Why are bulldogs so gosh-darned ugly? And Dobermans so scary? It's not by chance.
(Image credit: Flickr user cayenne2006)Scientists speculate that the first dogs separated themselves from the wolf pack about 100,000 years ago. And until a few hundred years ago, dogs pretty much bred themselves willy-nilly with little record of human intervention. That is, until the dawn of...
THE UNNECESSARY DOG
In postmedieval Europe, lower-class dogs pulled carts and herded livestock (and were completely unappreciated for it). But on royal estates, "unnecessary dogs" -the darlings of kings and countesses- were becoming the objects of previously unheard-of emotional attachments. By the mid-19th century, these pampered pets outnumbered the working dog population. And by the late 19th century, dog lovers who were fiercely loyal to particular breeds started forming private registries and kennel clubs so they could just as fiercely protect those prized bloodlines.
(Image credit: Flickr user Peter Jackson)
MORE THAN ONE SICK PUPPY
So when you hear the phrase "indiscriminate breeding," it doesn't mean despoiling those pure bloodlines with a doggie liaison outside the breed (horrors!), it refers to the breeding of pedigreed dogs who are known to carry traits that are bad for the breed- mostly physical, but behavioral as well.
A lot of breeders are doing what they can to breed out the bad stuff while keeping in the good. But meanwhile, here's the poop on a few distinctive breeds: where they came from and -because of indiscriminate breeding- the reasons why you might end up spending all your time and money taking them to the vet (or the doggie shrink).
BULLDOGS: THE UGLY SWEETIE-PIE
(Image credit: Flickr user Fuzzy Thompson)The dog who looks like Winston Churchill-or is it the other way around? He waddles, he slobbers, and he's the snoring champ of all dogdom.
Origins: Bulldogs were bred to be used in a sport -and we use the term loosely- called "bull baiting," in which it was the bulldog's job to "take down" a bull by jumping up, biting its face, and hanging on until the bull was pinned to the ground. So the bulldog was bred for a strong lower jaw and a less intrusive nose, (so he could breathe while attacking the bull and hang on forever if need be).
After bull baiting was outlawed in the 19th century, the dog evolved into the shorter, squatter version we know today. But because of all that inbreeding, the bulldog's physique is terribly damaged and distorted.
What they're good for: He's not as fierce as he looks. The bulldog is actually one of the more placid and generally happy breeds. A sweet companion.
Problems: Bulldogs have breathing problems in general and small windpipes in particular. Their pups are often delivered by cesarean section because their heads were bred to be so big. They have poor eyesight, are very sensitive to the cold and heat, and don't even get us started on the hip and knee problems. (And probably as a throwback to their bull baiting origins, they have a penchant for attacking moving cars and vacuum cleaners.)
CHIHUAHUA: THE SHORT MAN SYNDROME
(Image credit: Flickr user Lisa Simmons)If it weighs more than six pounds, it isn't a Chihuahua -this according to the American Kennel Club (hey, they've got to have some standards). Named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua, it's the oldest breed on the American continent and the smallest breed in the world.
Origins: The modern-day Chihuahua was bred from the Techichi, a small dog kept by the Toltecs and the Aztecs. Both peoples believed the Techichi safely guided the human soul through the underworld, warding off evil spirits until the recently deceased arrived at the Great Taco Bell in the Sky.
Gossip has it that the Techichi was a "prairie dog," that is, not a dog at all, but a burrowing rodent, which the natives raised for food. Then there's the belief that the little ankle-biter came originally from Asia a very long time ago, when the two continents were still joined by a land bridge.
What they're good for: The perfect apartment dog. And not bad as a watchdog, either. An alarm system that doesn't require any batteries.
Problems: Despite their godly status, Chihuahuas are prone to a lot of human-style diseases, including hemophilia, hypoglycemia, and cleft palates. Also, heart, knee, and trachea problems. And don't laugh if you see one wearing an angora doggie sweater -they hate cold weather.
DOBERMAN PINSCHER: THE BAD GUY'S DOG
(Image credit: Flickr user SenzEnina)A triumph of German engineering, the dobie is named for Louis Dobermann (yes, with two Ns), a German tax collector and dog pound keeper who first bred them at the end of the 19th century.
Orgins: In his work collecting taxes, Herr Dobermann sometimes needed to convince reluctant taxpayers to cough up the dough, and also needed to protect himself from bandits on the road. First he tried using tough-looking humans, but eventually decided to create his own breed of dog.
He took a German shepherd for hardiness and intelligence, crossed it with a German pinscher for quick reaction, added a weimeraner pointer for its hunting abilities and coloring, then he threw in a little Rottweiler, greyhound, and Manchester terrier ...and voila! A dog that inspired fear and trembling in every taxpayer in the land.
What they're good for: To inspire fear and trembling in everyone who isn't his master. But seriously, folks, the dobie, though a ferociously loyal watchdog, turns out to be very social. He loves being with other people and other dogs (though he can be "aggressive" with the latter).
Problems: This love of being with others means that he demands almost constant companionship and social interaction. Not a dog you can toss into the backyard to take care of himself. Despite his healthy mixed heritage, those bad breeders have managed to inject him with a few nasty diseases; the most lethal of which is cardiomyopathy, a degenerative heart condition.
POODLES: MORE THAN A FASHION ACCESSORY
(Image credit: Flickr user The Pack)A lot of people think of poodles as pampered pets with silly hairdos. Well, yes, but...
Origins: The breed probably originated in Germany, where it was called a pudel, and was brought across the border during one of France and Germany's innumerable skirmishes. They're the national dog of France, but they don't call them poodles there- they call them caniche, from chien canard, or "duck dog," because they were originally used as duck-hunting retrievers. (It's true.)
The poodle was the most popular dog in the U.S. from 1960 to 1983, and they're still in the top ten. They come in three sizes: standard, miniature, and toy. The three sizes are considered as one breed and are judged by the same standard.
What they're good for: Today the poodle is primarily a companion and show dog, though if you want to teach a poodle anything -well, anything lower than high math, he can probably learn it. He's that smart.
Problems: Hip dysplasia, eye problems, bloat, epilepsy, thyroid problems, and Addison's disease (a disorder of the adrenal glands) haunt the standard poodle. Toys and miniatures are subject to eye, ear, skin, and joint problems.
COCKER SPANIEL: THE PUPPY ON THE GREETING CARD
(Image credit: Flickr user Adilson Borszcz)The Shirley Temple of breeds. Though still popular, the cocker has been replaced by the ubiquitous yellow Lab in homes and on greeting cards.
Origins: First the name: "cocker" from its ability as a "cock-flusher," which has nothing to do with toilets or bathrooms or dirty stuff at all. That's "cocks" as in "woodcocks," a kind of bird they used to hunt. "Spaniel" is either from Spain (Espana) or from the French verb espanir, which means "to crouch or to flatten" and which neatly describes the spaniel's hunting posture. Which you don't see a lot of anymore.
What they're good for: Cuteness. The American cocker spaniel is a perennial all-star and has been the MPD (most popular dog) in the United States 25 times during the 20th century. By 1936 it was the AKC's most-registered breed, and it held that ranking for 17 consecutive years. As usual, popularity breeds excess. The cocker suffered for its stardom. He's possibly the best example of a dog bred for looks, which did not exactly put him on his best behavior.
Problems: A lot of unsuspecting buyers ended up with mean little cockers. They became infamous for behavioral disorders, particularly for passive-aggressive behaviors like crouching, urinating wherever and whenever, biting, and even screaming in temper tantrums. The term "cocker spaniel rage" was coined to describe this charming behavior. Physically, the problem list is long and includes eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma, as well as hip dysplasia, allergies, seborrhea, liver disease, cardiomyopathy, and occasional gastric torsion and elbow dysplasia.
SO WHAT ABOUT MUTTS?
(Image credit: Flickr user Wolves68450)If you insist on having a pedigreed dog, the most important thing you can do is check out the breeder first. The really good breeders do everything they can to make sure their puppies are mentally and physically sound.
Mutts, on the other hand, tend to be healthy because of hybrid vigor, that greater mixture of healthy genes. And they also tend to be good dogs. They are, in fact, the embodiment of the "real dog," the fellas that evolved along with us human beings- without our interference.
___________________The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into the Universe.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.
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