Since prehistoric times, humans have had dogs by their side. Evidence suggests that 14,000 years ago our furry companions were buried alongside us. But at what point did we begin to shape dogs through breeding? There is a rich dog breeding history into how our best friends began to be altered through generations by us.
At what point in the history of dog breeding did dogs progress from friends and hunters to the various roles we employ them in today? Dogs are specialized for herding and guarding, search and rescue, working with children, and a variety of other roles all due to their physical and behavioral traits. Let us look into how this came to be.
History of Dog Breeding
Through each time period, we have changed tactics and management methods over dog breeding. Here is the progression of the history of dog breeding.
Pre-Historic Dog Breeding
It may be surprising but we started our history of dog breeding in prehistoric times. The influence over aesthetics and proportions may have not been cared about, but dogs were still bred for a purpose and human benefit. In this time our purpose was survival. We needed protection and awareness from predators and aid with foraging and hunting. This is where dogs came in!
Although we were high-class predators, we were still at risk of being hunted by those much bigger than us in prehistoric times. We decided to breed two types of protection dogs. Those large enough and strong enough to defend us physically and sight-hounds to warn us. The largest and most defined in muscle individuals were bred with one another to produce the strongest offspring. These were quickly bonded with and trained to be the first kind of guard dog.
On the other end of the spectrum. Dogs with quick reactions and narrow frames good for running were bred to be sight-hounds, the alarm dog of the prehistoric era. These dogs would be able to alert an individual or group when a predator was spotted. This gave humans a chance to run or grab weapons.
Dogs that were light on their feet, agile, and had strong jaws and claws were ideal hunting dogs. Humans needed aid in the chase of their prey and the take-down. Having a dog that is quiet and fast can be the perfect predator, as they will not be detected by the prey they are stalking. Furthermore, they can quickly attack prey without causing them to run off.
This is where their claws and teeth came in. The dog will have had to pull the prey down and kill it both effectively and quickly to avoid it attacking back or escaping. Large teeth can clamp around the animal’s throat and claws can attack their legs to quickly bring them down. Small prey can be pinned down with claws and teeth, which can quickly kill the animal.
Breeding Active Dogs
Previously, the understanding of dog breeding was orientated around physical traits more so. As time progressed, hunting became easier with tools and predators decreased in size. We did not need the same types of dogs. We began to breed dogs to be more docile and to have as companions, lap or work dogs. The original strength and aggression they possessed were not usually needed. Although, all dogs did change in appearance and generally became smaller and less muscular. Some were still secretly bred for aggression and strength for blood sports.
Humans had now developed industries and careers such as farming and policing. These held possible roles for dogs to become beneficial. All of these roles required control, hence why breeding for more docile individuals was generally the norm. A key role for dogs was herding in farms. This required a controlled and calm individual so they did not harm the livestock. Physically, they would need to be agile and active so they can run around the animals to herd them and have the stamina to do this, as often as is required in a day.
Another job role is gathering fish after fishing or birds after hunting. The original purpose of Labradors was originally gathering fish. Hence why they had webbed toes, more waterproof coats, and strong legs for swimming. Having a dog to gather and bring back the prizes of a hunt made gathering easier, as less noise was being caused, so less prey was startled. Furthermore, it saved time and energy for hunters, would make hunting easier, and usually increase the amount of meat brought back.
Finally, many dogs were bred for companionship. We as humans have adored dogs for thousands of years and very quickly bred individuals appropriate for our homes, lifestyles, and families. These individuals had to be calm around children, playful, gentle, and enjoy the attention. Hence why docile individuals were targeted as years progressed.
Establishing Kennel Clubs
In the mid 19th century, Kennel Clubs were established to identify breed types, monitor bloodlines, and create organized management over legitimate dog breeding. Breeding became popular in this time period and careers were created purely around breeding and dog selling. Breed standards were created along with registries and registering rules. This meant that dogs were held to a higher standard than ever before. This is because only individuals who had proof of pure bloodlines and met breed standards were registered. This would have influenced selling prices, advertising, and reputation, something which can make or break a breeder.
Kennel clubs were initially created for specific areas, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the [British] Kennel Club (KC). These held up the standard for each breed such as the Labrador. An example of their body standard includes: ‘the Labrador should be short-coupled, with good spring of ribs tapering to a moderately wide chest’. A set of breed standards exists concerning the breed’s general appearance, head, body, fore-quarters, coat, and hind-quarters. Although a breed will have a general standard, as time went on specific standards were created to dictate the ideal specimen for each breed type.
Kennel Clubs soon branched out to have breed-specific clubs. These can go further into depth about specific breed requirements under the guidance of the AKC (if the clubs are based in America). These clubs combine breeders and those interested in buying and caring for the breed into one area. Many smaller clubs were established across a large period of time as each breed must be agreed upon by the main representative club, in our case, the AKC. Breed characteristics must be established and agreed upon before smaller clubs can represent this as a true breed.
Show Dog Breeding
Once Kennel Clubs became established, dog shows soon followed. These are competitions which idealize certain exaggerated features or the ‘ideal’ dog of that breed that match the desired criteria most closely. Other types of shows crown those for exceeding in physical agility challenges or training challenges. These all relate back to the history of dog breeding. Some more so than others, but nature definitely has some involvement alongside nurture.
Breed Standards & Confirmation
In dog shows, the individual whose characteristics fit their breeds’ ideal measurements and look are those that win. Each breed has different requirements specific to them. The more ideal a dog’s characteristics are to their breed standard, the higher they are rated. This score is lowered by faults. Breeders will combine their best pairing, as decided by comparing them to the breed standard. This should produce a litter that has higher standard puppies compared to the AKC criteria. The higher the standard of the puppy, the higher the price they can be sold for and the higher the breeder will be rated.
Physical and behavioral traits are also bred for by breeders to create ideal show dog puppies. Those with more energy, speed, and general agility will be bred for the agility shows. Whilst those with strong human bonds, control, and easily trainable temperaments are great for training and trick shows.
Example Breed Standards
For example, here are some of the breed standards for Shih Tzu’s according to the AKC:
- Head – Round, broad, wide between eyes, its size in balance with the overall size of dog being neither too large nor too small
- Trimming – Feet, the bottom of coat, and anus may be done for neatness and to facilitate movement
- Legs – Well-boned, muscular, and straight when viewed from rear with well-bent stifles, not close set but in line with forequarters
Some Shih Tzu faults include:
- Narrow head, close-set eyes
- Excessive trimming
Basal Dog Breeds
The sixteen basal dog breeds are the breeds that have given the most genetic influence to modern-day breeds. Modern-day breeds were thoroughly recognized in the 19th century whereas basal dog breeds span back much earlier. This does not mean they are the oldest breeds, although some overlap, there are in fact only fourteen ancient dog breeds. As the Eurasier and American Eskimo breed are only basal dog breeds and not ancient. Ancient dog breeds give at least some genetic influence to most modern-day breeds, as opposed to basal dog breeds who give some genetic influence to all of the modern-day dog breeds.
We will be outlining the most genetically influential basal dog breeds in this section as these have helped to create the majority of our modern breeds today!
Two scientific studies paved the way for knowledge on basal dog breeds, ancient dog breeds, and genetic breed influence. These studies are Larson et al. (2012) who studied ‘Rethinking Dog Domestication by Integrating Genetics, Archeology, and Biogeography‘ and Parker et al. (2017) who conducted ‘Genomic Analyses Reveal the Influence of Geographic Origin, Migration, and Hybridization on Modern Dog Breed Development’. These are the studies we will be referencing and using as genetic comparisons in our next section.
The Basenji is one of the oldest breed types, actually discovered in the 18 hundreds and is most recognized for being the original hunting dog. They are well-known for not possessing a bark which makes them ideal for stealth when hunting. This short coat breed comes in four different colors and is strong and agile.
The Basenji shares genetics links with the Azawakh and the Rat Terrier specifically, but holds a genetic basis with all breed types apart from mastiff-like dogs. The exception breeds spread from Bulldogs to Dobermans. The Basenji is both a basal dog breed and an ancient dog breed, and due to its huge genetic influence across the majority of modern-day breeds today in dog breeding history, it is no wonder they are on our top eight of influential basal dog breed list.
Bred in the 18 hundreds in Egypt to be an agile sight-hound, the Saluki is known for its narrow frame and long ears. Specifically, the breed would pick up the corpses of hunted birds and bring them back to their owners. This minimized the gathering time and made hunting easier by alerting less future prey.
Their coat is generally short, disregarding their well known furry ears. Which made living in the hot temperatures of Egypt much easier, especially considering the energy they used running to gather up prey. Saluki represents a clade of dog breeds known as the Mediterranean type from Parker’s study and has given genetic influence to at least all twelve individuals under this umbrella name.
The Afghan hound is one of the taller basal dog breeds, it has a long coat and its breed standards state it should have pure blackface. They originated from Egypt and Afghanistan, hence their name, and unsurprisingly their coat thickness and length are less than ideal.
But due to their frame, they are light on their feet and have quick movements, their coat does not weigh them down too much. They are in the same genetic clade as Salukis, the Mediterranean clade, and therefore will have a genetic influence over the same group of individuals. Both the Saluki and Afghan Hound have similar physical builds and helped contribute to breeds alike.
The Samoyed was brought across to the USA in the 19th Century, they are a small breed with a snow-white coat. These individuals are highly intelligent and adored for their expression as they look like they are smiling. Their coat is thick and high-maintenance is required for its upkeep.
The breed also requires regular stimulation as they can become frustrated quite easily without exercise and enrichment. Disregarding two groups of dog breeds, the Basenji and many ancient dog breeds, the Samoyed help with genetic influence over the majority of other modern dog breeds. However, the Samoyed is very closely related to Pomeranians both genetically and in appearance.
This lovable breed is well known for its fluffy coat and its black tongue, one of the only breeds to have one! They have a chestnut or black coat and a curled tail which many will buy the breed for. Chinese in origin, this breed has been used as a companion and guard dog in China since 150 BC.
Chow Chows can be brilliant family dogs due to their loyalty, however, this can backfire in their aggression to strangers and sometimes other dogs. This quality is what gives them the potential to be brilliant guard dogs though. Chow Chows are an origin breed in the Asian Spitz category. They are an origin breed for many but are closely related to the Chinese Shar-Pei and helped create the Akita and Shiba Inu.
As previously mentioned, the most closely related breed to the Chinese Shar-Pei is the Chow Chow. Shar-Peis are quite an expensive breed and they are loved for their many wrinkles on their face and body. They were founded in the early 1900s in China.
This breed has a particularly large head and a large set of jaws, this was a deliberate bred in trait so they would be good as a guard dog. The large jaws of this breed combined with their strong muscular frames and trait of loyalty are the perfect guard dog when trained well. Similar to Chow Chows, the Chinese Shar-Pei aided in the creation of the Akita and Shiba Inu. Although, as they are in the Asian Spitz breed category, this breed contributes genetically to many modern-day breeds.
The Siberian Husky is one of the most popular breeds today with their beautiful aesthetics and loyal personality. They only became popular in the western culture in the 20th century and originally were bred by the Chukchi tribe to be a sled dog. This is why they have such a thick coat, more of a water-proof fur, strong legs, and high stamina. Husky’s tails are always bushy and well insulated, sometimes they curl or sometimes the are rested at the hind-quarters of the dog.
Siberian Huskies are the third dog on our list in the Asian Spitz category. Closely related to the Greenland Sledge Dog and Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky has had a similar genetic influence as the Chow Chow and Chinese Shar-Pei.
American Eskimo Dog
Another small breed. These little playful pups were originally bred to be sled dogs and were much larger and stronger. They have since become smaller in size and are now just white in color, as opposed to when they were sled dogs and were a variety of coat colors. This is a confident and friendly breed that requires a lot of stimulation and enrichment due to their high intelligence.
Without this, they can easily become frustrated and begin to display negative behavior. The American Eskimo Dog is the only individual on our list who is in the Schnauzer clade. This breed helped to create both the miniature and the regular schnauzer and they are most closely related to the Volpino and Pomeranian.
History of Dog Breeding – FAQs
Finally, let’s answer some of the most commonly asked dog breeding history questions.
How did Dog Breeding Start?
Selective dog breeding began alongside domestication and companionship. As dogs began to roam alongside us, we built bonds together and a partnership. With this, humans began to see that certain puppies from a litter were stronger or smarter. These would be bred with an equally as talented individual to produce a stronger litter.
This took place over generations and humans began to assign roles to the dogs most suited. This meant those with higher aggression, more strength, and sharper teeth were hunting dogs, and those with webbed feet and high stamina were good for swimming and catching fish and so on. The ideal parents were continuously bred until individual breeds began to separate and have their own pros and cons.
Which Dog Breed was the First One on Earth?
The first-ever recorded dog breed was, in fact, the Chow Chow. Drawings and paintings of the breed were recorded on pottery dating back to 206 BC. Currently, the oldest dog fossils dating back millions of years have a very similar structure to the Chow Chow. However, this breed was formally recognized by the AKC in 1903 and since then has been held to a breed standard and shown in dog shows.
Is Dog Breeding Cruel?
Like anything, if you have poor motives, low ethics or a small amount of knowledge, it can be. But is all dog breeding cruel? Absolutely not. The breeding industry is filled with people who adore dogs and breed them for the experience and to give families their new best friend. They will have contracts, high morals, and worry about each individual in and leaving their care.
Every breeder is different, as every owner, and if someone isn’t doing all the research and putting in all the care each dog deserves, then they are not a breeder worth acknowledging unless it is to report them. However, they often cannot be criminalized.
Are Wolves the Ancestors of Dogs?
All dogs share the common ancestor of Gray wolves, as wolves slowly evolved and became dogs who were then domesticated, this began the natural progression to dog breeding. Initially, wolves were predators who hunted us or our prey, depriving us of food. Over time, domestication took place and dogs began to scavenge off of our sites. Slowly, a bond was formed between humans and dogs, then co-habituation. Both humans and dogs were eating and surviving better working alongside each other, so we evolved to have a partnership.
The history of dog breeding is important to know if you are in the industry. It provides us with the knowledge of how our profession came to be and is something we should be proud of. Furthermore, understanding our past allows us to better control our future.