What is Domestication?

Domestication is when humans change an animal’s appearance and behavior to the appearance and behavior they want that animal to have. They do this by selective breeding, making sure that animals with the traits they want, have babies with another animal with the same traits.


Domestication does not happen overnight. It can take hundreds, even thousands of years to make sure that animals are able to pass on desired traits to their offspring.

Behaviors and traits that humans want in an animal can include

  • Size (breeding larger horses to carry heavier loads of weight)
  • Temperament (making sure dog breeds are friendly and won’t attack other people)
  • Hair and Fur (Having a sheep or llama with thick fur that can be used for wool)


Domestic animals are born and raised under human control. Many domesticated animals would not be able to survive in the wild because they have lost their instincts and have become dependent on humans to survive. Many domesticated animals have been domesticated by humans for over thousands of years!

Domestication is different from taming.

  • Taming refers to one single animal.
  • Domestication refers to an entire species.

While we think of domestication as animals we use for pets, people have domesticated animals for many different reasons.

  • Food (cows, chickens and pigs)
  • Labor (horses, camels, donkeys)
  • Companionship (cats, dogs)

Sometimes we change the reason we domesticate animals. Hedgehogs and guinea pigs were originally domesticated for food, but now are domesticated as pets. Domestication does not necessarily work on all animals, we have tried for centuries to domesticate the zebra, and it has never been successful.

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