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(Roughly) how long would it take to domesticate an alien beast?

Assume we have modern knowledge and techniques.

Assume the beasts are mammalian and similar biologically to Earth beasts.

As far as this question is concerned, anything that can be kept as a "pet" or used for farming is domesticated.

I am just curious as to how long it would take to change a wild animal into something like a dog, cat, horse, cow, pig or any other domesticated breed of animal.

Would it help if we could take the beast out of its natural habitat, or would this make the process more difficult?

Ive heard that some breeds of dog were wild as little as 300 years ago, but then I know that other breeds have been with us for thousands of years.

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    $\begingroup$ This question is too broad, because it depends on just how similar the alien beast is to earth beasts biologically and how fit it is for domestication regarding behavior and adaptability. You also lack a definition of what "domesticated" actually means. For example, according to some definitions modern house cats aren't fully domesticated yet. When answering this question you could either assume what you want to assume and provide a very localized answer which won't be very helpful for you or assume everything and write a whole book about this topic. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Dec 19 '14 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ ok, assume the beasts are mammalian and similar biologically to earth beasts. as far as this question is concerned, anything that can be kept as a "pet" or used for farming is domesticated. i dont mind localized answers so long as the assumptions used are stated, and i dont mind essay answers either - the question is structured to allow for a wide variety of answers on the subject. perhaps someone out there knows about dog breeding, so their knowledge on the subject would be useful, likewise someone with knowledge of mankind's early history might also have something to contribute. $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Dec 19 '14 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Cats are not domesticated. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel Dec 19 '14 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ the very definition of cat means it is a domesticated wild cat (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat). you can use the term "tamed" if you prefer, but lets be honest here, there is a massive difference between a cat and a wild animal. compared to a tiger, cats are domesticated. $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Dec 19 '14 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Not only does this question depend on how similar the alien beast is biologically (and psychologically), but it is not fully understood how we domesticated animals, so even answering this question for Earthbound animals would be a research topic. Consider editing or opening a question regarding individual traits of domestication which you consider to be along the path of "domesticating an alien." Worded correctly, those narrower questions may help us work through your final goal. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 19 '14 at 16:27
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I actually have a very exact answer for you. It would take about 20 generations (or less then 20 years if you prefer). How do I know? Because we already did it.

Of course this is a non-domesticated earth mammal. If your talking a truly alien species there are questions about how they evolved which could play a role in how easy they are to domesticate; a truly alien species will be so foreign to us it would take time just to understand it well enough to begin domesticating.

EDIT (updated below paragraph for accuracy)

On the other hand the above group wasn't trying their hardest to domesticate the species. While they did control mating they did it only by selecting those who did not flee from them, as an attempt to best emulate the selection process that lead to domestication in the past. If their goal was only to domesticate a species, instead of testing a hypothesis, they could use more through breeding criteria to accelerate the domestication process.

There are generally three major factors you need to domesticate mammals well.

1) willingness to at least partial tolerate humans originally, which generally means species that are not too timid or overly aggressive (though this is the least important quality I think)

2) species with relatively short growth from childhood to mating age, so you can fit lots of generations into a short timeframe.

3) social species. Domestication is about 'tricking' evolution into thinking of us as a potential pack mate. Most of the domesticated behaviors are actually pack behaviors reinterpreted. Trying to breed pack-like behaviors into a non pack animal would take MUCH longer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are cats pack animals? Beta fish? $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost Dec 19 '14 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DarioOO The experiment breed foxes that did not flee from handlers normally. They were controlling breeding, though not to the degree of most dog breeders of today since they used only the one critera (and avoiding inbreeding). By the 20 generation 70-90 percent of pups born were classified as 'elite', effectively domesticated, though they created a new super elite status because of how well domestication was progressing. The elite pups were actually sold as specialty pets to support the experiment costs. (this is an updated message, my last one was done from memory and incorrect) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 19 '14 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting information out there. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3101803 thats the genetic descent of the foxes mentioned here. Apparently they originated in eastern canada and were exported. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Dec 19 '14 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ About the genetic changes. Years ago I read that some of the elite foxes developed a white star-shaped patch of fur on their foreheads. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Blues Dec 19 '14 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost Housecats are fairly social creatures, though not quite as much as Lions. And betas are not domesticated; they are simply bred for color. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Aug 2 '16 at 19:10
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We already know that some animals are hard/impossible to domesticate like zebra

Criteria for domestication

  • The right diet: Picky eaters have always made life difficult for their mothers, so one can imagine the frustrations involved in keeping up an animal with picky tastes. Because many animals have specific dietary needs and carnivores get expensive to feed, humans can only domesticate animals that thrive on cheap, accessible food.
  • Fast growth rate: The species must grow at a fast rate for herders and farmers to yield a timely return on the investment of raising it.
  • Friendly disposition: Vicious animals by definition don't usually like it when humans attempt to bring them into captivity and won't let humans handle them.
  • Easy breeding: If the animal refuses to breed under the conditions human captors can provide, then obviously, its period under human control is short-lived.
  • Respect a social hierarchy: In the wild, if the animals form social structures in which they all follow a dominant member, then humans can establish themselves as leader-of-the-pack.
  • Won't panic: Many animals freak out when they are restrained, kept in fences or perceive a threat. Cows, on the other hand, remain fairly complaisant and unflappable despite these conditions, making them easier to domesticate.

So OP's question is not answerable: we do have criteria for domestication - we just don't have any alien animals to decide if they fit the criteria.

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  • $\begingroup$ this is awesome, now i know the characteristics an alien beast must have to be tame-able - many thanks! $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Dec 19 '14 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ The right diet 101: humans are not their preferred food :) $\endgroup$ – kubanczyk Dec 19 '14 at 21:21
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Anything between few generations to forever

For instance, in my super secret "Evil Overlord" lab, we managed to crosbreed velociraptors, which understand (and fullfill) all my commands. Wha... What? They are loose again? Excuse me for a moment...

Now, on serious note:

What kind of animal is it? Looking back on Human history, we were more lucky with the herbivores than with the carnivores. In other words, domesticating "space cow" is easier task than domesticating "space dog"

How intelligent the animal is? I dont want to say it should be dumb as a sheep but truth to be said, somewhere I heard that sheeps were actually the first ever animal to be domesticated.

How big and strong is it? Yeah, we managed to domesticate even the Elephants, but still it is easier task to domesticate "space hamster" than trying the same with "space whale"

And, last but not least

What does make animal domesticated? We still go to the sea to hunt for the fish. But also, we breed some fish species in controlled area to get meat. One example is Czech traditional "Christmas" fish, the Carp. Does it make the fish "domesticated"?

The same could apply to dears or to the boars. We keep them breeding and then we hunt them for meat. Sometimes we breed them in controlled area "just for meat". Does it make them "domesticated"?

Or do you just really want also "pet velociraptor"?

What? They are loose AGAIN? Who taught them to open the cages? Uh... you are one clever girl

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    $\begingroup$ Ive clarified my question a little, but this a great answer - many thanks! ... and who doesnt want pet velociraptors?! $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Dec 19 '14 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think we "domesticated" hamsters. We have the power to cage them and they learn that they are not able to escape and also that we are no harm. But there is no real social interaction. $\endgroup$ – Sempie Dec 19 '14 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Sempie define social interaction. because definition of this clearly shows what means domesticated and what does not. While I agree with your comment re hamsters, still you are able to have some interaction with them $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Dec 19 '14 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @jimmery I'm pretty sure that Randall Munroe doesn't want a pet velociraptor :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 19 '14 at 14:53
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Depends on a lot of things, the natural disposition of the animal to begin with. Also it is pretty easy to make 'pets' out of animals. People have pet tigers, though most of them are still very dangerous.

As someone pointed out house cats are still debatable about being truly domesticated.

I think there might need to be a distinction between domesticated and tamed.

Domestication - a population of organisms in order to accentuate traits that are desirable to the cultivator

Tame - reduced from a state of native wildness especially so as to be tractable and useful to humans

There are a lot of tamed wild animals used as 'pets' but they are not domesticated. And there are a lot of domesticated animals that aren't tamed. Tigers can be tamed, cattle are domesticated.

The Dodo was almost domestcatable when it was discovered, a few generations could have made them the new chicken. Cats have been household pets for 1,000's of years and are still not truly domesticated.

But a few dozen generations is probably the average (WAG) to be well on the way to domesticated. (elephants live ~60 years, dogs ~7)

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Possibly no time at all. Domestication basically is getting the animal not to see you as a threat and so be stressed or unmanageable. The dodo had never encountered humans before, so did not see us as a threat; it effectively was tame because it was an alien species. Farming dodos would not be any different to farming deer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would the downvoter explain why? When the dodo first met humans, it was at the same state with respect to running away as the fox in @dsollen's answer was after 20 generations or farmed deer. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Dec 19 '14 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ So... Why did dodo never make it to be domestic animal? $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Dec 19 '14 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek We ate them from the wild rather than collecting and breeding them. Probably no-one tried as they didn't taste as nice as other birds we already domesticated. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Dec 19 '14 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ you make a good point and i dont understand the downvotes either? $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Dec 19 '14 at 21:56
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It depends on life-span and breeding speed. (as well as "evolution speed" that might be different for aliens) It is more question of generations. About 40 generations should make it.

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