How did dogs become humans’ best friend? Well, one idea is that docile wolves flocked to waste dumps near human camps. But there are problems with that idea. 

LAHTINEN: “Because why would humans tolerate such a dangerous carnivore close to their camping sites?”

Maria Lahtinen is an archaeologist at the Finnish Food Authority and the Natural History Museum in Helsinki. 

She points out that hunter gatherers living during the time of wolf domestication — 14 to 29 thousand years ago — probably didn’t stay put long enough to create generations’ worth of trash. 

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, she and her colleagues present a different hypothesis — that humans purposely shared their leftovers with wolves instead. 

Her team calculated the energy content of common paleolithic prey — like moose, deer, and caribou. And they found there likely would have been more than enough meat to go around.

That’s because humans can’t survive on protein alone. But wolves can, for months. So Lahtinen says we might have lobbed the leanest cuts their way. 

LAHTINEN: “This is what we would have given to the dogs… and eaten the organs and bone marrows and the other fatty parts of the animal ourselves.”

In other words, the meaty, pricy bits we prize today — would have been what our ancestors threw to the dogs. 

And sharing our meat might have sparked a deeper relationship, Lahtinen says. 

LAHTINEN: “Because dogs are useful in very many ways. Such as guardians. Beasts of burden — they can pull a sledge. They can warn us from predators. You can use them as a hunting aid.”

And sooner or later, she says, the domesticated dog was born. 

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Maria Lahtinen et al, Excess protein enabled dog domestication during severe Ice Age winters]