Here in the Earth, humans have massively adopted dogs as pets, even from ancient times. A quick Google search shows that there are in excess of 5 × 108 (half a billion) domestic dogs around the planet, that is, roughly speaking, (considering 7 × 109, 7 billion, people) a domestic dog for 14 humans.

I find this incredibly massive, and while in recent times people take dogs as pets, maybe just for fun and to avoid loneliness, today as in ancient times dogs served many useful purposes. As far as DNA sequencing shows, dogs may have been first domesticated as far as 40 thousand years ago! Wiki

What is the probability of happening of this macro-symbiotic relationship between an intelligent species (in this case human) and another species (in this case dog)?

For simplicity, I assume a species to be intelligent if it has developed symbolic communication (not necessarily via sound) and can transmit detailed information from person to person. The other species has a mammal-like level of intelligence.

Also which kind of shape and features could this two species have?

  • $\begingroup$ To be clear...you are classifying dogs as highly intelligent and humans as super highly intellegent? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 3 '15 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB yes, exactly. $\endgroup$ – Caridorc Oct 3 '15 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited your title to be clearer on your meaning then :) How it was before it read like super-intelligent aliens keeping human level intelligence as pets. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 3 '15 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Given the currently available sampling pool, the answer is obviously P(E) = 1, where E is the event you speak of. Until we are capable of taking a larger sample, I don't think we can put a number on it. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Feb 26 '16 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to better define what you mean by intelligent for both species (mammalian intelligence varies wildly) and also what you mean by 'detailed information' $\endgroup$ – James Feb 26 '16 at 16:58

The answer is - very likely.

Throughout human history you have people adopting dogs, cats, cattle, horses, snakes and so much more and living in symbiotic relationships with them.

There are always limitations to any one species, if they can find and work with another species to mutual advantage then here is a strong reason to do so.

Humans benefit from the speed, agility, and superior senses of dogs. Humans benefit from the speed and strength of horses. Humans benefit from cats or snakes eating rodents and other pests.

All of those species though gain the advantages of human intelligence in terms of tool usage, planning, and similar without going through the costs of growing a bigger brain.

For an alien species you can expect similar. A slow species would train fast animals, a blind species would train sighted animals, a warlike species would train attack animals, etc.

The key thing is that the animals should provide a more efficient way to get something done than having the human-intelligence ones do it themselves. When both sides gain then you have symbiosis and the relationship is not just stable but actively self-reinforcing.

If you are better at working with your animals and they are better at working with you then you gain a mutual advantage and over time you will both learn and evolve to work together better. This would start with natural selection and then over time selective breeding would enhance the desired traits in the animal species.


In the Terran biosphere, co-evolution rules. Fitness of individual genes is judged in the context of the entire group of genes (see Dawkins The Selfish Gene); the biosphere itself creates the context for its members, and down to biomes and niches. Tight pairings emerge all the time.

But the specific example of Intelligence and social species cooperation seems to be unique. We domesticated crops everywhere, as do termites. Animals domesticated for various purposes have numerous examples, but (see Guns, Germs, and Steel) was lacking in the Americas. So suitable animals need to be available in the first place. Silk worms were domesticated, spiders can't be. So just because an animal provides a resource is not sufficient.

Intelligence studies with primates, other mammals, and birds gave initially odd unexpected results because of our expectations due to dogs. Turns out dogs are special in how they look to humans for information. Even not-so-smart dog breeds seem smarter because they naturally live with us OK and they behave the way we want: because the dog lets the human decide what the correct action is in the situation, and picks up cues from us.

Why did a situation like dogs only happen once? In an alien ecosystem, not only would you need sentient beings to evolve, but you also need suitable species to be available for such a role to emerge.

It's quite plausible to accept that such a situation exists for an alien world, but not likely that it would in each case. There might be different domestication/symbiotic roles that we don't have here on Earth! If you can imagine what those might be...

There might be close-living domesticated animals that followed the intelligent species into modern times, like our cats. There might be "smart" animals domesticated for some reason but not really having the same rapport as dogs do with us. I think about parrots, for example, which are not a domesticated species but only a few generations out of the wild: they are socialized and have a lifestyle that allows them to live in our homes in comfort and happiness. What if they had been used for a thousand years for some role and evolved into a domesticated species? Would they be "like dogs" or somehow be even more adapted then the socialized individuals but have a distinct and different relationship with humans?

Parrots were not domesticated for their brains. Although there are falcons, they appear to still be wild and not evolved in that role: why didn't neolithic people do that?

It's thought that dogs domesticated themselves. If they hadn't, cave men would not have initiated a multi-generation campaign to make wolves into dogs.

Animals were domesticated through use by primitive people providing selection and a niche, with the initial use being possible in the wild species. Fence in a herd instead of following it! Better meat and wool appear over time. How could an intelligent species be used by primitive people, to start the domestication process?


Very likely that humans would be kept as pets by a more intelligent species though we may not want to think of ourselves as such. Semantically, Humans would be far more likely to view the master-pet relationship as employer-employee.

There may be some humans who are submissive enough, lazy enough to be lap dogs for aliens. Many people would be unwilling to endure such a relationship for long.

Master's Perspective

A pet is worth something to a master if it fills some function. Dogs were used as guards, beasts of burden (see Huskies) and companions. Cats kill vermin. Viewing animals as companions only by humans is a relatively new idea.

Pet's Perspective

From the pet's eyes, Master gives orders, head scratches and food. As long as the pet makes master happy, pet is okay.

Employee - Employer relationship

Note the large similarities between pet and employee. Both want work to do, both need shelter or protection that a master/employer can offer.

As long as the aliens are good masters/employers, then humans would be their happy pets/employees.

Would human written, super advanced AI keep us as pets or see as such?


The special relationship between dogs and humans should also be looked at in terms of their evolutionary backgrounds: both dogs and humans evolved from earlier species of social animals who lived and worked in packs.

Had humans evolved from an orang-utan like solitary ape, or dogs come from a species which did not work in packs, then the sort of relationship we have with modern dogs probably would not be possible. Humans, for the most part, delight in the company of others, and so do dogs. For a human, a dog is a faithful companion who easily picks up on the human's mood and is willing to act in a manner which is pleasing to the human partner (well, except for chewing on shoes), while for the dog, the human is the awesome "Alpha" of the pack, who provides direction and an endless supply of food, hugs, warm beds to sleep in etc. A very satisfactory arrangement all around.

An intelligent species which did not evolve as a highly cooperative species would not appreciate the dog like "pack" behaviour (regardless of the advantages the dog like species could provide) and be much less likely to allow the "dogs" to join the campfire as they evolved towards sentience. A species of "dog" like creatures who operated as solitary hunters or scavengers would also be less likely to join forces with an intelligent species since the ability to socialize and derive benefits from social behaviour would be lacking.


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