In "Variation under Domestication", Darwin writes that:

I may here state, that, looking to the domestic dogs of the whole world, I have, after a laborious collection of all known facts, come to the conclusion that several wild species of Canidae have been tamed, and that their blood, in some cases mingled together, flows in the veins of our domestic breeds.

From this, I understand that several species of dogs evolved independently and half-civilised man tamed them later on, but I want to confirm this. Does Darwin argue that there have been multiple species of beings that resemble the shape of what we now call "dogs", or that there has been one meta-species of aboriginal dogs, which branched off into several wild varieties?

  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking what actually happened, or what Darwin thought happened? $\endgroup$
    – iayork
    Nov 20, 2019 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Both, I guess. It'd be interesting to know what he thought back then and clear that up with the knowledge we have today. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2019 at 20:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Most likely we should interpret Darwin as meaning the latter. Animals that arrived at the shape of wild dogs via substantially different evolutionary routes (that is, via convergent evolution starting with distinct, non-interbreedable species) would be unable to interbreed. $\endgroup$
    – S. McGrew
    Nov 20, 2019 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


That's one of — quite a few, we have to say — the mistakes Darwin made in his edition from 1859 (I have to confess that this is the only edition I've read, and I reckon this is the only edition anyone should read). This mistake is even more contrasting if you realize that he failed to apply the very same reasoning he had made just a few pages earlier, when discussing variation in pigeons: he explained that, even if counterintuitive, all different pigeons with all different features descend from the same wild species. Then, when he talks about dogs a few pages later, he incomprehensibly makes the same mistake he had just accused his readers of commiting.

Darwin is not the only one: Lorenz made the same unfounded claim, namely that the domestic dog would have two different origins, one from Canis lupus and another one from Canis latrans. We have to agree that Lorenz was way more bold than Darwin when it comes to making unfounded claims.

The fact is that, today, we're pretty sure (the scientific and statistical meaning of sure is being used here) that all domestic dogs (Canis lupus), from the chihuahua to the german shepherd, descend from a population of wolves (also Canis lupus) from east Asia.

Here is a Nature paper from Peter Savolainen, one of the best researchers on this subject: Wang, G., Zhai, W., Yang, H. et al. Out of southern East Asia: the natural history of domestic dogs across the world. Cell Res 26, 21–33 (2016) doi:10.1038/cr.2015.147

  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that two domestication events from two separate populations of wolves is the current theory? obviously the products of those two domestication events (coming from the same species as they did) would have been compatible for breeding so would have become completely intermixed by now. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Nov 23, 2019 at 3:50

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