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Humans and dogs are probably the most loyal sets of pals in existence.

While scientists can trace human civilization to about 6,000 years ago, man’s relationship with these animals began long before that. According to researchers from Canada, China, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and the U.S., the first time dogs had contact with human companions was 33,000 years ago in southern East Asia. Except back then, our “dogs” were grey wolves.

To come up with that timeline, the researchers compared the genomes of grey wolves (dogs’ ancestors) with breeds of other dogs including Afghan hounds, Siberian Huskies and so forth. What they found was that southern East Asia was the area where dog and wolf populations started to diverge from each other, as the animal became more and more integrated into human life.

The reason this happened is because the relationship between man and wolf proved beneficial for both sides. Wolves provided help with hunting, herding and protection while humans provided food, shelter and companionship in return. This long-standing, mutually-beneficial relationship gradually caused a branch of the wolf population to begin evolving into modern-day dogs.

“The mild population bottleneck in dogs suggests that dog domestication may have been a long process that started from a group of wolves that became loosely associated and scavenged with humans, before experiencing waves of selection for phenotypes that gradually favored stronger bonding with humans (a process called self-domestication),” the authors write. “After this long-term nurturing, humans and dogs might have eventually come together with a strong bond for each other.”

In other words, dogs are literally a product of humans’ relationship with wolves. They were a species born out of that friendship, who have been hard-wired to rely on us for survival. There are many examples of this phenomenon in the wild, which is referred to as a symbiotic relationship.

That means dogs are actually born to be our friends. How cool is that?

Looking through history, it’s really no surprise. Dogs have helped prop up human civilizations all over the globe, and continue to carry a mutually-beneficial relationship with us today. So you know what? Give your dog a Milk-Bone when you get home. Because that pooch has had your back for the last 33,000 years.

Dog