History of Dogs

“He cannot be a gentleman that loveth not a dog,” reads an old proverb, and there can be no doubt that the American loveth all things canine. There are now about 1.1 million pedigreed dogs registered in this country, about one pedigreed pooch for every 200 Americans. The number of mongrels extant is anybody’s guess. One knowledgeable estimate puts the total number of dogs in the United States as over 40 million!
Dogs
Americans will spend some 1.5 billion dollars this year on pet food, close to four times the sum spent on baby food! And there are at present over 400 pet cemeteries in this country!

When did this long and happy relationship between man and dog begin? Far too long ago to estimate a date, for man had domesticated the dog well before recorded history began. The bond between man and his best friend was, and still is a symbiotic relationship, with both parties benefitting from the alliance. The History of Dogs is indeed, an interesting one.

The word dog originally referred to a particular English breed of canine, but is now used generally to refer to all members of the Canus famillaris. Other species in the Canus genus are the aureus (the jackal) and the lupus (the wolf). Anthropologists aren’t quite sure which species was the first to join forces with his upright fellow hunters.

Most likely jackals and primitive dogs, originally independent hunters and scavengers, found it advantageous to follow nomadic human hunters for the bones and food scraps left behind when they broke camp. Gradually, prehistoric man came to realize that the presence of these beasts surrounding the camp at night could benefit him as well, since the howling canines would warn of the approach of deadly predators. The more the hunter went out of his way to feed his watchguards, the more dependent upon him they became.

Slowly, dog and man began to join forces in hunting, the dog contributing his scent to flushing out game, and man returning the favor by providing the dog with a steady diet of meat. We know that aborigines of Ireland, Switzerland, and the Baltic lands used dogs for hunting, and occasionally partook of dog flesh, long before farming was introduced in Europe. Cave paintings 50,000 years old depict hunters with dogs at their side.

The original domesticated canines, wolf, dog, and jackal, were probably interbred to evolve the modern familiaris species. Subsequent breeding by man gradually produced distinct breeds. The oldest records of Mesopotamia and Egypt show that distinct breeds of domesticated dogs had been developed by the year 3000 B.C., including animals much like the modern greyhound and terrier. The ancient Greeks and Romans kept dogs. The breed classifications of the Romans were quite like our own, distinguishing between scent-hunting and sight-hunting dogs, and between Canes villatici (housedogs), and pastorales (sheep or herding dogs).

In the fourteenth century, attack dogs with spears and buckets of fire harnessed to their backs were used to upset cavalry horses. But for the most part, throughout the Middle Ages, dogs were used for hunting and herding. Yet over the centuries, man has come to rely on the dog more for companionship than for anything else. By the seventeenth century, the dog was a ranking member of the household as a note by Samuel Pepys might suggest: At night my wife and I did fall out about the dog’s being put down in the cellar . . . because of his fouling the house . . . and so we went to bed and lay all night in a quarrel. Today, the dog is valued as a guard, a shepherd, a guide, a hunter, a retriever, a soldier, a policeman, and a friend.

Dogs skilled at sniffing out caches of concealed drugs are becoming increasingly popular among many police forces. Recently, a Florida policeman demonstrated his dog’s sleuthing talents to a group of students. He hid packets of drugs around the room, and then loosed his keen-nosed sidekick to find them. The policeman hid ten packets; the dog brought back eleven.

At last glance, there were 163 recognized dog breeds in the United States. All canines can be broken down into six main groups according to their original use by man.

The Sporting Group includes dogs that hunt by air scent, such as the pointer, the retriever, the Labrador, the Irish setter, the Weimaraner, and the cocker spaniel. These dogs serve primarily as hunters’ assistants, finding and retrieving small game.

Originally from Spain, the spaniel was used by the Irish in the first century for hunting. On the other hand, the pointer (or “bird dog,”) is of a more recent origin, first appearing in Britain some time during the seventeenth century. The development of pointing breeds paralleled the increasing use of sporting firearms.

The Hound Group is made up of those dogs that hunt by ground scent. This group includes the Afghan, the beagle, the basset hound, the bloodhound, the dachshund, the foxhound, the saluki, and the greyhound. Dogs similar to the dachshund can be found in Egyptian carvings dated around the fifteenth century B.C. Most English hound breeds are thought to be descendants of hounds brought from Normandy during the invasion of William the Conqueror. The bloodhound probably owns the keenest sense of smell of all dogs.

But the most spectacular canine tracking feat on record was not the work of a bloodhound. In 1925, a Doberman pinscher named “Sauer” tracked a thief 100 miles across the Great Karoo, an arid plateau in South Africa, by scent alone. And a fox terrier lost by a truck driver in Hayes Creek, Australia, rejoined his master eight months later in Mambray Creek, a distance of 1,700 barren miles from Hayes Creek!

The Working Group includes dogs that serve primarily as guides, guards, and herders, such as the Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, the collie, the great Dane, the Newfoundland, the St. Bernard, the Shetland sheep dog, and the Siberian husky. These dogs probably constitute the most useful group of canines. Eskimos use them for draught animals. In this country, they’re valuable as “seeing-eye” and ‘police” dogs, a term not restricted to German shepherds. The Newfoundland has been used to rescue swimmers, while for centuries the St. Bernard has served as a rescue dog for the monks of the Alpine Hospice of St. Bernard.

The Terrier Group, dogs that hunt by digging and flushing out burrowing animals, includes, not surprisingly, most terriers, along with the schnauzer. The word “terrier” comes from the Latin terra, “earth.” Most terrier breeds were developed in the British Isles. The Airedale terrier, for instance, was first bred in the Aire valley of England.

The Toy Group consists of dogs that serve primarily as human companions, and includes such favorites as the Pekinese, the Maltese, the Chihuahua, the toy poodle, the Yorkshire terrier, the pug, and the pomeranian. Most toys are miniature versions of older larger breeds. The Pekinese has existed in China for over 5,000 years.

The smallest dog on earth, the Chihuahua, usually weighs in somewhere between two and four pounds, although some specimens have tipped the scales at a mere sixteen ounces.

Small toy dogs became popular in the British Isles when laws were enacted to control poaching pooches. The eleventh-century King Canute, for instance, decreed that all dogs kept within ten miles of the king’s forest preserve must have their knee joints cut to hinder them from chasing his game. But exceptions were made for any dog that could fit through a “dog gauge,” a ring seven inches wide and five inches high.

The sixth group of dogs is known as the Non-sporting Group, a miscellaneous class consisting chiefly of dogs with muscular necks and strong jaws. The bulldog, the Boston terrier, the chowchow, the Dalmatian, and the poodle are listed among this group. The chowchow is most likely the oldest member, dating at least from 150 B.C. in China. The Boston terrier is one of the few breeds originating in the United States. It was developed by a Bostonian named Robert Hooper in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite its modern association with the French, the poodle is probably of German origin.

Which breed of dog is most favored by Americans? Beagle? Collie? German shepherd? Surprisingly, it’s the poodle. With some 200,000 registered dogs, there are more than twice as many poodles as there are German shepherds, the second most popular breed. In fact, almost one in every five pedigreed dogs registered in the United States is a poodle!

A list of registered dogs by breed offers a few other surprises. The large numbers of registered dachshunds, Labrador retrievers, and St. Bernards would startle those who consider these breeds to be mere curiosity pieces. Yet such supposedly populous breeds as the bulldog and bloodhound rank pitifully low in actual registration.

Today, the most popular up-and-coming dog breed in America is the Yorkshire terrier. The Yorky led all breeds in new registrations in 1975, with 14,640. At the other end of the scale, the Chinese fighting dog is now the rarest dog breed on earth, with only twenty-three specimens known to exist in 1976, all of them, oddly enough, in California. And if you are the proud owner of a Belgian Malinois, you own almost 10 percent of all the Malinois in this country.

Only eight breeds of purebred dogs originated in the United States: the American foxhound, the American water spaniel, the Boston terrier, the Chesapeake Bay retriever, the coonhound, the Amertoy, the spitz, and the Staffordshire terrier.

The British Isles holds the pedigreed pooch title: Of the world’s 163 recognized breeds, 47 originated in Great Britain.

Few dogs today perform any service aside from friendship, though originally the canine was valuable to man because his senses were strongest where man’s were weakest. The dog’s sense of smell is among the keenest in the animal kingdom. A trained dog can select an item touched only by his master’s finger from among dozens of other objects; a bloodhound can pick up one scent from among hundreds. Some dogs can reputedly pick up a scent that is ten days old!

The canine’s sense of hearing is likewise extremely acute. Dogs have responded from seventy-five feet to orders unintelligible to men only ten feet away. The range of sound a dog can hear is much wider than man’s: “dog whistles”, too high-pitched to be heard by the human ear, can be picked up by dogs 100 yards away.

Most dogs, alas, have poor vision. As a rule, they’re nearsighted, yet they can be particularly sensitive to movement. All dogs are colorblind, their visual world is a drab panorama of black, white, and gray. On the other hand, dogs have “eyeshine,” and like cats, can see quite well in the dark.

But it is not the dog’s keen smell or hearing that has endeared him to modern man, it’s his uncomplaining readiness to obey and lavish affection on his human friends. “To his dog,” an old saying goes, “every man is Napoleon, hence the popularity of dogs.” A dog is loyal, loving, and lovable, even if his master can boast none of these qualities. The Prussian monarch Frederick the Great hit it on the head: “The more I see of men, the better I like my dog.”

Another saying, reportedly a Turkish proverb, has it that “if dogs’ prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky.” But most American canines enjoy a diet considerably better than bones–considerably better than the diet of many impoverished peoples, in fact. Many dog owners will argue as to the correct amount of food a dog requires each day, but most authorities agree that dogs over six months of age should be fed one large meal daily, with perhaps one smaller snack. A half-pound of food will suffice for a toy dog, a pound of chow for a dog weighing from ten to twenty pounds, and two to four pounds for a dog weighing above fifty pounds.

Speaking of heavier members of the canine set, the largest dog on record tipped the scales at a colossal 295 pounds. And larger unverified claims have been heard.

The largest litter ever born consisted of 23 pups. It was thrown by a foxhound in Pennsylvania in 1944.

The most prolific dog on record, a greyhound in London, sired an amazing 2,414 registered puppies, along with at least 600 other unregistered whelps.

Like baseball fans, dog lovers have been known to argue over obscure items of canine trivia. To clear up a few disputes: the country dog does not live longer than the city dog. The city dog may get less exercise, but as a rule he’s more pampered, and survives on the average three years longer than his country cousin. Of course, these urban figures don’t take into account stray mongrels roaming the streets.

Municipal licensing of dogs, by the way, was instituted in England in 1735 to reduce the number of strays. The first dog licensing in the United States began in New York State in 1894.

To dispel another myth, the mongrel is not generally any smarter than the purebred dog. Individual dogs differ in intellectual capacity and disposition much the same as individual human beings differ: there are smart as well as stupid dogs in both classes. And finally, the dog does not sweat through his tongue, the dog’s most important sweat glands are actually on the soles of his feet!

There are many words and phrases based on the name of man’s best friend. Dog-eared, dogleg, and doggone are among them, but dogma is not.

The expression “raining cats and dogs” has many reputed origins. The most gruesome holds that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, a heavy cloudburst would fill the gutters with a torrent of refuse not unlikely to include a number of dead dogs and cats. A poem by Jonathan Swift describing a city rainstorm ends with the lines:

Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud, Dead cats and Turnep-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.

Our word cynic actually comes from kynos, the Greek word for dog, and owes its use either to a former dog kennel that served as the first school of the Greek Cynics, or from the uncouth, belligerent manners adopted by adherents of that philosophy. The word cynosure, in Greek, literally means “dog’s tail!”

As Robert Benchley wrote, “There is no doubt that every healthy, normal boy . . . should own a dog at some time in his life, preferably between the ages of forty-five and fifty.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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