It’s easy to look into the adoring eyes of our pampered pups and think that they would be completely helpless without us. Even the nostalgia of his pet a dog Living outdoors is enough to make some owners despair. But imagine if people suddenly disappeared and dogs had to fend for themselves. In such an apocalyptic situation, could dogs survive in a world without humans?
“I have no doubt that dogs would survive without us,” Jessica Pierce (opens in a new tab)faculty affiliate with the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and author of “A Dog’s World: A Dog’s Life in a World Without Humans Imagine (opens in a new tab)” (Princeton University Press, 2021), said Live Science. “Dogs are descended from wolves and they still have a lot of the behavioral store of wolves and other wild canids, so they know how to hunt and scavenge.”
Without humans, our former pets would likely turn back the clock on their species and live as wild species do. Not all dogs would survive this transition, however. There is a wide variety of dog breeds today, some less suited for the wild than others. For example, flat-faced dogs such as pugs and bulldogs have a variety of health problems, including those that restrict their breathing, which would hinder their ability to hunt. They are also bred with short tails, which would hurt them socially when interacting with wild dogs.
“Tails are an important part of the communication toolbox,” Pierce said. “Even if you’re a little less skilled at something like expressing an aggressive feeling or a submissive feeling, you’re more likely to end up in a fight than if you’re able to send clear signals.”
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Dogs that are likely to end up in a fight are more likely to be injured and less likely to survive. Fortunately for our barking friends, people would no longer be around to dictate the reproductive habits of dogs. As a result, different breeds would mix, allowing natural selection to create the fittest sheep.
Also, these doomsday dogs would interbreed with wolves to create hybrids where their ranges overlapped. Stray dogs and wolves already mix in Europe in countries like Italy, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation (opens in a new tab). Range Friederike (opens in a new tab)an associate professor at the Veterinary University of Vienna who studies dogs and wolves, told Live Science that what really separates the two is the biggest thing.
“Even though wolves are primarily hunters and dogs, primarily scavengers, it’s a continuum,” Range said. “And wolves can also scavenge and dogs can hunt.” For example, wolves can be found living in human garbage dumps just like stray dogs, and stray dogs can be found hunting wild prey just like wolves.
But even if dogs succeeded in a world without humans, wouldn’t they be miserable without a catch in the morning or a comedian in the evening? Neither Pierce nor Range see the dogs suffering psychologically without owners.
Pierce noted that in a domestic setting, humans suppress many dog behaviors – such as roaming, digging and peeing – because they annoy us. Dogs without owners have no such restrictions, and although they don’t have the same comforts at home as pet dogs, they may be better off psychologically. “What they have is that pet dogs lack freedom,” said Pierce.
Having studied dogs that live independently from humans, Range has seen dogs in their own social groups and believes that food is a more important factor than human companionship in the well-being of these dogs.
“If we were to go away, the biggest problem for the dogs would be the food, without losing the human as a social partner,” said Range. “As long as they could find food, they would be perfectly happy without us.”