What was the first pet of humans?

Humans have been keeping animals as pets for thousands of years. But what was the very first animal that humans domesticated and kept as a pet? Let’s take a look at the historical and archaeological evidence to find out.

When did humans first start keeping pets?

The keeping of pets likely began over 15,000 years ago during the late Stone Age. Some of the earliest evidence has been found at ancient burial sites where dogs were interred along with humans, suggesting they shared a close bond. Ancient rock paintings and carved figures also depict humans interacting with dogs. So dogs appear to have been the first animal companion for humans.

Why did early humans start keeping dogs as pets?

There are a few main theories as to why prehistoric humans were drawn to dogs and started keeping them as pets:

  • Dogs could provide protection and alert humans to danger
  • Dogs could assist in hunting expeditions
  • Dogs provided warmth and companionship
  • The human-canine bond may have started innocently when hungry wolves scavenged food scraps around human camps. Humans then took in and tamed wolf pups.

Having dogs around likely provided practical benefits as well as social comforts.

The Origins of the Human-Dog Bond

When and where were dogs first domesticated?

The earliest dog-like fossils come from Europe from over 30,000 years ago. But dogs were likely not fully domesticated then. The oldest clear evidence of dogs that had been tamed by humans dates back 15,000 years and was found in Germany. Other archaeological evidence indicates dogs were first domesticated in East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa around the same time period or slightly later.

So the human-dog relationship developed independently in several regions across the world roughly 15,000-40,000 years ago. Many view east Asia as the primary region dogs were first domesticated because DNA evidence suggests this is where modern dog lineages originated.

What was the first dog breed?

The very first domesticated dogs did not belong to modern formal breeds. Instead, early dogs that were closely associated with humans were regional landraces that went on to form the basis for many of today’s modern breeds. For example, ancient dog types from the Middle East may have given rise to modern sight hounds like Salukis and Afghan Hounds. Asian dogs could be ancient ancestors of spitz-type dogs like the Siberian Husky. Ancient European dogs likely led to herding dog breeds.

As humans migrated across the world, regional landraces of early dogs traveled with them. Then through selective breeding, humans intentionally created modern formal breeds starting in the mid-19th century.

Were wolves the first animal humans domesticated?

Wolves were the first animal that humans domesticated and developed a close companionship with. This happened when nomadic hunter-gatherers crossed paths with wandering wolf packs. Through cohabitating and cooperating, over many generations wolves evolved into the dogs we know today.

Other animals were also domesticated during the Stone Age and early ages, but primarily for food production and labor. These included goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses. So the dog stands out as the first domesticated animal kept primarily for companionship, protection, and hunting assistance.

The Role of Dogs in Early Human Society

How did early humans interact with dogs?

The relationship between prehistoric humans and dogs likely involved cooperative hunting and breeding. Humans may have exchanged food with scavenging proto-dogs that could lead them to prey or alert them to game. Then they cohabitated and allowed more docile animals to stay, providing mutual benefit.

Dogs helped locate and bring down big game like mammoths or bison using their superior sense of smell and tracking abilities. Smaller dogs could chase burrowing animals out of holes. In return, humans provided dogs with food, protection, and shelter.

Over time, this symbiotic relationship strengthened into affectionate bonds. Humans began to regard dogs as true companions.

Were dogs only kept for practical reasons originally?

In prehistoric times, dogs did serve functional roles assisting in hunting and defense. But it’s likely humans also felt an emotional affinity to dogs from the start.

Having tame canine companions around camps provided security as watchdogs. Pups may have been playfully integrated into human family units. Dogs could keep people warm at night as living “furry blankets.”

So while dogs served utilitarian purposes, there was also likely an innate comfort and companionship humans felt toward canines due to their close cooperation. The practical and the emotional reasons became intertwined.

When did dogs start being kept just for companionship?

Keeping dogs purely for companionship and leisure started during the initial stages of civilization when humans began transitioning from nomadic lifestyles to permanent settlements. As people lived in one place year-round tending to agriculture, dogs were less needed to assist in hunting migrations. So they were kept primarily as home guardians and friendly pets.

Records and decorations from ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt and Rome show dogs had primarily become cherished companions and status symbols, no longer just practical aids. The emotional attachment and luxury value of dog-keeping continued rising over history into modern times.

Early Dog Burials and Rock Art

How do ancient dog burials reveal the human-dog bond?

Archaeologists have discovered some of the earliest definitive evidence of dogs as human companions in the form of dog burials that mirror human burials. The presence of intentional burials shows dogs had spiritual significance and were not just eaten as food. Grave goods left for dogs also show they had status roles.

Some key examples providing evidence of an early human-dog relationship:

  • 14,000 year old burial site in Germany with a man and a puppy laid to rest together with meaningful artifacts
  • 13,000 year old dog burial in Israel, placed near a human grave
  • 12,500 year old dog burial in Siberia, treated similar to human burials of that culture

These and other early dog interments reveal dogs had soulful importance to humans, and were not just kept for practical utility.

What do early rock paintings tell us about dogs?

Rock art and cave paintings are another window into human-dog interactions in prehistoric times and early civilizations. Significant examples include:

  • 13,000 year old etchings in Saudi Arabia depicting dogs, sheep, and humans hunting together
  • 10,000 year old African rock paintings showing men hunting with dogs by their sides
  • Ancient Egyptian paintings portraying dogs with leather collars as pets
  • Roman mosaics and frescoes showing dogs playing, hunting, and patiently waiting by women’s sides

These artistic depictions demonstrate dogs had meaningful companionship and working roles alongside humans spanning thousands of years.

Dogs as Companions Across Ancient Civilizations

What role did dogs play in ancient Egypt?

In ancient Egyptian culture for thousands of years, dogs held major religious symbolism and were treasured as companions. Dogs helped guard homes, assist with hunting, provide warning of dangers, and act as entertainers. Pampered smaller dog types became status symbols kept by royal families.

Evidence like mummies, hieroglyphic etchings, and grave goods show Egyptians revered their dogs. The god Anubis was depicted as a canine, and dogs were sometimes even buried in their own cemeteries.

How were dogs viewed in ancient Greek and Roman societies?

The ancient Greeks valued dogs for their hunting skills and protective abilities. Athens employed a large number of state-supported dogs to guard public buildings. Greek philosophers praised the loyalty and morality of dogs.

In ancient Rome, dogs held special importance for companionship. Romans spread several new popular dog breeds across their vast empire. Elite Roman families kept miniature lapdog types, and working Romans used sturdier dogs to guard homes and livestock.

When did toy dog breeds emerge as companions?

Although most early dogs were working breeds, genetic studies reveal some small lapdog types evolved thousands of years ago. Tiny dogs were found buried in luxurious ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, and Chinese civilizations where they served as warm and playful companions.

Selective breeding purposefully downsized some breeds into dedicated companion dogs. For example, in China’s Han dynasty in the 200s BCE, the imperial court developed small Pekingese dogs. The American Kennel Club recognized the first official toy breed, the English Toy Spaniel, in 1886.

The Enduring Bond Between Humans and Dogs

Why have dogs continued to make ideal companions over history?

Humans’ relationship with dogs has stood the test of time for a number of key reasons:

  • Dogs are highly social, emotional and communicative with people
  • Dogs can deeply understand human cues, gaze, gestures and emotions
  • Interacting with dogs releases “feel good” hormones like oxytocin in both species
  • Dogs provide unconditional love, comfort and support for humans
  • Different dog breeds suit diverse human lifestyles from hunting, to herding, to home guarding, to companionship

In essence, dogs have an innate ability to connect with humans on a social-emotional level unmatched by any other animal. This exclusive inter-species bond has forged millennia of friendship, cooperation and purpose between people and their canine companions.

How have modern roles of dogs evolved over history?

While dogs had more utilitarian working duties in history, today in modern society they are kept primarily for emotional closeness and friendship. Surveys show over 90% of dog owners consider their pet a beloved family member.

As lifestyles changed, dogs have adapted to new roles:

  • City-dwellers treasure dogs as companions for single living
  • Dogs provide important therapeutic emotional support
  • Service dogs assist those with disabilities
  • Detection dogs use their superior sniffing skills for security, police work and medical services
  • Dogs are trained to aid search-and-rescue efforts

Dogs continue evolving alongside human needs, but companionship remains their most treasured role.


In conclusion, dogs were the earliest domesticated animal that humans invited into their daily existence as both helpful partners and beloved friends. Evidence shows humans’ affection towards dogs traces back over 15,000 years and continues strongly today. The human-canine bond arose independently across prehistoric civilizations, with dogs assuming important roles in hunting, safety, and sociability. While practical working purposes played a role in dog-keeping, the primary draw was always an innate emotional closeness and comfort. As the first animal companion, the dog’s loyalty and lasting friendship with humans is unmatched to this day.

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