In many parts of the world, dogs don’t really serve any utility. I mean, what the hell is my mom’s six-pound chihuahua going to accomplish besides being cute all day? He can’t even jump onto the couch by himself. So why exactly do people own dogs if they can’t really do anything?
Because women — despite what the phrase “man’s best friend” suggests — love them, goddamnit!
According to new research published by anthropologists at Washington State University in the Journal of Ethnobiology, dogs have likely co-evolved alongside humans largely because women have taken care of them. The researchers analyzed ethnographic documents from 144 “traditional, subsistence-level societies” globally, studying these documents specifically for mentions of dogs. In doing so, the researchers noted a pattern in which the role of the dogs and their dependence upon humans was directly correlated with their involvement with women. In societies where women had bonds with dogs, giving them names or mourning their deaths, for example, the rest of the society tended to view dogs as something with personhood.
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Cultures that rely heavily on hunting or that have colder climates did tend to have dogs specifically because they’re useful, though. Researchers found that societies where people used dogs for hunting tended to perceive dogs as more valuable, and that this sense of value declined when food production through livestock or crops increased. On the flip side, societies with hotter climates tended to view dogs as less useful. This is likely because dogs overheat faster than humans, making them poor candidates for work in warm weather.
The most interesting takeaway from this study, though, is that dogs have historically found just as much utility in being our pets as we have in owning them. In many cultures, dogs and humans have a mutually-beneficial relationship. In the U.S., where dogs are largely kept exclusively for companionship, the relationship between dogs’ personhood and women elsewhere in the world could point to how we developed a dog-centric culture, ourselves.
Exactly why women play such a significant role in making dogs feel like part of the family isn’t yet clear — the research only suggests that there is some correlation to be noted. In any case, there’s a good chance we have women of the past to thank for our friendships with dogs today. Perhaps your great-great-great-great-great grandmother treated some puppy so well, dogs decided to never leave us.