You’ve got a pug, your neighbor’s got a rottweiler. They don’t act alike and they certainly don’t look alike. So how are these two members of the same species? Tomorrow night, National Geographic Channel premiers the new miniseries “The Wonder of Dogs,” which explores the origins of dogs, and how they were bred and evolved to become humanity’s closest allies on the frontier, on the farm, in combat and in the home.
Here are five of the most interesting canine breeds, and how they evolved into the breeds that they are today. And to ensure that the cuteness of the dogs in this show doesn’t go overlooked, we’ve included some preview GIFs:
Hundreds of years before they became wiener racers, dachshunds were Europe’s finest badger hunters. Meaning literally “badger-dog” in German, a larger version of today’s domestic dachshund borrowed into tunnels and hunted badgers and other predators that could disrupt human settlements. Their long, skinny bodies and stretchy, yet tough skin were extremely well suited for maneuvering in tight spaces without getting stuck. Some speculate that even their sturdy tails were bred, as they allowed for owners to yank the dog out of holes easier.
For years, poodles have faced scorn for their haughty appearance and maintenance. Of course, what critics don’t understand is that the practical nature of the poodle’s look dates back thousands of years. Originally a hunting dog bred to retrieve water fowl and other game from rivers, the poodle’s unique grooming serves a very practical purpose: the rough mane at front keeps vital organs warm while the poodle swam through water to retrieve downed game. The patterns in the mane can be traced back to ancient Roman coins from 100 BC that depict images of a poodle-like dog with similar shaving pattern. Even the ribbon that many poodle owners place in the dog’s fur has a history, as hunters used the ribbons to tell their poodle apart from others that may be retrieving downed game.
Like the color of its coat suggests, the golden retriever’s evolution represents pure opulence. When he wasn’t representing the citizens of Tweedmouth in the House of Lords, Dudley Marjoribanks loved game hunting. But of course, he had a real problem: his guns were so technologically advanced that when he picked off game at a distance, he often had trouble locating it. So in the late nineteenth century, the Marjoribanks set out to breed a superior hunting dog. He crossbred the rare yellow-haired offspring of dark-haired retrievers with a water-spaniel, and continued breeding and crossing subsequent generations to produce an intelligent dog that could swim and retrieve game hastily. The color was a pleasant side effect, but its important to note that of the countless golden retrievers born since the early twentieth century, all are descendants from the pups bred by Majoribanks.
When your dog protects your livelihood, you probably don’t really care about doggy upkeep and grooming. This is the case with the somewhat rare and shaggy komondor, whose dreadlock-like curls require a deep clean far beyond a regular bath to remove dirt. But however tedious the process may be to modern pet-owners, the komondor’s thick coat is an ingeniously evolved trait. In its original role protecting sheep and livestock in its native Hungary, the komondor’s thick coat easily rendered wolf bites far less damaging, as the wild beasts frequently tangled their jaws in hair. Further, the komondor didn’t typically herd the animals it protected; rather, it ran with the livestock to blend in, surprising predators and giving the komondor an even greater defensive advantage. Owners should remember the dog’s wonderfully useful origins during the hours it takes to properly clean their komondor.
Nowadays, you have to mess up pretty badly to see the tax man in the flesh. But it was not too long ago when the tax man collected government cash in person, visiting homes and businesses on foot and subjecting himself to unhappy citizens and anti-government thieves. Luckily for thousands of future doberman (dog) owners, one of these effective bureaucrats was German tax collector Louis Dobermann. Dobermann (the human) didn’t take kindly to attacks, so he set out to breed a loyal, fierce guard dog. Since then, thousand of Dobermans have served in similar occupations as war dogs and police dogs. The dog below is a doberman mix, as the breed continues to change and evolve.