Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. According to some research, dogs may have been the first animal that humans domesticated, predating the domestication of goats, sheep, cattle, and boars by over 3,000 years. Here are four reasons why dogs are good pets to this day.

Humans and Dogs Evolved Together

Dogs began to diverge genetically from wolves about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. The earliest domestication of dogs is understood to have begun about 15,000 years ago. Why the difference?

One theory is that the ancestors of modern dogs began living around humans before they were eventually domesticated. These ancestral dogs found that humans produced garbage that made for an easy food source. According to this theory, humans and dogs essentially formed overlapping units with one another, as they are both social animals. Humans accepted dogs into their social units and dogs accepted people into their packs.

With domestication, humans began affecting dog evolution, both intentionally and unintentionally. For example, wolves are primarily carnivores but living with humans required dogs to evolve the ability to digest starches that were found in human agricultural communities. Humans also began to selectively breed dogs to enhance behavioral qualities, such as non-aggression to humans. In fact, it is believed that earliest dogs were selectively bred for behavioral traits, such as tameness and reduced fear and aggression, rather than physical traits. Humans were already figuring out why dogs are good pets.

Humans and Dogs Learned From Each Other

One interesting theory about why dogs make good pets is that dogs taught early humans as much as early humans taught dogs. Before the domestication of dogs, humans were primarily small game hunters. After the domestication of dogs, humans began hunting large animals.

This could have occurred because humans observed and imitated packs of wolves and dogs hunting large prey or because humans were emboldened by the abilities of their new companions to seek larger prey. Either way, this theory suggests that dogs were instrumental in the shift in humans’ food source. This view of the relationship between dogs and humans also theorizes that the territoriality and communal defense displayed by wolves and dogs also influenced early humans to cooperate to defend hunting grounds.

Humans and Dogs Help Each Other

The first tasks dogs performed for humans required no training. Dogs helped keep campsites clean by eating refuse and vermin. Dogs also warned humans, albeit unintentionally, when predators would approach the campsite.

As dogs and humans continued to live together, humans found more tasks that dogs could perform. Rather than focusing on why dogs are good pets, humans focused on why dogs are good partners. Over time, breeding and training led to dog breeds that could assist humans in hunting, herding, and guarding. Even the 28 breeds of dog categorized as “toy” breeds perform the functions of companionship and, in earlier times, providing a status symbol for the owner. Modern dogs can assist with many tasks including:

  • Pulling sleds
  • Acting in movies and TV
  • Searching and rescuing
  • Detecting bombs and drugs
  • Assisting people with disabilities, such as leading the visually impaired

Humans and Dogs Understand Each Other

The simplest answer to the question “Why are dogs good pets?” is that dogs and humans have a unique understanding of each other. An average dog understands between 150 to 250 words. However, dogs also understand non-verbal communication. According to some studies, dogs understand when a human points at something with no training. In fact, dogs recognize pointing better than our closest primate relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, and are on par with a two-year-old human child.

Research also suggests that this non-verbal communication between dogs and humans is a two-way street. Dogs have adapted to display — and humans have adapted to recognize — such dog expressions as the tilted head, the wagging tail, and the raised brow.

With this long history, many reasons can be cited about why dogs are good pets. Dogs are loyal, friendly, and protective by nature. But more than that, dogs and people share a relationship based on mutual benefit and communication that is unique in the animal kingdom.