The Evolution of the Pet Toy

14th Sep 2018

The Evolution of the Pet Toy

It was the perfect storm of economic development and shifts in cultural attitudes regarding animals that resulted in the kind of pet ownership we’d recognize today. Simply put, your relationship with your favorite furball is the result of a series of human decisions made throughout tens of thousands of years in history.

According to Gregor Larson, director of the University of Oxford Paleogenomics and Bio-Archeology Research Network, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the concept of the “pet” emerged. Quoted by Alicia Ault in “Ask Smithsonian: When Did People Start Keeping Pets?” (published in September of 2016), Larson explains that “it’s more about how animals have taken on different roles in human society over the centuries.”

To illustrate that point, Ault reports that Larson’s team had published evidence of dog domestication from between 14,000 and 16,000 years ago, and that dogs had been discovered buried with high-value items from as early as 8,000 years ago. According to “The Evolution of Pet Ownership,” published by Pedigree, royalty in Greek, Roman, Chinese and Egyptian societies were known to keep tamed or domesticated animals throughout history.

In the Middle Ages, however, Christian leaders looked unfavorably upon animal companionship, even linking it to pagan worship and deeming such relationships out of the natural order
of life. Attitudes toward pet keeping seemed to soften in Europe during the 17th century, and it became more common among middle classes beginning in the late 1700s. In the Victorian Age, humans began to see nature as less threatening and the pet as a link to the natural world and a symbol of man’s dominion over it.

The turn of the century ushered in a new era of pet ownership, and the birth of the modern day pet industry soon followed. In “Playthings, Then and Now”—written for the American Kennel Club in 2008, drawing from Katherine C. Grier’s “Pets in America: A History”—author Roxanne Hawn marks this period as a turning point.

“Dogs as companions and a form of leisure gained strength as we moved from a rural to an urban culture,” Hawn writes. “Incomes grew. Store-bought product multiplied as manufacturing improved, and marketing efforts built excitement.”