Domestication: Why Humans Created Pets and Why It’s Important

Have you ever wondered why we have pet cats and dogs? It's thanks to domestication. Here we will explain how this process works!

Jun 16, 2024byLilianna Parker
why humans created pets

Have you ever questioned yourself as to why some animals are wild and some live in our homes? Well, we know pet dogs and cats did not just appear out of the blue one day. The only reason that they exist is because of us humans. We have created all the domestic pets known today through the process of domestication.

Domestic cats and dogs make the perfect pets thanks to thousands of years of selective breeding. You can learn about it here.

What Is Domestication?

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A domestic animal is an animal that humans have selectively bred. Most domestic animals seen today have been bred to be pets and for the most part, enjoy being around people. Think of cats and dogs and how they are much friendlier than wolves and wild cats.

Selective breeding worked to create domestic cats and dogs by only allowing the friendliest animals to reproduce. As you can probably imagine, it took a long time to get the Golden Retrievers and Ragdoll cats that we know today.

Domestication and selective breeding go further than our pets, though. Both livestock and transportation animals have been domesticated as well. We bred livestock to provide us with food and domesticated animals like horses to travel long distances and pull heavy loads.

Mankind Domesticated Dogs 30,000+ Years Ago

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One of the first animals domesticated by humans is the dog. Researchers believe that the first domestic dogs acted as hunting companions and guard dogs for ancient peoples. However, this has only occurred thanks to these first dogs’ genetic predisposition for friendliness.

Over time, these hunting companions were also selectively bred to do other jobs. Herding livestock and flushing out vermin are other jobs that dogs were asked to do for their ancient owners.

This is where selective breeding has created unique dog breeds over time. Certain dog breeds are often better at specific jobs than others. For example, a wise shepherd would not trust a Shiba Inu with herding sheep. Yet, a Border Collie would be perfect for the job.

People quickly discovered that owning dogs is not just useful, but also emotionally fulfilling. Since ancient times, dogs have been enriching human lives with companionship. Plus, they are just fun to have around.

Domestic Cats Are Another Ancient Pet

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Cats are another type of domestic pet. Our feline friends were originally used to flush out vermin like rats and mice on primitive urban streets and farms. However, like dogs, cats were quickly seen as more than just useful companions to have in and around our homes.

Almost all cultures hold cats in some esteem. For instance, many Asian cultures view cats as being good luck, while the ancient Egyptians viewed cats as somewhat mystical beings. Even Nordic Europe contains folklore about their native Norwegian forest cats.

Like dogs, people domesticated cats through selective breeding. These efforts have created more affectionate cats that enjoy being around people.

Small Animals Are Somewhat Domesticated

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Evidence suggests that we have even domesticated small pets to some extent over time. These small pets like guinea pigs, rabbits, and hamsters are mainly kept for pleasure. As a result, we have domesticated them to tolerate handling from humans much better than their wild counterparts.

Studies have also suggested that this selective breeding has made these small mammals better at problem-solving. A study on guinea pigs found that domestic guinea pigs were better at orienting themselves to their surroundings. However, wild guinea pigs were better at swimming than domestic ones.

While this suggests that these animals are more intelligent than their wild siblings, small domestic pets are not able to survive in the wild. This is mainly because domestic pets do not need to know how to find food or evade predators.

Are Domesticated Foxes on the Horizon?

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There has been extensive research on the topic of domestication. Possibly one of the best-documented experiments exploring this question is with the domestication of foxes. This research began in Russia in the 1950s, and it is still ongoing to this day.

This research mimicked the process believed to have created the domestic dog from the grey wolf, only breeding the friendliest foxes with one another. The results have amazingly created foxes that are friendly with people and approach humans for attention.

Another interesting by-product of this experiment is that the domestic foxes started developing coat colors and patterns not found in wild foxes. Floppy ears and curly tails have also popped up within the domestic fox population. These traits were not specifically bred for, and they occurred accidentally.

However, while these domestic foxes are friendlier than wild ones, foxes do not tend to make great pets. Their behavior can sometimes get out of hand due to their unpredictability, and somewhat wild behaviors are still intact. Yet, this experiment has only progressed for a few years. In time, domesticated foxes could be the next popular pet!

Can We Domesticate Wild Animals?

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So, the question remains. Can we domesticate wild animals? Well, the answer to this question is yes and no.

While research suggests that small pets, like rabbits, and some animals, like foxes, can be domesticated, some types of wild animals cannot. For example, there is no such thing as a domesticated tiger.

Since tigers are so dangerous to humans, we have not been able to selectively breed friendly ones to create domesticated tigers. This means that even tigers in zoos have wild instincts, even if they are tamer than those born in the wild.

Lilianna Parker
byLilianna Parker

Lilianna is an animal lover and certified dog trainer through the Animal Behavior College. With over three years of experience training dogs and writing about animals, Lilianna is as passionate as she is knowledgeable. When not hard at work, she spends time hiking and going on adventures with her Shiba Inu Cleo.