By Samantha Sabah via Tech Science Times
Dogs are often called man’s best friend, and there’s a good reason why. Dogs and humans share a long history together, especially since dogs are one of the first animals humans have ever domesticated (Fogle, 1995). Dogs have adapted to their “new” companionship with humans, for better or worse.
Thousands of years ago, dogs didn’t exist; the most similar animal to a dog back then was the wolf, which is now the dog’s closest relative (1995). The similarities between dogs and wolves are evident, noted in their abilities to form relationships, natural instincts to form a social hierarchy, and similar anatomical structures (1995). These features give us a hint as to why the wolves came to be domesticated by humans. Wolves hunt when they need to, but at their core, they are scavengers, and were tempted by the scraps found at prehistoric human campsites (1995). These campsites lured them to areas with less competition, fewer predators, and a more stable supply of food (1995). As wolves were increasingly drawn into the human sphere, those that were smaller and more sociable thrived, and overtime only these wolves lived around people, with each generation after them shrinking in size and being naturally friendlier (1995). These changes are considered part of natural selection, since we did not directly manipulate the genetics of these now domesticated “dogs”; they naturally evolved into the best traits based on their new environment (1995). However, after this, we took advantage of this natural process and started to selectively breed these dogs, who, over time, became more diverse from wolves and even others of their kind (1995).
The most significant differences between modern day dogs and wolves may not be apparent. Most of the time, people obtained the traits they wanted by breeding dogs who displayed them. Some traits were emphasized, phased out, or kept based on the roles people wanted their canine companions to perform. For example, the act of barking isn’t usually seen in grown wolves. This trait was extended into adulthood for dogs to warn their humans of possible dangers. Their “pack mentality,” enhanced senses, and ability to hunt in a team made them great guards and hunting companions for us. This development has occurred around the world, even in isolated areas like the Americas (1995). It can be said that dogs were seen as companions during more ancient and less modern times as well; throughout the centuries these loyal animals have provided us comfort, especially since they themselves seem to enjoy spending time with us. However, this particular behavioral trait wasn’t as important to people as it is now.
Back then, dogs weren’t typically bred for looks. They were designed for efficiency and health to get the most work out of them. It wasn’t until the 1800s with the
introduction of dog shows did people start to care about what breed of dog they acquired and what they should look like. According to The Encyclopedia of Dogs, the Kennel Club that was created in England in 1873 (1995) started to regulate the types of dogs allowed in these highly popular dog shows. This started a new precedent by specifically identifying canines by breed. After the club set up guidelines for how certain traits should look on certain dogs in order to win contests, the most severe of modern genetic defects in dogs began to take form. As a result, inbreeding for these traits then weakened breeds as a whole. If humans didn’t continue to interfere with nature, these traits would have been phased out, unable to compete with healthier specimens. Now, there is a number of dog breeds that suffer from a lack of genetic variety in more beneficial traits. The best example for this phenomenon is seen with the English bulldog (see figure 2). Bulldogs were traditionally bred to attack bulls, but the “breed-club standards emphasized the size of the head.”(1995). This led to problems during birth because their heads were unable to fit through their mother’s birth canal. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only possible problem. Its elongated palate, or roof of the mouth, causes breathing and heart problems; its crowded teeth can lead to oral diseases, and the excessive skin folds are vulnerable to infections (1995). That isn’t to say we should just let the bulldog, or any other breed, die because of possible ailments, just that breeders have to be careful while breeding since it could lead to huge health problems in the offspring. Another possible solution might include crossing these dogs with different breeds who don’t share similar diseases, thus reducing the chance of a detrimental gene getting passed on.
Looking around at all the dogs that have filled a niche in our society, every single one of them has had their lives shaped by humans. Dogs rely on us, and we love them, but is breeding them for “special” features that ultimately can make them very sick properly conveying our love? Does breeding have to contain the risk of genetic defects? Humans have been breeding healthy canines for millennia, and our growing understanding of DNA can only aide what we know is beneficial. We can help our furry brethren long into the future.
- Andrews, B. J. (n.d). [digital image]. How dogs changed human evolution. Evolution of Meat Eaters. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from http://www.thedogplace.org/Genetics/Dogs-Changed Evolution_Andrews-08.asp
- Wysong, M. & Wysong, E. (n.d). [digital image]. Why the overdone, heavy wrinkled bulldog is killing the breed. BruiserBullDogs.com. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from http://bruiserbulldogs.com/why-the-overdone-heavy-wrinkled-bulldog-is-killing-the-breed/
- Fogle, B. (1995). The encyclopedia of the dog. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.