For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals
This is the continuation of a series I am doing on the history of human tamed animals, using a book I read recently, Domesticated by Richard C. Francis. All the source material is from that book, so if you haven’t already; go check the first blog post, House Foxes, to learn more about the book.
Dogs are quite the strange animals; they are truly like no other species, despite the fact that they are literally the creation of two species mixing together; there is no denying how special dogs are. Francis explains that dogs are in no way an original creation, entirely made from the interactions of early humans and wolves. That being said, they are possibly the only animals on this earth that will willingly spend their lives under human rule and actively work to please a human, whether the dog is that of the herding group, the toy group, the working group, or one of the other seven main dog groups. I mean, I would count house cats too, but I want this to be as accurate as possible.
When compared, dogs can be remotely different in terms of size, shape, color and personality, yet the many different breeds are part of the same species. Go even farther out, and you’ll find that dogs are part of the Canidae family, which also includes, but is not limited to, foxes, wolves, coyotes and raccoons (all of which are very connected with human history). Many dog owners and (wait for it… dog eaters) find it very convenient and enjoyable that there are so many different dog breeds to use for different roles. However, maintaining the massive amount of diverse dog breeds does come with harsh downsides for the dogs.
According to Francis, to make the sheer population of dogs we have today, there was a lot of interbreeding. This happened because, in the later stages of dog domestication (I’ll get to that later), a popular sport, especially in European countries, was dog racing and fighting, (I do not condone either, as they both seem very childish, petty and mean). Whichever dog won the most competitions (or rounds, per se) got to mate with the female dogs because the runner ups and wannabes wanted a bit of the blood line that would theoretically make their dog a better racer/fighter. This lead to people breeding the champion dogs with their own offspring and kin, under the (most likely) false pretense that it would give their dog an extra boost in the sport. This caused physical deformities in the modern day, such as extra toes on dog’s feet (the medical term is polydactyl, if anyone was wondering), and even being born with skulls too small for their own brains (ouch).
As Francis states, the only reason dogs were tamed was to be eaten. Originally, dogs were like the equivalent of pigs, and in some places, they still are. Ironically, the Chinese were the first to initiate the dog domestication process, yet China is one of the 11 places on Earth where humans still eat dogs. Early humans only chose dogs that were big enough to hold some meat on them, like the early equivalents of Great Danes, Huskies, and Labs (gross, I own a lab mutt). Thus, the dogs that didn’t have very much meat on them were more likely to be spared. These tiny dogs were allowed to just roam the villages as pests looking for scraps, with about as much tolerance for the other as cockroaches today ( I think that, maybe in a couple hundred years, cockroaches will be the new dogs). Humans didn’t like dogs; dogs didn’t like humans, they just left each other be for the most part (good thing too, or dogs would’ve gone instinct, just like about every other creature on Earth, stupid humans).
This began to change over the next couple years. To distinguish big dogs humans could eat, and small dogs they couldn’t, people started naming the inedible little dogs (I’d like to think the first little dog’s name was “Unsavory Nibbles” or, “Unpalatable Patch”). The relationships between dogs and humans only began to set into motion when people noticed that dogs could be good for hunting, ranching, and other work, and thus started to keep them in their homes for activities. At this point, there still wasn’t really a connection between dogs and humans; they were like two roommates that lived together but didn’t actually talk to each other, and slowly both groups started to think, “This could work.”
Humans and their canine acquaintances really started to bond together when people started using dogs in dog shows/races/fights to make money. As aforementioned, the dogs that were the best at these activities were bred, so more dogs were born with the traits of the few dogs that had the traits that humans wanted. From there, humans took over, collectively widening the gap between each breed over hundreds of years. All across the world, dogs were used to help humans in different ways, which contributed greatly to forming the seven main dog groups today.
Francis claims that it really depended on where a dog was born and what traits or structure it had. We see this process of selection even today. For instance, this can be seen in the police force; you are more likely to see a Bloodhound with an exceptionally strong nose or a loyal, combat trained German Shepard than a Chihuahua, although many small dogs are underestimated in their sense of smell. Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason, humans and dogs have been intertwined for most of the human’s existence, causing a divide between the breeds of dogs used for different things.
Whether you’re more of a dog person or a cat person, you cannot deny the laborious amount of work every breed of dog does for humans and will continue to do. While many humans would like to distance themselves from other species, by pretending like humans aren’t animals somehow, dogs and humans are becoming more and more alike all the time. Dogs and humans are the same in the way dogs have so many different shapes, colors, and personalities, but all dogs are the same species, just like humans. There is certainly a lesson to be learned from and trust of the dog-human bond that helped propel humans further into self-realization of nature and animal sentience.
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