The History of Breeds: From Wolves to WhippetsPublished December 15, 2008
Very little is really known about the initial domestication of dogs. K. Kris Hirst, a retired archaeologist and a science writer for "Encyclopedia of Archaeology," says, "Under normal conditions, I would set a date for the probable domestication of an animal on the conservative side; the date at which the first rock-solid genetic changes were made in an animal. But if I were a betting woman, I'd say the dog would have been the first animal humans domesticated. So I'm going to stick my neck out and say that 13,000 BC is the probable date of domestication." From Wolves Came Dogs The first canines were wolves, most probably the ancestors of Asian wolves. These wolves warned of predators and trespassers, and most likely assisted their human partners find and capture prey animals for food. Over generations, only the tamest, calmest and most useful canines remained with their human partners to continue in this lifestyle. In addition, genetic mutations in these small populations would cause changes, sometimes in size, in ear carriage, color or other characteristics. However, as humans migrated from one area to another and brought their dogs with them, the dogs had to adjust to new climates, terrain and other environmental issues. Some changes included coat types and thicknesses as the heavy coated descendants of wolves moved into warmer climates. The advent of agriculture and the domestication of other animals, especially those hoofed animals that would eventually become livestock (wild cattle, sheep, and goats) also forced changes in the domesticated dogs. Dogs were required to work around these animals without hunting them. Dogs who showed this ability (what we now call the herding instinct) were then bred to each other. Dogs who showed the ability to guard their owners' possessions, livestock and property were encouraged and again, were bred to others with the same ability. The Introduction of Breeds The first breeds of dogs came about from this first accidental and then deliberate breeding for working characteristics. Later, the dogs' owners recognized that dogs with certain physical characteristics were able to work better, faster, more deliberately or for longer than dogs with other characteristics. Herding dogs, for example, need to be athletic and able to work for many hours each day. They also need to be agile and quick. A heavy bodied, clumsy dog would not make a good herding dog. Dogs with the desired working abilities and the optimum physical characteristics were then bred and over generations, a breed was born. A dog breed is generally regarded as a related group of dogs who share similar characteristics and when bred, will produce similar offspring. The characteristics include height, weight, body shape and conformation, coat type and color, inherited working instincts and even personalities. Donna Haraway, is currently a professor and chair of the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of "For the Love of a Good Dog: Webs of Action in the World of Dog Genetics." In this essay Haraway says, "Distinct kinds of dogs, linked by a human-controlled gene exchange (planned breeding) have existed for a very long time over the world." Today, however, the vast majority of all breeds are guided by a written breed standard, which describes the perfect dog of that particular breed. Want more dog breed info? Check out the Breed Profile Pages!
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