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Bo's Place

Living With Animals

wolf silhouette


Canis familiaris, the dog, is a direct descendent of Canis lupus, the gray wolf. The dogs we know and love, therefore, are domesticated wolves, believed by some to have first been domesticated some 130,000 years ago, although there appears no absolute consensus of opinion regarding exactly when the relationship between humans and wolves changed from one of fear to one of trust and companionship.

wolf in snow

Many thousands of years of human intervention and selective breeding have resulted in the artificial evolution of dogs into the astonishing variety of dog types in existence today. Over the last 150 years, dog breeding has intensified in what is often called the ‘Victorian Explosion’, which is largely responsible for the emergence of over 400 distinct dog breeds.

While dogs were once bred for given purposes, such as hunting or herding, today public demand encourages breeders to breed for looks; shorter legs, little or no fur, shorter snouts, etc., or dogs that don’t need much exercise (because they can’t manage it, breeds like bulldogs). While appearing to have little in common, the poodle, Shih Tzu, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Chihuahua, Rottweiler, shar-pei, pug, etc. etc., all share a common ancestor – the gray wolf – in what evolutionary anthropologist, Brian Hare, describes as ‘one of the most extraordinary events in human history’.

The creation of individual traits via selective interbreeding has serious downsides, such as loss of genetic diversity and critical medical conditions caused by genetic abnormalities, as disease-causing genes have become concentrated in certain breeds.

For example:

Shih Tzuretinal dysplasia
Siberian Huskyautoimmune disorders
Bulldogsrespiratory problems
Shar-peiskin problems, eye problems, ear infections
Dachshundintervertebral disc disease, hip dysplasia
German Shepherdhip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia
Staff. Bull Terrierhip dysplasia, allergies, skin conditions, certain cancers

On a personal note, I love all dogs. But I particularly love to see happy, healthy dogs in loving homes. We’ve come to accept the health problems of specific breeds and breeders continue to breed them – because we ask them to!

A sick dog isn’t a happy dog, even if we think it looks cute or joke about its snoring (laboured breathing?). Many breeds have become so popular that they are mass produced in puppy farms or by thoughtless, even ‘reputable’ breeders and end up in shelters instead of the loving homes they deserve. Poor breeding practices using closed gene pools have profoundly detrimental effects, not only on dogs destined to endure a lifetime of discomfort, but on the emotional and financial wellbeing of their owners, often resulting in the abandonment or relinquishment of dogs.

The health of our dogs is more important, surely, than random standards of appearance.

What will it take for us to acknowledge just what we’ve done?

grey wolf tiny dog on human hand

© 2021 Eileen Shaw




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