Let us assume that we are settlers on some alien land and we run into a terrestrial, territorial pack carnivore among the local fauna. This animal has many of the traits needed for domestication:

  • It forms a strongly hierarchical pack structure, much akin to wolf packs
  • It is intelligent, on par with dogs, and in particular, the German Shepherd (a breed well-noted for its intelligence and trainability)
  • It is carnivorous, but not exclusively so -- it seems to adapt well to feeding off table scraps as well as its normal diet of meat
  • It can be bred readily in captivity, and takes on an even temper when raised in captivity without too much difficulty (the model for this is again the German Shepherd)
  • It does not pose major husbandry difficulties in terms of disease/illness or specialized care needs

How large can this animal be before domesticating it for hunting and guard duties, as well as general companionship, becomes impractical for the settlers to pull off? You can assume that they have skilled animal trainers and breeders among their ranks.

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    $\begingroup$ When the cost of feeding and caring for the beast makes it not a worthwhile investment of time, energy, and resources (note this could be relatively small size, depending on beasts metabolism, etc) or when the sheer size makes it a danger to be around due to accidental squishing/stomping $\endgroup$
    – ivanivan
    May 27, 2018 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Ivanivan I'd suggest that would be a reasonable answer. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2018 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ The limit lies in the tec, you need to be able to restrain/control the animals to some extent. How big of a cage can you build? $\endgroup$
    – Seserous
    May 28, 2018 at 0:15

2 Answers 2


There are two considerations I can see if you're starting with wild animals (your question seems to stack the deck by postulating an already-domesticated animal, which seems unlikely):

First, when the species being domesticated gets big enough, its utility becomes less clear. A hunting animal the size of a grizzly would be useful only if you're hunting fairly big game. (Can you picture your hunting grizzly leaping into a pond to retrieve a duck? Oops. Swallowed it. Sorry.)

Second, the process of domestication involves many generations of selective breeding. See the Russian project to breed a tame fox for some details. In the Silver Fox case, there have been 50-60 generations with 300-2000 individuals and the fox is now mostly domesticated.

During that time, there has been a lot of culling and a lot of rejecting foxes when they bit the handlers. A fox bite when it's known not to be rabid is one thing. A grizzly-sized carnivore nipping at you is something else. This is likely to negatively affect the domestication process.

Also note that the controlled breeding population would have to be comparable in size to the Russian Silver Fox project in order to retain genetic diversity. How do you handle a thousand grizzlys?

  • $\begingroup$ I was intending to start with wild animals, yes... $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    May 27, 2018 at 2:13

No upper size limit.

Humans have trained the some of the largest animals on earth. Elephants are routinely trained. Bears can be trained. Killer whales can be trained. I conclude that large size is not an impediment to trainability.

Interestingly, as opposed to domesticization, most of these animals are wild animals that are caught and trained as opposed to long domesticated animals like the Russian fox example.

addendum - I suppose if there were a creature so big it could not perceive humans or know that humans were trying to interact with it, it would be difficult to tame that creature.

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    $\begingroup$ The process for doing this to a T-Rex would be exciting, to say the least... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    May 27, 2018 at 3:08

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