Chihuahuas to Great Danes: The Development of Dog Breeds


If you watched any of this year’s Westminster Dog Show, you probably couldn’t help but notice the incredible variety of dogs as represented by all of the different breeds. While scientists are still decoding the evolution of the dog, through both canine genome mapping and archaeological evidence, it’s clear that dogs have changed a lot over the years due to human intervention.


Here’s a quick look at how some modern dog breeds were created by humans who looked to dogs for both companionship and to perform a variety of functions.


Herding dogs: Herding dogs use their natural hunting instincts to maintain control of flocks of livestock animals. With human intervention, their natural inclinations to stalk (as with Border Collies) or nip at a prey animal’s heels (like Corgis) have been controlled so that they herd animals in their charge without actually attacking them.


Terriers: Terriers are famously bold and aggressive, and typically small in size with short legs. This is because terriers were bred to hunt down burrowing animals or small animals considered to be pests or vermin, like rats. Terrier breeds include the Russell, Bull, and Airedale terriers.


Gun dogs: Gun dogs are hunting dogs that will accompany their “pack” of human hunters on hunting expeditions but tend to leave the actual bringing down of prey to us humans. But they do perform such key functions as identifying prey (Pointer breeds) and bringing back dead prey to the pack (Retrievers).


Sighthounds: Sighthounds are a type of hunting dog that actually do bring down prey. They use their keen sense of sight and great speed to spot and bring down prey like rabbits. Examples of sighthounds include slim, tall breeds like the Borzoi and Greyhound.


Scenthounds: Scenthounds track prey through their impressive sense of smell, but will generally leave the kill to us humans. They tend to let us know that they found the prey through a distinctive type of bark called baying. Beagles and Fox Hounds are examples of scenthounds.


Working dogs: Dogs that perform functions for humans that don’t involve herding or hunting are grouped into the “working” category. These dogs perform tasks like guarding property, pulling carts or sleds, and even rescuing people. Working dogs tend to be large, strong, and muscular like the Akita, Bernese Mountain Dog, Alaskan Malamute, and Bull Mastiff.


Toy dogs: Last but not least are the cute and popular toy breeds, beloved companions of people for centuries. Toy breeds may be small, but many of them have feisty personalities and are a lot more than decorative lap dogs. Many regular breeds come in “toy” versions. Examples of toy dogs include the Chihuahua, Maltese, and Pomeranian.



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