Put Your Paws Up for National Dog Day!
August 26th is National Dog Day! Dogs are everywhere; in fact they’re the most common carnivorous animal on the planet. More than 70 million households in the United States alone own at least one dog. Are you one of them? It’s no secret why so many people love dogs: they make for great companions and family pets. But did you ever wonder where dogs came from? Let’s find out.
|Gray Wolf (Wildlife Wonders Figure)||Dogs from the Dogs TOOB|
Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated and tamed, and evidence of the domestic dog dates back almost 15,000 years! All dogs are derived from wolves, although the ancestors of dogs were not quite the same as the wolves of today, but rather a separate population that is now extinct. Wolves and dogs are members of the same species (Canis lupus), but dogs comprise a separate subspecies (Canis lupus familiaris).
|Howling Gray Wolf||White Wolf|
Dogs and wolves are canids, meaning they are members of the family Canidae, a group of carnivorous mammals that also includes animals like the red fox, the Arctic fox, the fennec fox, the coyote, the African wild dog, and the dingo. The dingo is a curious case, as the origins of this Australian canid are quite mysterious. It’s believed that Asian travelers brought the dingo to Australia as a breed of domesticated dog over 4,000 years ago. However, over time the dingo population has reverted to its wild roots. Some scientists believe it is distinct enough to be a unique species (Canis dingo), while others maintain that it is should still be classified as a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus dingo). Further complicating matters is the fact that dingoes sometimes breed with modern domestic dogs, creating hybrid animals.
|Dingo||Fennec Fox||Red Fox|
|Arctic Fox (Wildlife Wonders Figure)||African Wild Dog||Coyote (Wildlife Wonders Figure)|
Domesticated dogs have been specially bred over thousands of years to amplify specific desired traits, leading to over 300 recognized breeds, coming in all shapes and sizes. Some, like Siberian Huskies, look similar to their wolf ancestors. Others, like the Dachshund and Yorkshire Terrier, look quite different. Dogs are bred for many different tasks and purposes, including companionship, hunting, security, herding, therapy, assisting the blind, and even bomb sniffing!
|Dachshund||Siberian Husky||Yorkshire Terrier|
Dogs can help aid law enforcement and other safety-focused agencies. For example, German Shepherds are often used in military and police work, due to their intelligence and discipline. In the days of horse-drawn carriages, the spotted Dalmatian was the breed of choice for fire departments, as it works well with horses and could help clear paths and direct the larger animals to fires quickly. While Dalmatians are no longer necessary, since the automobile has succeeded the horse as the preferred method of transportation, the breed still serves as a symbol and unofficial “mascot” of many fire departments.
Many breeds that are now mostly used as companion dogs were originally bred for much more specialized purposes. Golden Retrievers and Black Labrador Retrievers, for example, were bred to assist hunters in retrieving animals like ducks or geese. They are still used for this practice today, but are also commonly seen as family pets. Collies and Border Collies were originally bred for herding sheep, and while they are also still used as herding dogs, they make popular house pets as well. Other breeds, like the Jack Russell Terrier, were originally bred to hunt foxes and rodents, though today they are rarely used for this purpose. You’re much more likely to find them curled up at someone’s feet or chasing a ball in the backyard these days!
|Black Labrador Retriever||
|Border Collie||Jack Russell Terrier||Collie|
Whether they’re performing a helpful task or just being a furry friend, dogs and humans have a closely intertwined history that has lasted for countless generations. So next time you see a dog, think about how long it’s taken to get to where it is today. You can find our figures of the breeds mentioned here, as well as many other dog figures, in our Best in Show collection.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: The smallest canid species is the fennec fox, a large-eared fox from northern Africa. This fox weights about three and a half pounds and stands 8 inches tall. On the domestic side, as of this writing the current record holder for smallest living dog is a chihuahua named Milly, who stands just 3.8 inches tall.