Last week's column talked about the best of the best, the winning dogs from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. All breeds and varieties were represented at this show of shows. Much can be learned about the specific characteristics of the various breeds by watching and listening.
It is a great place to begin if you are thinking about getting a dog. The commentary during the show stresses the suitability and unsuitability of specific breeds for certain living situations. We as humans are a little slow in learning these lessons. We tend to choose dogs on how they look rather than by what they were bred to do.
It is almost impossible to believe that all of these dogs evolved from one species -- the wolf. In a recent article in the Arizona Republic, AP writer Paul Recer says, "From Yorkshire terriers the size of a teacup to Irish wolfhounds nearly the size of a small pony, all dogs originated from a single species, probably an East Asian wolf seeking the warmth of the human hearth and a meal." This domestication occurred a lot longer ago than was originally thought, at least 100,000 years ago. According to Deborah Lynch of the Canine Studies Institute, "They (dogs) literally walked out of the caves with us." They followed where humans went, migrating to the Americas.
For a long time, these wolves maintained their wildness, but welcomed the socialization and comfort of the family unit. As they became more domesticated, they were living more and more as part of the family unit and protecting that family.
"Somewhere along the way, humans learned they could breed these dog/wolves for particular jobs," says Recer. It was discovered that by breeding two fast dogs, you end up with a litter of fast dogs. The same for dogs that could dig, herd animals, hunt or attack humans. Pairing two with exceptional speed, these dogs probably had longer legs and sleeker bodies and thus the wolf look was disappearing and evolving into a dog looking more like our greyhound or Afghan. These fast dogs were great hunters. Then the best of the hunters were bred to perfect that skill.
Eventually, according to Recer, the dog became the most variable animal on Earth in terms of shape, size and color. There are now more than 300 recognized species. According to Lynch, the various breeds look the way they do because sometime in the distant past, humans wanted a dog for specific service to people.
Seeing this wide variety among dogs in the way they look and the way they act, it is interesting that through these many thousands of years, humans still look pretty much the same.
A recent special on public television titled "Dogs, Dogs, Dogs" discussed the evolution from the wolf. Throughout history, the wolves that were the gentlest and most friendly, and carried other desirable traits were bred to produce litters carrying these sought after traits.
Dogs were a great help with hunting. And then as people settled and had herds of sheep, they needed dogs to guard the flocks. Others had tendencies to dig for small animals or great strength that could be harnessed for work. These specially suited dogs were bred together for generations and the wolf look began to disappear and these various dogs would begin to take on very distinguishable and unique traits.
Remember that we used the most gentle of the wolves to train for these various jobs we had for them. The other more wild of the wolves remained wild and remained wolves. The crisis of today is that we perfected these various traits, made these breeds of dogs very specialized, and then we took all their jobs away from them because we did not need their help any more. We allowed them to continue breeding and reproducing offspring which carried their same genes for specific work, but the job was gone.
Many of these former jobs are now events and games that we play with our dogs. We do agility and have tracking and hunting trials. These dogs are the fortunate ones. Most dogs today are not given the opportunity to do any of the jobs for which they have been bred. We pen them in a yard and go off and leave them for the day and often forget about them at night after our long day at work. We might give them a walk but then, we might not. They are alone. These dogs who are pack animals as were their ancestors, are alone, lonely and bored. When we are with them, they are so happy to have human contact that they jump and bark, so we get away from them and complain that they are out of control. They are taken to the humane society. Some time later, the family will decide they want a dog again and the cycle begins anew.
Studying the breed of the dog and knowing what it was bred to do is all important when choosing a dog. Even a mixed breed at the humane society shelter has very specific traits bred into him. It is only fair that we take the time to match a dog's breeding to our lifestyle. This careful selection, accompanied by training, goes a long way to ensure a long, happy relationship.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.