When characteristics became breeds

February 02, 2020 3 min read

Where do dog breeds come from? Old dog breeds such as the wolf hound

It's long been established that how dogs evolved from wolves. Let's delve further into the history and answer the another question: where on did all the dog breeds come from?

Dog breeds in Victorian Britain

In terms of time scales, do breeds began in our recent past. The domestic dog dates from thousands of years ago but the breeds we know today originated in Victorian Britain. That’s barely 150 years ago.

Before that, people kept different types of dog, but they we really quite similar and the different types were generally defined by function.

When did people start to associate with dog breeds?

At the end of the 19th century, the word ‘breed’ had crept into the language. Dogs were being described not according to function, but according to their form, what they looked like and their different visible characteristics. With greater differentiation between breeds, more of them came into being. 

Take a terrier. In the 1840s there were only two types of terrier. By the end of the century, there were ten. Today, we recognise 27.

Dog competitions bred the concept of breed

The concept of breeds was accelerated by the invention of dog shows. Groups of people who ran them were called the ‘dog fancy’ and the people themselves, ‘doggy people’. Breed standards were made into competitions, with prizes for the best dogs in each class.

For the first time, there was prestige to be gained and, most importantly, money to be made from dog breeding. Suddenly, buyers were looking for very specific, standardised forms, with certain parts of the body having a desirable characteristic. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as dogs became commodities, with intelligence and character being less important than the way they looked.

To conform to accepted standards for various breeds, breeders had to look to art, history, natural history, physiology and aesthetics. Disputes between earned and inherited worth abounded. This meant the difference between best-in-breed winners and pedigree dogs with a proven bloodline.

Dog breeds became associated with socio-economic status

This abrasive atmosphere reflected the social divisions of the UK at the time. There were two types of ‘doggy people’: gentlemen amateurs and trader professionals. The amateurs were usually upper-class men who believed they were genuine dog lovers. They identified with well-bred dogs because they themselves had good breeding.

These well-to-do breeders looked down their noses at the entrepreneurs, calling them dog dealers and believing their only interest was in making a quick buck and jumping up the social ladder.

Certain breeds had association with class, an idea that persists today. The upper classes loved sporting dogs, while the middle classes looked for fashionable breeds that suggested status. Ladies enjoyed toy breeds, while the working classes opted for bulldogs, terriers and whippets.

Today, breeding remains controversial for some. Certain ‘purebred’ reproduction can cause life-threatening defects such as hip dysplasia or breathing problems, while the animal shelters are full of friendly dogs of all shapes and sizes just desperate for their foreverhomes.

Different fur, different needs

Whatever dog you've got, they might need an extra layer when the weather is particularly cold and wet. Whilst tall and might, Great Danes have short hair which makes them vulnerable to the elements. People comment they struggle to find a dog coat to fit their larger dog breed. Fortunately, there's a range of waterproof and warm dog coats made for larger dogs.

Large dog coats for Great Danes and larger dog breeds by Ginger Ted