastodons, morphed, speculate, aggressive, domesticated
  • Call on a student to read aloud the Up Close box on page 16 for the class.

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes)

Read the articles as a class. Then put students in groups to answer the close-reading questions.

Discuss the critical-thinking question as a class.

“How the Wolf Became the Dog”

Close-Reading Questions

In the first section, the authors write that “life was a daily struggle for survival” during the Ice Age. What evidence do they give to support this statement? (text evidence) The authors explain that many early humans lived in shelters made of animal bones, hunted using simple tools, suffered from diseases with no cures, and faced threats from fierce animals like saber-toothed tigers.

According to “From Wolf to Dog,” what do scientists know for sure about the history of dogs? (main idea) Scientists know that all dogs have the same animal ancestor, the gray wolf, and that it took thousands of years for wolves to turn into the creatures we know as dogs.

What is one theory about how humans and wolves first teamed up? How did this help both species? (key details) One theory is that a group of less aggressive wolves began sneaking into human campsites to eat food scraps. This helped keep the humans safe from other dangerous predators, and helped the wolves live longer than most other wolves.

Based on “Hunters, Napkins,” what is a domesticated animal? What details in this section help you understand what makes dogs domesticated animals? (vocabulary/key details) A domesticated animal is one that has developed to live among humans, often to serve a useful purpose. The section shows that dogs are domesticated by noting that they are “eager to please humans” and that humans have used them to perform jobs like hunting, herding, and even foot-warming.

“How America Went DOG Crazy“

Close-Reading Questions

In the first section, what is the authors’ tone, or attitude, toward Scout? Why do you think they describe Scout in this way? (tone) The authors’ tone is annoyed and disapproving; they describe Scout as “a spoiled, badly behaved little beast.” This description shows that his owners’ love for him is strong enough to make up for the annoyance.

Reread the section “Too Dirty and Smelly.” How is the way dogs are treated today different from the way they were treated in the past? (compare and contrast) Today, dogs are treated as important members of the family; they’re pampered with treats and rushed to the veterinarian when they’re sick. But in the past, dogs were seen simply as workers. They were kept outside and not considered valuable enough to be taken for medical care.

Based on “From Workers to Pets,” how was America changing in the late 1800s? How did this affect our relationship with dogs? (cause and effect) In the late 1800s, America was becoming wealthier. More people could afford to feed and care for dogs, so dogs became more popular as pets.

Why might the authors have included the section “A Surprising Discovery”? (text structure) The authors likely included this section to help explain one of the article’s main ideas—that humans and dogs have “a uniquely powerful relationship.” Understanding the scientific basis for this relationship helps readers see why dogs are such popular pets.

Critical-Thinking Question

What is the biggest difference between why people own dogs today and why people owned dogs in the past? Use details from both articles in your answer. (synthesizing) Today, most people keep dogs as companions; 96 percent of owners even consider their pet dogs to be members of the family. But in the past, people kept dogs mainly to perform jobs like hunting, herding, and fighting.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Synthesizing

  • Distribute our synthesizing activity. It will help students prepare to respond to the writing prompt on page 19.

Make a Digital Timeline: Have students work in groups to make a chronological list of events in the history of dogs, using information from both articles. They can then turn their list into a digital picture timeline. Guide students to go to ReadWriteThink.org and search “timeline” to access an interactive timeline program, or have them download the free app RWT Timeline. They can add the events they listed, along with a short description and a picture for each one.

Differentiate and Customize
For On Level Readers

Invite students imagine they are a beloved family dog who wants their pupples to learn about their background. Have students use information from both articles to write a letter explaining their species' history from wolf beginnings to current life.

For Struggling Readers

Have students create a two-column chart. On one side, they should write facts about dogs in the past, and on the other, facts about dogs today. Then have them use their charts to write a compare-and-contrast paragraph.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to visit our online Video Archive page and watch the video “Into the World of Military Working Dogs.” They should use five details from the video in their response to the feature’s writing prompt.

For ELL Students

Gather students in a small group to listen to the lower-Lexile audio version of the article. Pause to show them pictures online of dogs performing the jobs described in the article—for example, herding or leading a hunt.

For Partner Reading

Have students read these articles aloud with partners, helping each other with comprehension and pausing to discuss points they find interesting.