A Brief History of Dogs

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1. People and dogs have a familial relationship which covers all types of communities all over the world. The type of dog may vary according to geographic location, and dogs in different communities fulfil needs according to the demands of that group. The symbiotic relationship between dogs and people is based on mutual dependence and companionship.

2. Dogs have featured in historical findings dating back to prehistoric times. Scholars disagree on whether these early species were bred by humans. There is general consensus that the remains of dogs found in burial sites in Henan, at Jiahu, date back to the early Neolithic era. The ancient Egyptians bred Salukis, Ibizan hounds and Pharaoh hounds. These breeds are still in existence. Scientists theorise that dogs and several other mammals descended from an animal labelled Miacis. Recent evidence has shown that dogs are more closely related to wolves than previously thought.

3. Historians believe that dogs started living near human settlements to scavenge. People realised that dogs got rid of unwanted food, and also barked when other animals came near, thereby providing a warning of danger. The next step would have been to breed certain animals according to desirable traits. These traits could vary depending on location and occupation of the people.

4. Dogs, more than other species, show great physical variation from one place to another. They differ greatly in size, shape, facial structure and coats. Their skeletons all have the same number of bones, but the size and shape of the bones vary. Communities who use dogs for hunting select dogs with superior strength and speed. Dogs that have highly developed senses of sight, smell and hearing are useful for tracking prey. Shepherds and cowherds have traditionally used dogs to help them. Accordingly, dogs have been bred for their useful qualities, and the attendant physical traits that developed became characteristic of the breed.

5. Just as the ancient Egyptians bred dogs, there is evidence that the Greeks bred mastiffs as hunting dogs, Romans had pet dogs and dogs used for herding, and the Chinese had special dogs as guards. The Native Americans had their own breeds which interbred with dogs brought by European settlers. In Europe, hunting dogs were being bred in the 15th century. In the 1500s, John Caius compiled a list of 16 English breeds.

As breeding became more selective, the different categories of dogs emerged. Sight hounds have long jaws and necks. Their lean, muscular bodies and their long, powerful legs enable them to run at great speed. Greyhounds fall into this category. Scent hounds do not run as fast, but need strength to run for long distances. They have large noses with deep, open nostrils, long ears and moist, loose lips. Bloodhounds are an example. Working dogs herd cattle and sheep, pull sleds, perform rescue operations and guard people and property. These dogs, such as Huskies, sheep dogs and St. Bernards, have to be big and strong. The sporting breeds include retrievers, pointers and setters, all of which have special uses in hunting. Terriers were specially bred by farmers to weed out vermin and keep away foxes. These dogs are tenacious and do not tire easily.

7. As dog breeding became popular, professional breeders started keeping records of the bloodlines of their dogs. Purebred or pedigree dogs were highly prized. They also started holding dog shows and field trials. The first Kennel Club was started in Britain, on 4th April, 1873, by S.E. Shirley and 12 like-minded men. The aim was to establish rules to govern all dog shows and field trials. The Kennel Club went on to maintain a register of individual dogs with all relevant information, including their pedigrees. The health and welfare of dogs was also a major concern. Kennel clubs now operate in most countries.

8. During World War I, dogs were used to help people who were visually impaired. The Seeing Eye, Incorporated was the first guide dog school. It was started in 1929, in USA. In 1976, the American Humane Association initiated the national hearing dog program, to help those who had hearing impairments. More and more uses have been discovered, with more recent studies showing that trained dogs can help autistic children and those suffering from trauma.

9. The relationship between dogs and humans is evident from the past. The Bible and some versions of the Mahabharat have references to dogs. The legend of Ulysses also describes how his dog was the only one who recognised him after 20 years.

Human beings and dogs are now so closely linked that dogs are a part of our cultural heritage, appearing in stories, songs, theatre and films in all languages and in every part of the world.

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