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— April 17, 2012 —

Where did the first “Pure Breed” of dog come from?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week, I started a discussion about the domestication of the modern dog. Many folks don’t realize that what we know as a dog is actually the product of thousands of years of human influenced selective breeding. Basically, we humans have modified wild canids and created the modern dog. As I mentioned, there is some disagreement as to whether the dog comes from only the wolf, or if the other wild canids (foxes, coyote, etc) played a part in our modern dogs.

What is pretty much known is this, for thousands of years, humans selected dogs as companion and working animals. The dogs that were best suited to a particular task were fed and cared for. As time passed, these dogs became more and more specialized. One of the first “jobs” that domesticated dogs had was that of the hunting dog. In fact, there are portraits of what we now recognize as Ibizan hounds and Pharaoh hounds that have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back over 6,000 years. Imagine, the Pharaoh hounds and Ibizan hounds of today may be direct descendants of a bloodline that dates back to the time of the Pharaohs.

Between the time of the Pharaohs and today, many changes occurred in how humans selected dogs for breeding. During the Medieval period, dogs were further specialized between “types” from hunting to herding to guarding type dogs. Each type of dog was selected for it’s ability to perform a particular task. The one overarching principle was that form always followed function.

The true modern concept of a pure breed of dog dates back to the Victorian era. This is where dog breeding first started to become popular. Many dog owners wanted an exact type of dog. This created a demand for certain breeds. In response, the breeders began to specialize on one type of dog and care was taken to make sure that there was no mixing between the breeds. This idea of the “pure breed” became the normal way of identifying a dog that had this type of pedigree.

This leads us to modern times and the pure breeds we know of today. Many people thing of the German Shepherd dog as a breed that has been around forever, but in fact the GSD breed has only been around for about two hundred years. Even in this relatively short time, the breed has undergone significant changes.

Looking back at old pictures, one can easily see the changes that have occurred in the breed over time. The original German Shepherd dog has a distinctly different look than the show dogs of today. The angle of the shoulders, back and hips have changed quite substantially.

As importantly as the physical appearance of the dog, the temperament of dogs are very related to selective pressure as well. If you think about it, the type of work a dog is intended to do will also dictate certain behavioral characteristics. A herding breed will be more responsive to a handler’s instruction that a sight hound. A guard dog may naturally be slower to make friends than a companion breed and a hunting dog will probably have pretty high endurance and energy level. Some of these behavioral characteristics, while beneficial to the working dog owner, can present challenges to the average dog owner. Herding dogs can nip at children, while guard dog types can become over protective. Often training is necessary to help the owner understand their dog’s instinctive behavior.

Today, there are in a whole new crop of “breeds” that are becoming popular. Golden-doodles and Puggles are all mixes of pre-existing breeds, but in time, these new breeds can be recognized just like any other pure breed.

In the end, are pure breeds better than mixed breed dogs? No one will ever be able to answer that. I have had great dogs that were both pure breed and mixed. When you get right down to it, they all came from the same place.