BACKGROUND: It has been hypothesised that domestication altered the sequence of dental, skeletal, and sexual maturity of dogs when compared to their wolf ancestor. To test this we investigated a comprehensive sample of domestic dogs.
METHODS: We documented the timing of completed eruption of permanent dentition into occlusion (dental maturity) and the timing of growth plate closure at the proximal humerus (skeletal maturity) in ontogenetic series of wolves and 15 domestic dog breeds. Data for 137 domestic dog and 64 wolf individuals were collected based on radiographs and examination of macerated bones.
RESULTS: Our analyses show that domestic dogs exhibit a similar sequence of dental and skeletal maturity as the ancestral wolf. Although the absolute change of the age at attainment of sexual maturity is great in domestic dogs as compared to the wolf, the sequence of dental, skeletal, and sexual maturity is not altered as extensively, contradicting one previous hypothesis. Moreover, our data suggest that the chondrodystrophic dachshund attains skeletal maturity earlier than the non-chondrodystrophic breeds examined here.
CONCLUSIONS: Domestic dogs are more wolf-like in terms of the sequence of dental, skeletal, and sexual maturation than previously hypothesised. This implies that the domestication process and/or breed formation did not have a major impact on this sequence, although the absolute values of life history variables do have a greater range of variation than in the wild wolf.