# Domesticating dragons

Imagine a society that is basically present day, but has mythical creatures. How would they go about domesticating dragons? Assume that these are stereotypical, fire-breathing dragons. What would they be used for once domesticated.

Some stats on my dragons:

1. 25 foot wingspan.

2. Talons stronger than steel, and they regrow when broken off.

3. Biting strength greater than 41000 lbs.

4. Dragon fire has a temperature in a range of 5000-10000 degrees F, but it takes a lot of energy to breathe fire.

5. Top flying speed of Mach 2, maximum acceleration of 200 $m/s^2$.

6. Scales are stronger than carbon nanotubes, and new scales grow in where old scales are lost.

7. Needs its body-weight in food every day to stay healthy.

8. Dragons mate for life and can only have 3 children a year.

9. Dragons can live to be 90.

10. More intelligent than apes but less so than humans.

• @Amziraro Taming Smaug would be awesome. Trying to tame Smaug would be inadvisable. :) – Frostfyre Jun 14 '15 at 12:38
• Worth looking out some of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels. If you're interested in domestic dragons that is pretty much the centrepiece of thsoe stories. – glenatron Jun 15 '15 at 15:06
• Flight speed of mach 2? Do they have rocket boosters? – womp Nov 27 '15 at 15:05
• These numbers, frankly, are a bit outlandish. – fgysin reinstate Monica Apr 26 '16 at 6:33
• Given that wingspan your dragon can't be bigger than about 70kg, Is it an obligate carnivore? Because 70kg of meat a day is pretty high, it is about 4 times what a polar bear eats, and your animal is only about the size of a hyena. – John Jul 28 '17 at 14:23

The same way we domesticated any other animal: artificial selection. In this process, a wild species is selected and bred for traits such as a nonaggressive attitude. It would take many generations of selective breeding, but eventually the dragons would be domesticated. For example, all modern dogs are a domesticated version of the wolf in which they last shared a common ancestor 32,000 years ago.

But let's see if we can shave some time off that number. You describe dragons as holding a rung on the intelligence ladder somewhere between apes and humans (technically, humans are apes, but I'll assume you mean gorillas and the like and not humans), so let's put them on a level of dolphins. Your dragons can now easily understand that humans aren't universally a threat and they can learn new behaviors and communicate those behaviors to others of their species quickly. Because these dragons are now receptive to domestication, let's cut the time in half, to 16,000 years.

Dragon generations will play a role in this as well. You describe dragons as living as long as 90 years. Let's put breeding age around 20 and as late as 60. This gives dragons forty years of ~2 children per year. We can expect about 80 young over the course of a pair's breeding life. Since both parents are receptive to domestication as we described above and can quickly communicate proper behavior to their young, we now have 80 highly receptive dragons for each breeding pair. Let's halve the domestication time again, to 8,000 years.

Off hand, I can't think of any way to further reduce the domestication time, so let's call it as it stands: 8,000 years to domesticate your dragons.

And remember: the aggressive ones are not supposed to breed.

• @WhatRoughBeast Culling worked in the past. – Frostfyre Jun 14 '15 at 18:25
• @WhatRoughBeast Shoot it, stab it through the heart, cut its head off, drown it, poison it, starve it, suffocate it, etc. – Frostfyre Jun 14 '15 at 20:35
• Umm - you did read the OP, right? Talons stronger than steel,, 40,000 lb bite, impervious armor, 5000 degree flame, Mach 2 speed, 20g acceleration with the muscular strength that that implies. Walk me through a standard cull, please. – WhatRoughBeast Jun 14 '15 at 20:38
• @WhatRoughBeast That would require more than a comment and not something I have time for right now. – Frostfyre Jun 14 '15 at 20:39
• @WhatRoughBeast 1) That is a whole separate question and answer. 2) OP never said "impervious armor" in the stats list. 3) OP said "present day" and I assume weaponry and technology that we have today could easily destroy any animal with sufficient effort. – The Anathema May 18 '16 at 19:46

Being a natural nitpicker, I'll start off with some of the problems in this scenario.

You have left out a few important details about dragons - specifically their size and life/reproductive cycles. Let's say that a dragon grows to 1000 lbs, stays with its parents for the first 20 years of life, then takes a mate at age twenty, and has a reproductive span of 30 years - in other words, more or less like humans.

First, dragons must have just arrived on the scene, so the obvious question is: where have they been hiding themselves?

And why must they be recent? Because up until (roughly) the 20th century, homo sapiens would have been easy meat for draco sapiens. The rise of technological civilization would have been close to impossible, since cities would have been nothing more than snack bars for the lizards. Worse, they'd have devastated the planet. Starting with a single 20-year-old pair of dragons, in the absence of disease or intraspecies conflict, the population grows like this:

Year 1 - 2 dragons.

Year 10 - 32 dragons (30 young)

Year 20 - 62 dragons (60 young)

Year 30 - 332 dragons (300 young)

Year 40 - 1025 dragons (963 young)

Year 50 - 3587 dragons (3255 young)

Year 100 - 2 million dragons (1.8 million young)

Year 150 - 1 billion dragons (998 million young)

You can see where this is going. So let's say that young dragons, being typically immature, kill their siblings so that only half of any brood survive, although the first generation have a 100% survival rate. Then the adult population looks like

Year 150 - 4.5 million adults

Year 200 - 689 million adults and so it goes.

Notice that http://www.livescience.com/23310-serengeti.html gives the total population of the Serengeti plains at 750,000 zebra (call it 800 lbs apiece), 1.2 million wildebeest (500 lbs apiece) and "several hundred thousand" others (let's say 500,000 at 300 lbs apiece, although many are smaller). That's total of 1.35 billion pounds of prey. At 1000 pounds per day, this herd will feed 3700 dragons for one year. This means that within 100 years the dragon population will have scoured the earth clean of anything big enough to catch and eat.

So there will have to be some mechanism in place to cut down on the reproductive success of the dragons. Limiting clutches to 3 young every 10 years seems a good start, but it only delays the problem.

So, how in the world are people going to domesticate dragons? The above numbers, oddly enough, provide a possibility. With the prolonged draconian childhood, it's clear that adults must have a strong protective instinct toward their young. This suggests that perhaps humans, by some quirk of reptilian psychology, trigger the same indulgent/protective instincts as the young, similar to the way infants of other species produce attachment in humans. Since dragons aren't very bright (by human standards), people could take advantage of the dragons' instincts. This would allow people to survive around dragons long enough to select out those individuals which can be tamed, and eventually produce a domesticable breeding line. At the same time, people could also begin a quiet program of population control to keep the dragon numbers to a bearable level. It would also be important to monitor the dragon population for the appearance of individuals who don't like people, and quietly dispose of them.

Of course, this ignores the other side of dragon nature. Although adults treat humans as young dragons, presumably young dragons do so as well - and young dragons kill their own. And at any given time, about 90% of the population is young. Frankly, I'm a bit short of ideas on how to deal with this.

And to honest, I'm not at all sure how these convenient draco deaths will be eventuated. That is left as an exercise to the reader.

Other than military uses, it seems unlikely that anybody other than the military could afford one as a pet. Each dragon needs 180 tons of meat per year. And, given the metabolic peculiarities of such a beast, I'd expect the poop to be toxic and corrosive. A few might be used for very high-status races, or perhaps as high-speed couriers, but the expenses for any other use would be prohibitive.

## Dragons guarding the stockpiles of kings

Apex predators, as a rule, are very hard to domesticate for a number of reasons, the most important being a low breeding rate, high level of aggression, and difficulty in procuring enough food for one, let alone a breeding population.

If dragons were to be domesticated, it would probably be more like cats, where they hunt mainly on their own and naturally grow more human-tolerant because human civilization has something they like. (In the case of cats, this was stockpiles of grain that attracted large numbers of rodents.)

It is a common trope for dragons to enjoy hoarding gold and jewels. One possible explanation for this is that it is used to attract a mate; like many birds, having a shiny nest could be a strong indicator of mating fitness. If that were the case, a king's stockpile would be the perfect place for a dragon to settle. A dragon who was benign enough to live in the center of a human kingdom without threatening the locals would have easy access to the shiniest nest around, and would likely breed with other similarly tolerant dragons. The king would enjoy having a dragon around to guard his gold.

Since the dragons would regularly hunt for their own food, the king might need to compensate for any cows snatched up in the night. If the dragons are as intelligent as apes, they should be able to learn the difference between domestic and wild animals, and understand that one is off-limits while the other is fair game. In the meantime, being the king, he would be able to pay for any damages, and might simply provide the dragon with food to begin with.

Over time, the dragons might become benign enough to allow humans to ride them, and would wind up being strong assets in the military. They would probably remain mainly with royalty, though - ordinary folk couldn't afford to pay for their upkeep or nests.

• In this scenario I'm curious whose job it would be to waltz into the treasure room, which the dragon perceives as its personal horde, and take some gold for use by the kingdom. I foresee a bumpy road to domestication...or a delicious one, depending on your perspective. – Nicholas Feb 27 '18 at 17:53

The question would more or less be what we could do for the dragons.

Dragons are very independent, mostly solitary creatures. Much like cats.

If you compare the domestication of cats to that of e.g. cattle; cats willingly let us domesticate them.
Instead of humans raising cats, so the cats would have an affection to the humans, cats first showed up in barns where they would hunt mice and rats. In part due to our shift in living arrangements, and possibly aided by the realization rats carry diseases, cats were allowed into the house to perform the same duties.
A cat doesn't need to be given much attention. Not saying it's not possible to do so, but plenty of cats aren't all that affectionate.

I would assume the same solitary nature of a dragon to lead to a similar form of domestication. Humans wouldn't assert control over dragons (due to their physical prowess compared to ours), it'd be a mutual agreement.

Why do humans need dragons?

That one's easy. Dragons are giant and fierce. Given how they're bigger, it seems fair to assume there are less dragons than humans. Therefore, the human with a dragon by his side will have a serious leg up on a human who hasn't got a dragon supporting him.
Not only with violent intentions, dragons could be used for their physical strength (e.g. farming), flying ability (transportation).

Why would dragons need humans?

That's more difficult to answer. What can we provide for a dragon that it cannot provide for itself? There are some possibles, but one of the traits of dragons you mentioned sticks out:

• You said dragons eat their weight in food.

Although that seems like a biological overstatement, it could be due to the extra energy needed in breathing fire.
Regardless, dragons would presumably not be able to use agriculture, and would rely on eating wild animals (or someone else's agricultural efforts).

In turn, dragons would be persecuted/hunted for doing so, especially if a single dragon's single dinner will mean an entire village will go without food for an extended period of time.
You can't keep up that kind of influx, and dragons could realize the human knowledge of agriculture makes it possible to breed more animals and therefore be a more consistent food source.

It could be a symbiotic relation. To this day, nuclear power plants are similar to the original steam engine, in that they heat water to make steam, which then spins a turbine. The core principle is, if you can heat water, you can make electricity.
Dragons could help with this. This could mean a better electrical supply in more rural areas due to local dragons driving the power generation. More electrical power means having better means for large scale agriculture, leading to a greater food output which is beneficial to both the dragon and the humans.

There are some other possible reasons why dragons would choose to affiliate with humans.

• Dragon eggs are often eaten by a predatory animal. Therefore, dragons have chosen to have their eggs protected by humans, who in return receive gifts (old scales, help, safeguarding) from the parent dragon.
• If these dragons have the same lust for hoarding gold, they might choose to help humans in exchange for precious materials. It doesn't have to be violent, it could just be a mutually agreeable transaction.
• Depending on the amount of dragons and humans in the world, it might as well be the case that there's not enough space for both species to live without interacting with one another. Prior conflicts could have shown that both dragons and humans are both capable of eradicating the other, and therefore have mutually agreed to not fight an endless war anymore.
• Given their mating for life, dragons might also be prone to pledging allegiance to someone for life. Meaning that if a human ever saves a dragon's life, their personal honor requires them to protect the human.

Summary
I would play to the solitary nature of the dragon, and make the relation between dragon and human of mutual benefit, as opposed to one dominating the other.

First 3 dragons a year would be HUGE. An Elephant which is our largest land animal takes 2 years to gestate, Blue whales take about a year but only give birth every 2-3 years.

A predator that large, fast and impervious to normal weapons, would either rule the planet or we'd wipe it out. If we were able to tame the beasts (most likely stealing some eggs before they hatch) then who ever did that would be the new rulers of the world. They would also be used to wipe out all wild dragons.

Also for a large reptilian 90 years is pretty small number, 200-300 would be a more likely number for a 'max' age, though fighting and other causes of death might keep the 'average' to around 90.

Dragons and their tamers would be highly prized and sought after, and dragons would be a primary piece of military might. In peace time, they would likely be used for travel for the wealthy, but considering how much they would cost to maintain, I would suspect that war and expansion would be a pretty common phenomena.

Now how would you go about taming them? Like the process of taming most animals, it is easiest if you get them when they are young. In the case of Oviparity animals (egg laying) it is best to try and be the one they impress upon when they hatch. So killing a nesting dragon and 'hatching' the eggs themselves or trying to steel an egg before it hatches would be the best bet.

Then the next stage depends on the intelligence of the animal for how easily it can be trained and how much it's instincts my try to take over it's reactions. But as long as it impresses on a human and can be trained to prefer eating meat other than humans, any good animal trainer could take it from there.

Raise them from hatchlings, there's a difference between an animal that's tame and one that's domesticated, a tame dragon may not want to attack the handler that raised it and may be conditioned to follow simple instructions but there's no stopping it from eating someone's cow if it gets hungry.

Tame dragons would be great military assets and there would be no small amount of prestige in being a handler, I'd expect to see fewer small nations and each large nation having its own flock of maybe one or two dozen. The dragons would be kept well away from civilians in naturally isolated locations like deserts, mountain ranges or remote islands, and maybe not all kept in one giant barn but still conditioned to tolerate each other's presence.

When it's time for war the handlers (in full body armour and strapped to their backs) direct them towards the enemy and tell them what to destroy by shouting various simple commands. Inexperienced dragons would just think it's a game but the more experienced dragons that have been wounded or seen other dragons killed would be more focused on taking out anything that threatens them.

Killing a dragon's handler would be a bad idea.

Eventually dragons could be domesticated in the sense that they'd be instinctively tolerant of humans or their imprinting on their handlers would become so strong they'd be adverse to harming all humans, but that would make them less effective military assets.

That top alpha predator set up. A single human hasn't got a prayer of fighting one on one.. and that's a major issue. The question is why a creature that likely constantly hungry would pay attention to a small sack of meat that would struggle to harm it.

Maybe there trick in the taming, but because the dragon is powerful, a human going to have serous issue bossing it around, and what does a dragon have to gain from working with a plentiful food source?

According to animal intelligence experts, domesticated cats have been measured to have more intelligence than their feral cousins. So, in a parallel universe, domesticated dragons could be incredibly perceptive and responsive to human activities, whereas the wild dragons would operate on instinct alone, lashing out viciously against immediate threats but completely oblivious of any larger domestication or extermination efforts.

Because dragons have a voracious appetite and have a varied diet, it is quite unlikely that they have evolved a sense of taste that would allow them to detect dangerous or deadly toxins. Humans could easily get rid of any number of unwanted dragons just by leaving poisoned meat lying exposed in sufficient quantities. Also, domestic dragons could potentially be used to hunt the wild populations, and especially crush their eggs for the sweet, sweet protein inside.

Dragons could, obviously, be of massive military value, and likewise lend themselves easily to transportation (given their ability to quickly fly very long distances; international airlines could simply maintain fleets of dragons). Even so, it would be impossible to sustain a flock of dragons through agriculture. Perhaps massive whale-hunting operations could provide sufficient protein and fat to economically feed the dragons; also, newer dragons could be fed the processed remains of the older dragons once they are "retired" from operation. That could only get you so far; it would be vitally important to find a way to produce dragon food artificially. Organic chemistry is well beyond my field of expertise, but it would be necessary to manufacture huge amounts of protein in an industrial laboratory (something like the Stanley-Miller experiment, I think). Fats could be recovered from municipal waste through the judicious use of microorganism, possibly even genetically-engineered ones. Carbohydrates could perhaps be built through some kind of reverse-combustion process powered by solar or nuclear power. Given scientific advances in those areas, domesticated dragons would be much more well-nourished than the wild ones.

• This does answer the usage Part of the question, and provides a possible food solution. However, your answer does not include the way of How they would go about it. Have you any Ideas for that? Could you edit your answer to include those? – T3 H40 Apr 26 '16 at 5:04

This isn't quite an answer to "What would we with them if dragons existed and were already domesticated," but rather a response to those persons wondering how dragons might become domesticated in the first place.

The question explicitly says, "but has mythical creatures." Presumably, there are far more types of mythical creatures than just dragons.

To domesticate dragons would probably first require domesticating some magical creature which is a natural enemy of dragons. This might be Ispolin or Ichneumon, or some other mythical creature, or it might be a less magical species, such as tigers or elephants.

Before you say, how could tigers or elephants oppose the type of dragon which the OP described, we could replace these mundane mammals with more magical versions which posses the powers which various superstitions throughout history have ascribed to them.

Also, regarding population growth rate, we can probably assume that, without human intervention (culling) huge numbers of infant dragons starve to death.

The best way to keep the population down would be to make them a completely artificial breed, they are sterile and are created in a lab. It would solve the domestication issue also.

• This is a one liner, which is generally discouraged here. Would you mind expanding on this idea? – JDSweetBeat May 18 '16 at 18:51