Domestic Dog: The domestic dog, Canis familiaris, is believed to be a direct descendant of the wolf. One of the earliest domesticated animals, domestic dogs have lived with human for over 10,000 years. Research has shown that dog companionship improves the health and well-being of their human owners.
One member of Canidae, the domestic dog, shares a special relationship with human beings. Records of dogs helping humans date from about 4500 years ago, but the association is thousands of years older. The first domesticated dogs were wolf pups. Scientists think that the highly social behavior of wolves allowed them to accept a relationship with humans and to become part of a human family. The first domesticated dogs used their excellent scent and hearing to help humans hunt for food. They also probably served as sentinels, warning of predators or other intruders. Ancient breeds of dogs include salukis and basenjis, which exist today almost exactly as they appear in carvings and paintings from ancient Egypt. Since then, dogs have been selectively bred to bring out special traits that are useful to people. Dogs today are used for hunting, herding, guarding, and simply providing companionship. The American Kennel Club now recognizes more than 100 breeds.
Until recent decades, many wild canids were hunted by humans for bounties and were considered scourges to livestock and other wildlife. Habitat destruction has also hurt some canid populations. The elimination of coyotes and foxes from some areas has resulted in huge increases in rodent populations that eat vegetation intended for desirable livestock and wildlife.
Scientific classification: Dogs and their relatives make up the family Canidae in the order Carnivora. The gray wolf is classified as Canis lupus; the coyote as Canis latrans; the red fox as Vulpes vulpes; the fennec as Vulpes zerda; the kit fox as Vulpes velox; the arctic fox as Alopex lagopus; the raccoon dog as Nyctereutes procyonoides; the African hunting dog as Lycaon pictus; and the dhole is classified as Cuon alpinus. The domestic dog, formerly classified as Canis familiaris, is now classified as Canis lupus familiaris.