Our pets’ behavior can be a bit of a mystery, but one only needs look at the species’ origins as domesticated animals to understand much of their behavior.
Estimates place the first domesticated dogs somewhere about 33,000 years ago and the first domesticated cats at a measly 8,000 to 12,000 years ago. Both were symbiotic relationships tied to humans’ food sources at the time.
Dogs descend from wolves and there are differing opinions on whether humans deliberately domesticated them or if the wolves saw an opportunity for protection and easy meals. What’s undisputed is the animals’ usefulness to man as beasts of burden, tools for the hunt and a source of warmth. In return, the wolves – which are now many different breeds of dog – received food and protection from their human masters. These ancient ancestors of our modern pets and companions traded their canine packs to join human packs.
Cats, too, had selfish reasons for joining their fate to the human world. Their domestic origins date to when man settled down into agricultural societies and began growing grain. The grain attracted rodents, such as mice and rats, that not only ate the humans’ food but also carried diseases. In fact, historians have blamed the rise and spread of the Black Plague on the time when people were afraid of cats and the cat population diminished, leaving rodents – rats especially – with fewer predators and allowing them the ability to breed freely and increase their population.
The rodents attracted cats, their natural predators. And so the cats proved useful to humans by controlling the rodent population, thus saving the grain supply and preventing diseases from spreading. Scientists believe that cats simply decided they benefitted from living near and with humans and decided to stay.