Basics of Dog Breeds

Basics of Dog Breeds

Sep 12, 2021
15 min

Origin And History Of Dog Domestication

It is a common assumption that dogs descended from wild wolves. But the topic continues to be a subject of debate as experts from various fields try to seek answers to when, where, and how dogs were domesticated from wolves.


One of the popular theories regarding the origin and history of dogs can be traced back to more than 60 million years to a small mammal called ‘Miacis’. Paleontologists and archaeologists believe that the genus is the ancestor of the present-day dogs, wolves, jackals, and foxes.


About 30-40 million years ago, it is believed that Miacis evolved into the first true dog called ‘Cynodictis’, a medium-sized animal that was long and tall, had a long tail, and a bushy coat. Over the centuries, the Cynodictis evolved into two branches, the Western and East Asian branches. The Eurasian branch, called the Tomarctus, is considered by many experts as the ancestor of modern-day foxes, wolves, and most modern canine breeds today. This supports the assumption that dogs and wolves share a common ancestor.



Time And Location Of Dog Domestication

The exact time and location of dog domestication, however, remains a significant matter for debate. There are various theories that attempt to explain where and how canine domestication started.


Strong genetic evidence has been discovered showing that the first domestication of dogs occurred in Central Asia or China more than 15,000 years ago. But there have also been genetic studies that suggested domestication of dogs started as early as 18,800-32,100 years ago in Europe. Another school of thought maintains that the roots of pet dogs today can be traced back to a pack of wolves that encountered humans more than 40,000 years ago. This theory is based on the conclusion that DNA analysis shows ancient dogs splitting from wolves because of human presence. However, they are unable to determine where this ‘split-up’ happened.




Dual-Origin Theory

Recent evidence shows that dogs were domesticated twice, and this took place on the Eurasian continent about 15,000 years ago. The newest research about dog origins is spearheaded by Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist from Oxford University. Some experts call this the ‘dual-origin theory’. It has also been found that the ancient European dog population was eventually replaced by the Eastern Asian dogs whose population eventually expanded across the continent. Their conclusion: every domestic dog today is a descendant of ancient Asian dogs.




How Did Dogs Become Man’s Best Friend?

Many experts believed that the domestication of dogs was a passive process. It’s a more logical theory to believe that wild dogs gradually approached camps of hunters out of hunger than being actively tamed by humans.


New studies have shown that domestication of dogs occurred when humans were still in the hunting-gathering stage. These records support the fact that dogs were domesticated long before humans engaged in agriculture and farming.


Larson believed that many thousands of years ago in western Eurasia, gray wolves were domesticated by humans. The same thing also happened in the eastern part of the world. This demonstrates two groups of dogs that were geographically separated. It was during the Bronze Age when the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated towards the west alongside their humans. This gave rise to the separation and splitting that is assumed to have taken place. As the Eastern dogs traveled with their owners, they eventually encountered and mated with the Ancient Western dogs, and in time replacing them. Thus, it is said that eastern dogs today descended from the Ancient Easterns while the ancestry of most modern-day western dogs can be traced back to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Ancient Western dogs have been said to become extinct.


Fossil remains indicate that there were already 5 distinct canine types that existed around the beginning of the Bronze Age. These canine types include pointing dogs, herding dogs, mastiffs, wolf-type dogs, and sighthounds.




How New Breeds Are Created

Although the early dogs that were domesticated already possess a keen sense of sight and smell, humans ventured into rudimentary genetic engineering to accentuate certain canine instincts and developed them and in the process of creating new breeds.


Dogs are among the first domesticated animals. They were important fixtures in hunter-gatherer societies. This occurred long before livestock were domesticated. Dogs tagged along as hunting buddies and guards against predators. During the time when livestock was first domesticated, dogs worked as herders. They were also used to guard sheep, goats, and cattle. Today there are still dogs that work on the farm, but many are increasingly kept as household pets and for social purposes.


As society changed from hunting-gathering to agriculture, breeds of dogs were developed. Herding and guarding dogs worked side by side with farmers to protect their flocks. Pointing and retrieving breeds were used as hunting buddies to find and capture game. Smaller breeds were kept as companions and playmates of noble families. Some breeds, like the Chihuahua and Pekingese, were bred to be lapdogs. In England, terrier breeds were developed to kill rodents and vermin in barns and granaries.




How Dog Breeds Came To Be?

It was in Victorian Britain where modern breeds of dogs were created. Although domestic dog evolution goes back thousands of years, the various breeds today are relatively young, about 150 years old. Before breeds of dogs were named, dogs before the Victorian Era were defined based on their function. The term ‘breed’ was used at the end of the Victorian Era, in which dogs were defined based on their form and not their function. Grouping dogs based on the breed made it easier to distinguish them as their classification was uniform and standardized.

Also read: Dog Breeds That Live The Longest



How Dog Breeds Are Created?

Dog breeds are created by artificial selection and genetic manipulation to produce offspring that conform to specific physical features (such as the body shape, size, etc.), distinguishing markings, hair coat color, temperament, and a host of other traits. Organizations that are responsible for officially recognizing dog breeds, like the FIC and AKC, require proof that every parent dog that was used to make the new breed was a purebred that has been certified. These governing bodies also demand DNA and genotype testing to show that the new breed’s DNA has an acceptable variation.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Are dog breeds man-made?

There are dog breeds that are man-made while there are those that already existed way before in the past. Some canine breeds in which man had no hand in their breeding are Akita, Beagle, Dachshund, Doberman, and German Shepherd.



How many dog breeds are there?

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), also known as the World Canine Organization, officially recognizes 360 breeds of dogs. On the other hand, The American Kennel Club recognizes 195 dog breeds, while it is 218 breeds for The British Kennel Club.



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