Dogs maybe described as “man’s best friend”, but a wide-ranging study of traditional cultures hints that women played the key role in how human beings domesticated dogs.
Women were key to people treating dogs as “people”, such as by giving them names, the researchers say.
Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) analysed data from 844 ethnographers writing on 144 traditional, subsistence-level societies.
The researchers found that in societies where women were more involved with dogs, dogs were more likely to be treated as “people”, such as by being mourned when they died.
Lead author Jaime Chambers of WSU said: “We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men.
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“Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”
Looking at how traditional, subsistence-level societies treated animals can offer an insight into how human-dog relations evolved, Chambers believes.
Chambers said: “Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history. The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialised societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”
The “closeness” of human beings and their dog companions also varied according to whether dogs were used for hunting, the researchers found.
In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were more valued by their human partners, the researchers found.
The way both people and dogs “use” each other lends weight to the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans intentionally sought out wolf pups to raise on their own, the researchers say.
Chambers said: “Dogs are everywhere humans are. If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive.
“They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”
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