What is known about dog history is that the first canines came from North America, Cherin said. The earliest documented species from the genus Canis was Canis lepophagus, aka the "hare-eating wolf." Like the prehistoric canine from Italy, it was relatively small and had a narrow head.
Canines spread to Asia and then to Europe. It was in Eurasia at least 780,000 years ago that a dog relative might have encountered a member of our genus.
Eudald Carbonell, a professor at the University of Rovira and Virgili, told Discovery News that fossils of Homo antecessor -- an extinct human that looked a lot like us -- were found with fossils of Canis mosbachensis in Spain.
Could this very early human have enjoyed the companionship of the dog/wolf relative, or was the latter considered to be good eats or a predator? The fossil record so far, unfortunately, does not have those answers.
Carbonell and his team did find evidence for cannibalism -- for nutritional purposes -- among Homo antecessor individuals, so it's likely that this early, hungry human hunted the dog and wolf relative.
As the human population continued to expand and evolve in Europe and Asia, people discovered how valuable canines could be for security, hunting, companionship and more, resulting over time in the domestication of dogs. That moment of doggy revelation might have even happened in Italy, since recent DNA evidence suggests the first domesticated dogs were from Europe.
Marina Sotnikova of the Geological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences told Discovery News that the fossils discovered in Italy are "very interesting" and "allow for a more detailed study of this group of carnivores."