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History of The Dog

By: Alex Lieber - edited by Janice Koler-Matznick

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Early Breeding Programs

New research pinpoints East Asia as the region where the dog was first domesticated. "Domesticated" means an animal has been tamed and bred for specific traits.

Many dog clubs claim that their breed was the earliest recognizable dog type bred on purpose. As far as groups, hounds were among the first. The saluki and the basenji are documented in ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago. Dalmatians are in cave paintings 2,000 years ago. What makes an exact determination impossible is the nature of canids themselves – wolves, dogs, jackals, foxes can all interbreed. Undoubtedly, they were interbred all over the world, and at different times.

Each area developed its own type of dog that was adapted to the climate and to the nature of the work necessary to survive. For instance, dogs from northern Europe developed thick coats and a medium to large body to withstand cold weather and to have the strength to pull sleds.

The Scottish terrier is another good example. Dogs in the Scottish highlands were selectively bred to dig and chase small varmints. People did not need a large work horse-type of animal. Smaller dogs of the litters were chosen to be part of a continued breeding program. Eventually, the Scots had the terrier they wanted.

People took the breeding program a step further and developed specific breeds for specific tasks. This meant that when the mother and father were bred, all the offspring had the same characteristics, looks and abilities as the parents. Using the terrier of Scotland as an example again, offshoots developed: West Highland white terrier, the Scottish terrier, the Skye terrier, the Dandie Dinmont and the cairn terrier. These dogs can all trace their ancestory back to a generic terrier, but today they are considered separate breeds. This development of different breeds took decades to develop. It takes a vigilant group of people, accurate records and an intense love of the dog to develop and maintain a purebred.

Prosperity and Dog Ownership

Prosperity advances a civilization. Once the basic needs have been taken care of, a population can devote time and energy to other pursuits. So it is with the dog. The status of the dog began to change with the early Greeks and the Romans. They appeared in art, sculpture and poems, their loyal traits lionized and admired. In other words, they began to become animals that were kept for enjoyment.

Of course, what passed for enjoyment back then was different. Dog fights were common events, a competition that has become discredited only within the last 100 years or so. In other parts of the world, such as the Far East, the fate of dogs depended on the breed. Pekingese were kept by royalty, the chow chow used in hunting and the shari pei used for fighting. Other breeds wound up on the dinner table.

In the Middle Ages, European nobility fell in love with purebred dogs and bred them for hunting, guarding and companionship. The English mastiff and the greyhound, for instance, became standardized breeds with a purpose. Smaller dogs were used as "comforters" by royal ladies.

Dogs Today

Even today, breeds are changing. For example, the English cocker was brought to America, but Americans decided they wanted a smaller dog without a strong hunting instinct. Through manipulation and breeding, the American cocker was developed and is considered separate from the English cockers.

Kennel clubs around the world have their own breeds that they recognize. In the United States, the American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 breeds, belonging to one of eight groups: sporting group, hound group, toy group, working group, terrier group, herding group, non-sporting group and miscellaneous.

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