FCI World Dog Show 2014 – Helsinki (FI), 8-10 August

The FCI main conformation event of the year is over and will remain in everybody’s mind as the symbol of what a perfectly well-organised dog show should be.

Year 2014 was for Finland the 125th anniversary of their creation. It was a superb reason for the Finns to apply for hosting the 2014 FCI World Dog Show, 16 years after having had the pleasure to meet the dog scene on the occasion of the 1998 FCI World Dog Show, with an interesting entry of 15,300 dogs.

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Y. De Clercq
FCI Executive Director
The domestication and first utilizations of the dog (part 2/5)

Read the whole article and more in the FCI Centenary Book www.fci.be/onlinecatalogue.aspx

Bernard DENIS, France
Honorary Professor, National Veterinary School, Nantes
Ex-member of the FCI Scientific Commission
Translation: J. Mulholland

Where was the Dog domesticated?

With given differences according to the species, in the past there were trends relative to the number of centres of domestication, the tendency being alternately in favour of multicentrism (repeated domestication, in parallel or at different periods, in var- ious regions of the world) or of monocentrism (one sole domestication centre, for example Middle-Eastern regions, from which the domesticated species spread). If monocentrism remains probable for some species (donkey, turkey, etc…), the dog was the perfect species as candidate for multicentrism: it seems almost obvious that the hunters-gatherers had, as from a certain stage in their evolution, attempted to domesticate the wolves which occupied the same territory as them, perhaps even leaving them the leftovers of their food.

In 2002, molecular genetics research reached the opposite conclusion; there would have been a unique origin of domestication, Far-Eastern, from which all dogs would have spread9. This theory caused great reaction amongst archaeologists who, until new data is produced, keep to their conception of classic multicentrism. The most ancient evidence of dogs known to this day is essentially in the Far and Middle East, as well as in Europe, France in particular, in Germany and Spain, but also in Asia, and even in North America; they appear, therefore, to be quite dispersed which is not very compatible with early spreading from one sole centre of domestication. The domestication of the Dog probably took place in numerous places around the world and in an independent manner for many of them.

Concerned, however, with taking into account as well as possible the molecular ge- netics data, the archaeologists underline that the migration of dogs towards the East from a hypothetical unique domestication centre in East Asia could effectively have concerned Asian wolves (the migration of wolves is well known) who could have crossbred with occidental wolves, thus explaining ulterior problems for genetic in- terpretation.10 In any case, other more recent genetic studies suggest that several populations of wolves could have made a contribution to present-day dogs, thus giv- ing more weight to the classical theory of multicentrism.11

If the need is felt to convince ourselves that ideas have not stopped evolving thanks to molecular genetics research, we could refer to an article, published in 2010, ac- cording to which the principal centre of the domestication of the dog is Middle-East- ern and not Asiatic. Probable secondary centres of domestication are added, especially China and Europe12.

Why did we domesticate the Dog?

It was classic to admit that humans domesticated animals in order to use them. If it is true that a useless species, or one which presents no superior traits compared to a species already domesticated, has little chance of becoming or remaining do- mesticated, the idea that domestication was triggered in the beginning for strictly utility reasons reaps hardly more approval. Alternative ideas are, notably, the fol- lowing:

  • as all civilizations used domestic animals in a religious context (for example de- claring them divine or offering them as a sacrifice), none consider that “primitive Man began by nourishing his totem while, little by little, inspiration drove him to make it his servant”13;
  • others think that domestication was more or less self-made, humans not realizing very well what was gradually happening while little by little social links were be- coming stronger between the animal and them;
  • the most recent theory is that domestication responds first of all to a logic of se- duction and power over the animal, before being put to human’s service14.

Be that as it may, it is impossible to separate in time one phase of domestication which could have responded to specific causes and the following phase of utilization of animals; over a long period of time, they were obviously interlinked, the utility potential of animals being no doubt rapidly recognized.

What about the dog? No doubt that the idea prevails that he was in the beginning a precious auxiliary of humans for hunting but, apart from what is not necessarily confirmed by present-day practices of hunter-gatherer communities (see further along), it could be more precisely an earlier type of utilization than the reason for domestication itself. The three alternative ideas presented above could be perfectly applied to the Dog. The first could perhaps be the most important. In fact, the most ancient canine bone remains, which show no trace whatsoever of consumption – dogs as a source of meat is dated much later – are often part of a ritual context, even placed inside human tombs. The association of the Dog with funeral rituals, early and universal, could be considered as proof of primary forms of religious beliefs, with regard to the sacred and the belief in a life thereafter. The ritual function of the dog could therefore have well been the first manner of utilization, more or less paving the way for other “uses” which are numerous and varied.15

9 : SAVOLAINEN, P. et al., « Genetic ev- idence for an East Asian origin of do- mestic dogs », Science, 2002, 298, 1610-1613.

10 : VIGNE, J.D., op. cit. (voir note 4).

11 : VILA, C. et al., « Genes of domestic mammals augmented by backcross- ing with wild ancestors », Trends Genet., 2005, 21(4), 214-218.

12 : Von HOLDT, B.M. et al. (36 auteurs), « Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history under- lying dog domestication » ; Nature, published on line 17 march 2010 (www.nature.com/nature).

13 : L’expression est de LEROI-GOU- RHAN (cité par : DENIS, B., « La do- mestication : un concept devenu pluriel », INRA Prod. Anim., 2004, 17(3), 161-166).

14 : Chacun à leur manière, SIGAUT et DIGARD, en France, ont développé cette thèse : SIGAUT, F., « Critique de la notion de domestication », L’Homme, 1988, n°108, 59-71 ; DI- GARD, J.P., L’homme et les animaux domestiques. Anthropologie d’une passion, Coll. « Le temps des sciences », Fayard, Paris, 1990 (ré- édité en 2009).

15 : LICARI, S., « Fonction rituelle du chien : première utilisation ? », Eth- nozootechnie, 2006, n° 78, 115-119.