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A Short History of Man and Dog Together
For centuries, dogs and humans have formed true working partnerships, with dogs acting as hunters, herders, guardians, and even warriors. Their work was extremely valuable and often indispensable, and it still is today, when most dogs primarily fulfill the role of family member and friend. No animal has been our companion longer, and on our journey together we have forged a unique bond.
Speculations about the origins of the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, continue to appear with new discoveries in genetics and archeology. The proposed time of dog and human association has varied from 14,000 to 135,000 years ago. Although it was previously widely believed that the dog descended directly from the gray wolf, the most recent genetic studies suggest that early dogs and gray wolves evolved separately from an older, now-extinct ancestor sometime between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago. This research also suggests that dogs are more closely related to each other and not to the gray wolves found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America.
Since this divergence, interbreeding has occasionally occurred between gray wolves and domestic dogs, which accounts for the genetic overlap that does exist between the two. Discoveries from ancient human sites of what are likely dog remains date back 20,000 to 33,000 years ago; it's possible, however, that these remains belong to a different early dog that did not survive into modern times. Clearly identifiable domestic dog remains date to about 14,000 years ago. These remains can be found in human graves and graves of their own, surely indicating that the dogs were important to humans even then.
Scientific research supports the story of early dogs that were the companions of hunter-gathers before settled agricultural life began. Did domestication occur in one place or several? Who adopted whom? Did these early dogs see an advantage in associating themselves with humans? Or did humans bring dogs into their protective circle? Perhaps both developments occurred simultaneously. Rather than seeing domestication as being imposed on an animal by humans, some experts believe that the relationship is symbiotic and benefits both species. The complete story of dog domestication is complex, definitely incomplete, and perhaps unknowable. No doubt as this fascinating research continues, we will discover more clues to our joint story.
How It All Started
Assisting his human clan with hunting and guarding were probably the first jobs of the early domestic dog. The dog contributed his superior senses, his speed, and his aggressive strength to both jobs. Hunting as partners, human and dog were more successful, which benefited them both. The dog could also serve as a beast of burden and a source of food and/or fur. He certainly functioned as the scavenger and cleanup crew wherever humans camped or lived, as well as chased away wild animals that ventured too close.
Sometime after dogs entered the human sphere, goats and sheep were domesticated, although pigs may have been domesticated earlier in some places. Ten-thousand-year-old evidence points to goats and sheep living as domesticates in ancient villages found in modern-day Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When humans settled into an agrarian lifestyle, they began to select dogs for new jobs.
Different dogs with specialized behaviors were needed to herd and guard livestock, to hunt the vermin that threatened the stored foodstuffs, and to accompany hunters who left the settlements in pursuit of game. Large placid dogs worked as draft animals. Even among nomadic peoples, dogs protected both the humans and their livestock. All these ancient dogs, although unrecorded in word and picture, were the distant ancestors of all the breeds to come.
The Beginning of Breeds
As dogs began to be selected for performing specialized jobs, they began to evolve into identifiably different types. We see evidence of this early in the historical record — from the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, and Assyrians, through the classical era of Greece and Rome to the early Middle Ages. Several broad types were recorded in images and text.
Although the essential shepherd's dog could be found everywhere, the type was often dismissed by the aristocracy for its lowly and rough ways and was only rarely featured in artwork. These early sheepdogs were not the herding dogs we think of today, but the larger guardians of the flocks and herds. In the company of human shepherds, these dogs protected against wolves, wild or roaming dogs, other predators, and thieves. While the very earliest sheepdogs were described as dark in color, the Roman writers always recommended white dogs, although white and black dogs were also noted.
Today we usually think of the prick-eared, curly tailed spitz dogs as northern breeds, but they were found in central Europe and into the Far East. Husky-like dogs with prick ears are depicted on Armenian carvings from three thousand years ago. At about the same time on the steppes of Kazakhstan, dogs that resembled the spitz were used to herd horses. Today we still find local botai dogs, of that type, hunting with humans and their horses. Spitz dogs were used as herders, hunters, and sled dogs in the north. In many areas, small spitz dogs were also kept as pets.
The biological process of domestication is a complex one that affects both behavioral and physical traits. To be a candidate for domestication, a species must be flexible in everything from diet to social structure to basic temperament to breeding patterns. Humans make use of this flexibility in selecting which animals to breed, choosing desirable qualities or traits. Because mammals change so much as they grow, there is great potential for human-directed differences. People often choose to breed certain species for juvenile appearances and behaviors in domesticated animals. This retention of juvenile traits is called "neoteny."
Because of neoteny, dogs can be selected for juvenile features, such as shorter jaws, flatter or shorter skulls, smaller bones or teeth, and rounder or larger eyes. Smaller brain size can result in lower intelligence or self-sufficiency, though some humans value those traits and select for them as well.
Dogs also possess altered social behaviors, some of them juvenile. The critical socialization period of dogs begins later than that of wolves and lasts longer before the fear stage emerges. Dogs also have increased docility and submissiveness. Adults can be less protectively maternal or paternal, allowing human interaction with their pups.
In dogs, the process of domestication and selective breeding has changed the adrenal system, the nervous system, the sensory system, and brain chemistry. Dogs have also been selected to mature earlier than other canids and they come into heat approximately twice a year rather than the single seasonal estrus of their wild relatives.
Selecting for desirable traits might have brought along some of these other changes. In Dmitri Belyaev's well-known farm-fox experiment, he selected only for increased docility toward humans, but other characteristics emerged, including a delayed development of the fear response, changes in coat color, floppy ears, curly and wagging tails, shorter and wider snouts, smaller skull size, earlier sexual maturity, larger litters, and a longer breeding season. The Belyaev foxes also respond to human cues, such as pointing, implying that the foxes were more attuned to human interaction.
Beyond selection for docility and juvenile appearance or behavior, captive breeding and human selection are responsible for much of the diversity of both physical traits and behaviors we see in dog breeds today. Different breeds possess typical temperaments and levels of reactivity or aggression. Dogs have also been selected for the different behaviors that form the parts of the predatory sequence. Predator behavior can be broken into separate elements or portions: search/stalk/chase/bite and hold/bite and kill/dissect/consume.
Through human selection, different dog breeds express one or more of these behaviors, amplified behaviors, and others are missing or suppressed. Early experiences and training can further shape and discipline these predispositions. Ratting terriers exhibit all of these behaviors except dissect and cons ume. The bully breeds display a strong bite and hold. Herding dogs strongly stalk and chase — and occasionally bite and hold — their sheep. Many hounds or hunting dogs excel at search or chase. Livestock guardian dogs display almost no predatory inclinations at all toward their charges but do attack predators.
As an interesting footnote, it appears that in some ways we evolved together — for example, both humans and dogs developed the ability to digest starches. Dog breeds native to the cradle of human agriculture have a far greater ability to do this than dingoes, or breeds from the Arctic.
Hounds and Hunting Dogs
We find images of sleek hounds from ancient Armenia to Egypt, in Greece and Rome, and far beyond. Heavy hounds that relied on scent were used to track game; swift, slender ones hunted by sight. Xenophon described the scenting type, known to the Greeks as the Laconian, as large dogs with smaller heads, upright ears, and long necks. These dogs worked in packs and were noted for their enthusiastic barking and baying when on a trail.
The slimmer greyhound type was at times called the Vetragus, and was noted for its refined appearance and great speed. The legendary Celtic-Irish wolfhounds, called cu, were known even before the Roman conquest of Britain and were imported into the Roman Empire from that distant frontier. Both chasing and coursing were primarily the pastimes of the wealthy and powerful. Fast, strong dogs for chasing down stags or boars were in high demand into the Renaissance.
In addition to the hounds, smaller hunting dogs were also recorded. Short-legged, long-bodied dogs were depicted in Egypt and elsewhere. The Greeks believed the small, prick-eared Vulpine was a cross between a dog and a fox. There was also a small hunting dog found in Britain, prior to the Romans.
Nothin' but a Hound Dog
The word "hound" comes from the Old English word hund — related to the German and Scandinavian hund and the Dutch hond — all meaning "dog." Many modern breed names are a mistranslation of hund or hond as "hound" instead of the correct "dog."
In English, "hound" originally referred to all dogs, but by the sixteenth century, it specifically meant hunting dogs. The word "dog" comes from the Middle English word dogge. In the fourteenth century, "dog" originally meant a specific group of hounds that included the mastiff. Eventually "hound" and "dog" switched meanings, and the latter came to mean all dogs.
The ancient Assyrian and Greek tribes used massive dogs in war and their images were widely recorded. These dogs, often called molossers after the Molossians, a Greek tribe, were found over a very large area. Beside warfare, molossers, or heavy mastiffs, were hunters of large game, such as lion, onager, and boar. They also worked as guardians of temples, homes, estates, and property. Tall and deep-bodied, with large, strong heads and necks, these impressive dogs radiated power.
The Romans used mastiffs as guardians as well. While shepherd dogs were white, Columella and other Roman writers advised that the heavier guard dog be dark in color so that he would be less visible in the night and more frightening in the daylight. The Romans used mastiffs as attack dogs and guardians of roads or fortresses, sometimes outfitting them with collars fitted with spikes or knives, as well as leather armor. Mastiffs were also used as fighters in the amphitheaters, often set upon human captives or large animals, such as bulls, bears, tigers, lions, and boars. At times they even fought each other.
These massive dogs of war came to be owned by the wealthy and powerful throughout Europe. War dogs would later accompany the explorers and Spanish conquerors into the New World, where they would be used to brutally attack the native peoples.
Although most dogs were workers, specific types of dogs were kept as pets. In Egypt, these small shorthaired dogs had erect ears, pointed muzzles, and tightly curled tails. The Greeks called the well-known small dog from Malta, the Melitan, and he did resemble the longhaired modern-day Maltese. Small spitz dogs were also popular as pets.
Although many of our contemporary breeds closely resemble these ancient historic types, none are the direct genetic descendants, despite the claims of many breed aficionados. Human and dog migration, inevitable crossbreeding, historic events that led to near extinction and subsequent restoration, and the modern era of breed development and standardization have all resulted in much mixture of dog genetics. Recent genetic studies show that perhaps only Basenjis, Salukis, and dingoes actually possess a somewhat different genetic signature from the rest of the dog population.
Developing Dog Breeds
As breed fanciers began to establish individual breed clubs and national kennel clubs, beginning in the 1860s in England, many traditional landrace, or native, breeds were transformed to standardized breeds. Landrace breeds may be quite old; they are usually highly adapted to their environment and share a specific set of behaviors. Landrace breeds were selected by humans to perform a valued function and, at times, for a preferred appearance as well. Within a landrace breed there is generally some variety in appearance, and different distinctive types of the same breed may also exist. Pedigrees may exist in either oral or written form but there is no organized group guiding the selection of dogs for breeding based on a written standard or a central registry of pedigrees.
The transition to a standardized breed begins when an organization or association decides on a standard description for its dogs. Dogs who meet the standard are entered in a registry. Eventually only dogs bred from registered, pedigreed parents can be entered in the breed registry, whereupon the registry is closed. The resulting animals, bred from two registered parents, are considered purebred. It is possible to preserve different types of dogs within a breed, but frequently only one type emerges as the ideal image of the breed.
An established breed type can change when breeders begin to select for a different function or appearance. Working breeds can lose their abilities if breeders choose to emphasize appearance over other traits. When this occurs, a split may develop between the traditional "working" type and the emerging "show" type. It is an ongoing challenge for people who breed dogs for show or pet homes to maintain the dogs' essential and instinctive working traits and behaviors. Unfortunately, specific physical traits can also become overemphasized, leading to extremes in appearance that are often counterproductive to good working abilities.
A breed can also develop genetic health issues unless great care is given to maintaining a diverse gene pool by avoiding the overuse of popular sires, which has occurred even in very popular breeds, such as the Golden Retriever and Doberman Pinscher. Genetic bottlenecks can occur if too few dogs are used for breeding or a major portion of the registered population is lost, which did happen with many breeds after the world wars in Europe. In some cases, dedicated breeders have worked hard to reconstitute or recreate specific breeds such as the Lancashire Heeler, Belgian Tervuren, Leonberger, and Hovawart.
In some parts of the world, this transition from landrace to standardized breed is still occurring. These breeds are considered newly recognized rather than newly created. Many of these breed organizations still have open registries for admitting unregistered dogs that meet the breed standard. Newly recognized landrace breeds often have greater diversity and varying types than the well-established standardized breeds. Some working dog organizations also maintain open registries and accept diverse appearance and types.
Still other breeds are the result of deliberate creation. A single person or a group decides to develop dogs with a specific appearance or function. Newly created breeds can emerge from a desirable or unusual genetic mutation, or from an attempt to miniaturize an existing breed. Dogs from a selected population within a breed or different breeds are utilized. Offspring with the desired traits are usually linebred for many generations until the traits are fixed in the new breed and the registry is closed to new dogs. Any breed with a closed registry can suffer from inherited health or disease issues, but this is especially true when the breed is based on a genetic abnormality, a very small founder group, or extremely tight linebreeding.
Excerpted from "Farm Dogs"
Copyright © 2016 Janet Vorwald Dohner.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
1 A Short History of Man and Dog Together
2 Understanding the Working Farm Dog
3 Choosing the Right Dog
4 Livestock Guardian Dogs
Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Central Asian Shepherd
Estrela Mountain Dog
Polish Tatra Sheepdog
Additional LGD Breeds
5 Herding Dogs
Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Rough and Smooth Collies
Dutch Shepherd Dog
German Shepherd Dog
Finnish Lapphund and Swedish Lapphund
Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog
Old English Sheepdog
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Polish Lowland Sheepdog
Additional Herding Breeds
6 Terriers and Earthdogs
Jack Russell, Parson Russell, and Russell Terriers
Norfolk and Norwich Terriers
Additional Terrier Breeds
7 Traditional and Multipurpose Farm Dogs
Belgian Shepherd Dogs
Bouvier des Flandres
Danish Swedish Farmdog
Karelian Bear Dog
Kerry Blue Terrier
Portuguese Water Dog
Sennenhunde -- The Swiss Mountain Dog Breeds
Bernese Mountain Dog
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier