History of Dogs

Dogs are descended from Miacis, a small carnivorous mammal that lived in North America over 60,000,000 years ago. Miacis was a civet-like mammal that had a long body and tail, short legs, and large teeth for tearing and chewing meat. It had two descendants, Daphaenus, the ancestor of bears, and Hesperocyon, the ancestor of Tomarctus, the first doglike mammal. Tomarctus lived in North America about 15,000,000 years ago. From Tomarctus evolved Canis, the genus of wolves and dogs. Canis first appeared about 6,000,000 years ago. In time, some of these animals traveled from North America to Asia across a prehistoric land bridge.

Archeological findings from the Middle East indicate that dogs were domesticated there about 12,000 years ago. Most biologists believe that dogs were bred from wolves. Dogs were valued for their hunting abilities and as sentinels. Later, when other animals had been domesticated, dogs were used to guard and herd flocks.

By 3000 B.C. there were several breeds of dogs in Asia, Italy, and the British Isles. Among them were mastiff-type dogs, large powerful dogs that hunted by scent. They were originally bred in ancient Egypt and China. In ancient Rome, mastiff-type dogs were used in arenas, such as the Circus Maximus, to fight gladiators, bears, bulls, lions and tigers, and other dogs. In Asia during this same period there were greyhound-type dogs, such as the Afghan hound and the saluki, that hunted by sight. Several greyhound-type breeds were brought to Ireland and Scotland, where they were later used to develop such breeds as the Irish wolfhound and the Scottish deerhound. By 2000 B.C. toy dogs had been popularized as lap dogs by the aristocracy in the Far East.

By 1000 B.C. several breeds of dogs, such as the Cardigan Welsh corgi, were in existence in central Europe and the British Isles. They served primarily as family dogs and as guardians. With the invention and spread of firearms in the 15th and 16th centuries, various breeds of hunting dogs were developed to locate game, flush it from cover, and retrieve it.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, breeds such as the boxer and mastiff were developed for the sports of bullbaiting and bearbaiting. When these sports were made illegal in the 1800's, dogfighting became popular. Several breeds, such as the bull terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier, were developed for this sport. (These breeds are sometimes called pit bulls, referring to their bulldog ancestry and to the pits in which fighting took place.)

By the mid-1800's, dogs had become popular as pets, and dog shows were organized. Dog clubs were then established for particular breeds and each club set its own standards.