Origins and evolution of dog breeds

More than sixty million years ago, a small weasel-like mammal, called Miacis he wandered through primeval forests. Miacis it had sharp teeth and a smaller brain, but it was more intelligent than the other primitive carnivores that shared the forest with it. Then Miacis survived and after some 25 million more years of evolution gave rise to a variety of principles Canids, some of which resembled primitive dogs. Fast forward another 35 million years to 10,000 to 12,000 BC, the first dogs as we know them emerged with the domestication of the gray wolf, a Canid which was found distributed in North America, Europe and Asia. It is not known precisely when, where and how dogs were first domesticated by primitive man, but clear evidence of this domestication is a dog that was found buried with a human in Palestine some 12,000 years ago. From tiny Chihuahuas to huge Saint Bernard, there are more than 400 recognized breeds of modern domesticated dogs; however, according to genetics, all dogs evolved from this same species of wild wolf.

As humans migrated across the planet, these domestic wolves traveled with them. As humanity shifted from wandering nomadic tribes to less mobile agricultural and urban societies, these wolves-turned-dogs were in need of specialized roles in support of human development. This led to the first selective breeding efforts through which humans were able to greatly accelerate and drive the canine evolutionary process toward predetermined goals. Fossils dating from about 6,500 years ago indicate the existence of 5 different types of dogs that are still relevant bases for our modern breeds.

  • Mastiff-type dogs have been documented as being used in battle by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. These dogs are the earliest ancestors of many of today’s great working dogs, such as Great Danes, English Bull Mastiffs, and Great Pyrenees.
  • In northern climates, wolf-like or Spitz-like dogs were used to pull sleds and herd reindeer. Over time, these dogs evolved into modern breeds such as Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, and Alaskan Malamutes.
  • Hounds were used by the ancient aristocracy to hunt and run over game. Drawings of dogs have been found on Mesopotamian pottery dating back 8000 years. Modern sight hounds, including Afghans, salukis, and greyhounds, can trace their ancestry dating back thousands of years to these roots.
  • Pointer-type dogs were developed to track and awaken small game and became the basis for many of today’s sporting breeds such as Spaniels, Pointers, Setters, and Retrievers.
  • Sheepdogs have been used to protect herds from predators for thousands of years. These dogs are the ancestors of modern herding breeds such as Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Old English Sheepdogs.

Over time, breeders have created thousands of variations of dogs by selectively mating these basic types and their offspring to accentuate or minimize specific genetic traits. Today, there is even a trend towards creating “designer” dogs by mating two established breeds with disparate characteristics, such as Labradoodles, (Labrador Retrievers & Standard Poodles) or Puggles (miniature pugs and poodles). Unlike previous crossbreeding efforts that attempted to meet specific needs, many of these hybrids have no real functional purpose other than creating new and unique dogs that can be marketed to consumers as companions.

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