They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family–except, of course for the family dog. Selecting the right dog has been perfected to a science over thousands of years, starting with when we began grouping dogs by characteristics and traits humans wanted to replicate. In the process of breeding for selective traits, dogs gradually evolved from their wolf ancestors to the most diverse species in the world: Canis familiaris, otherwise known as the domestic dog.
Before you go about deciding which dog breed you want, it’s important you understand the history behind the domestication of dogs, breed groups, and what each group means.
Evolution of Canine Domestication
The exact details of the initial domestication have been lost to time, however it’s widely known that specific traits were selected which would allow the lives of dogs and humans to be intertwined. Early on, breeders sought out traits like lack of fear, low reactivity, and dependence in cultivating the species.
Around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, humans made the discovery that when they bred their best hunting dogs with their best guard dogs, the result was the first canine specialists. The diversity in breeds existed even in prehistoric times, beginning with the ancient Egyptians who were the first to establish distinct types or “families” of dog breeds. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus was the first to note the Egyptians were the first to keep their animals in their houses with them. They cultivated two main types, the Greyhound and Mastiff, each for specific functions.
If you fast forward in time to the Roman Empire most of the modern breed groups were in existence, each with specific functions ranging from guarding, sheep/herding, hunting, all the way to lap dogs and companionship. It was during the Middle Ages that the variety of dog breeds expanded greatly, with many bred as specialized hunters or poachers for the aristocracy or poachers. Dog breeds have evolved alongside humans, always happily doing our bidding. That said, there are many breeds which have been been lost to history, either because their function was no longer needed or because another breed came along that could do it better.
It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the European upper class found a new hobby: the exhibition of dogs. Prior to then, contests were arranged between dogs based on coursing, fighting, or hauling ability but competing based on a dogs appearance was a new concept. As the prevalence of dog exhibitions grew, so too did the search for “new and exotic” breeds from around the world.
It didn’t take long for dog shows to spread to America where the American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded on September 17th, 1884, when according to their website:
“a group of twelve dedicated sportsmen, responding to a “meeting call” from Messrs. J. M. Taylor and Elliot Smith, met in the rooms of the Philadelphia Kennel Club in that city. Each member of the group was a representative or “delegate” from a dog club that had, in the recent past, held a benched dog show or had run field trials. This new “Club of Clubs” was, in fact, The American Kennel Club.”
The AKC was formed to register and promote pure-bred dogs which adhered to the requirements and standards they set forth, which have remained relatively consistent through the years. When a new dog breed is backed by a national club, its admitted to the Miscellaneous Class where its status is considered pending, and only after sustained interest in the breed is established it is admitted into one of the AKC’s seven working groups.
Are they good with children?
If you have or are planning to have a family, it’s important to select a dog breed which is patient and affectionate with an even temperament. It’s not a decision that should be taken lightly. At the same time, the opportunity for children to grow up with a dog is beautiful. It teaches them to love animals, empowers in them a sense of responsibility, and provide a family member that everyone can rally behind.
One factor which is arguably just as important as the dogs breed is which breeder it came from. The experience of the breeder and the level of inbreeding must be considered. The extent of inbreeding was first revealed in a study in 2008 by the UK Kennel Club which found that it was especially prevalent among pedigree breeds like Boxers and Rough Collie’s. It leads to an increase in the chances of birth defects and genetically inherited health problems. Inbreeding isn’t just a threat to the health of the dog, it also can lead to unpredictable and aggressive behavior, even in breeds which normally don’t exhibit these traits. That stands in contrast to mixed breed dogs which have less of a tendency to have the wrong behavioral traits amplified over generations.
Matching breeds with living conditions
The conditions you’ll be raising your dog like whether you’re in an apartment or a house with a yard and urban versus suburban living are also important factors. It’s not fair to put a high energy dog breed in a small city apartment. Additionally, if you don’t have the time or can’t afford the accommodations of a dog walker which average between $15 – $30 for a 30 minute walk. That’s $300 per month on the low end and $600 per month on the high end which adds up quickly and is an often overlooked expense of owning a dog.