The Evolution of Dogs
According to researchers, dogs descended from ancient gray wolves more than 15,000 years ago. However, more recent data puts canine domestication beginning between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. In fact, the Basenji breed dates back 30,000 years ago to central Africa. The Saluki, believed to have emerged in 329 BC, is considered the world’s oldest dog breed.
Over thousands of years, wolves began curling up to campfires and outside skin tents. The domestication process started with the friendliest—or most opportunistic—wolves seeking out the companionship of people, mainly because scavenging or being tossed scraps was easier than hunting prey. By around 8000 BC, canines were commonly traveling with nomadic tribes.
When Did Dogs Become Part of the Family?
After jumping on board the domestication train, dogs coasted until about the early 1800s. After the Industrial Revolution, British high society members introduced the idea of household pets. Dog ownership was limited to royalty, but finances and dogs evolved together, and the masses could finally experience the delight of a dog in their home.
One Common Ancestor, Hundreds of Dog Breeds
Once dogs became common pets, Europeans turned canine ownership into a competition. They placed great pride on pedigrees and their animals’ appearance, including their household dogs. At this time, a significant divergence turned dogs into the many different breeds we see today. European aristocrats paired dogs who were similar in size, color, or personality to create breeds and then further bred these offspring to increase desired attributes.
Although the separation of breeds began a few centuries ago, no one knows definitively how many dog breeds exist in the world. Multiple groups operating in individual countries control dog breed registration, making uniformity impossible. Breed tallies range from the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) 199 to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale’s (FCI) 390 breeds. When factoring in experimental breeds and those not yet recognized, up to 500 canine breeds may exist worldwide. And, as purebred dogs are bred with a focus on desired traits, the breed list will only grow.
How Did Mutts Turn Into Designer Dogs?
In the past, purebred dogs were highly sought after as a status symbol. However, the United States’ massive pet overpopulation issue made owning purebred dogs less desirable, and people began publicly disapproving of those who bought dogs from breeders. This sentiment led to the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” movement, which encouraged people to find their next canine companion from an animal shelter or rescue rather than a breeder or pet store. Many pet stores no longer sell puppies because of this shift in public opinion.
The dog-owning public’s opinion on pedigree again changed with the introduction of the doodle and other designer breeds. The doodle dog category began when a non-shedding, intelligent dog was needed as a seeing-eye dog. The traditional Labrador could not work with an allergic owner, so Wally Conron of the Royal Guide Dog Association in Australia devised a plan to combine the Lab’s loyalty with the poodle’s smarts and hypoallergenic coat. Thus, the first Labradoodle was born. The mix worked well as a trainable, non-shedding dog, but the dogs did not sell because people were unwilling to pay top dollar for a mixed-breed dog. So, Conron marketed the dogs as a Labradoodle breed rather than a Labrador/poodle mix. Sales skyrocketed, and the doodle craze began. Now, breeders are mixing a wide variety of breeds with poodles, and “designer” breeds command top prices.
Benefits of Owning a Mutt
Although doodles are now the “it” breed of the canine world, good old mutts are still wonderful family dogs. Here are some reasons why a mixed-breed dog is an excellent choice.
- Mutts Generally Have Fewer Health Conditions
Mutts have a remarkable quality known as hybrid vigor, which essentially means the genetic health conditions of the breeds in their lineage are diluted and of less concern than if they were purebred. In a nutshell, mutts are generally healthier and suffer fewer genetic conditions than purebred dogs.
- Mutts are one-of-a-kind
Since mutts are not bred for specific traits and characteristics, they appear in various sizes, colors, and physical features. Puppies from the same litter can look completely different from one another, making each a truly unique pet.
- Mutts are typically easy to train
While some canine breeds are bred specifically for their intelligence, mixed breeds generally are smart and trainable. Often, mutts are pulled from shelters to be trained as therapy or service dogs or to serve on the canine police force in a bomb-sniffing or other capacity. Also, since mutts are a combination of breeds, they are less likely to display the intense character traits seen in purebred dogs. For example, mixed breeds are often not as aloof, stubborn, or independent as chow chows or Akitas, although they may show these traits to a milder extent. In general, mutts have a balanced, even-tempered personality that make them a delight to own.
Although National Mutt Day comes only once a year, we believe we should celebrate these special dogs all year. If you’re curious, you can always purchase a canine DNA test to learn which breeds contributed to your mutt. But, whatever they may be, you will always know that your mutt is truly special.