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Geography of Dogs

The Geographic Development of Three Breeds


Newfoundland Dog

A Newfoundland dog sits on a road by a farm in Iceland.

Arctic-Images/Getty Images
According to most experts, all modern dog breeds are posited to have originated from Southeast Asia. There, thousands of years ago, humans interacted with local grey wolf populations and eventually domesticated them. Humans used artificial selection, or selective breeding for certain traits, to mold dog species for different utilities. Centuries of artificial selection have given us modern dog breeds and continue to create new dog breeds today.

The Newfoundland: Newfoundland, Canada

Promoted as one of the best places in the world to view glaciers, Newfoundland is characterized by cold polar tundra and taiga forest ecosystems. For centuries the most important economic activity of this Canadian province was cod fishing, as a plethora of rich coastal waters surround Newfoundland.

The Newfoundland dog was breed by local fishermen as a working dog. These animals have a rich history of working on ships; they were responsible for a variety of tasks including bringing ropes ashore, retrieving fishing gear, or even acting as a lifeguard by rescuing sailors washed overboard.

Affectionately known by owners as the Newfy, this dog is equipped with several adaptations that allow it to survive in Newfoundland's harsh climate and excel as a working dog on fishing boats. The Newfoundland is an immense dog with a thick, oily, and double-layered coat to help it to stay warm even when working in icy cold seawater. In addition, Newfoundland dogs' famous and often heroic water retrieving capabilities are made possible due to the Newfoundland's large webbed feet, strong muscular build, a rudder-like tail, and supreme swimming ability.

The Afghan Hound: Afghanistan

The range of the Afghan hound is varied, including both breathtaking mountain ranges and valleys to desert regions in both the Middle East and Western Asia. The Afghan hound is one of the oldest species of dogs whose ancient ancestors originated in Afghanistan.

As a sight hound, the Afghan hound was bred for speed to take down gazelles, wild hares, jackals, marmots, deer, and even snow leopards. Afghan hounds have a long and narrow skull, seen in most sight hounds, to enable a wider field of vision.

To survive the harsh summers and bitterly cold winters of Afghanistan, the Afghan hound is equipped with a long silky coat perfect for all seasons. This dog also has unusually high and wide hips, perfect for quickly changing directions and for traveling over rocky mountain terrain in an efficient, timely manner. When traveling at top speed, these dogs unfurl their ring-curled tail for greater balance.

Known as the "King of Dogs," Afghan hounds have a very elegant stature. In the early 20th century, the Afghan hound was exported to the United Kingdom. Today, the Afghan has spread considerably throughout the Western world where they are kept as pets rather than hunting companions. As a very photogenic dog, Afghan hounds are often depicted in film, photography, and other works of art.

The Beagle: Europe

Like many dog breeds, the Beagle's absolute origins are unsure, although the earliest records found pinpoint the breed being used for hunting in the Greek Empire in 1300 BCE. From Greece, the Beagle spread to Rome, where they were used for their excellent hunting capability. The Romans, through their global empire, spread the beagle breed to England where it found a niche in the British aristocracy as special hunting dogs used in packs.

The topography of pre-industrial English countryside was largely deciduous old growth forest. The beagle's small and sturdy frame made it perfect for the endurance of smelling out, trailing, and hunting down small animals found in the English countryside, for example rabbits and wild hares.

After centuries of artificial selection, the Beagle has become the ideal hunting companion. Beagles are scent hounds. To assist with detecting trace scents while hunting, Beagles have large noses with deep open nostrils. Their loose moist lips and large drooping ears help direct scent molecules into their nose.

The Beagle was bred for short legs with the dual purpose of keeping their noses efficiently close to the ground so that they do not have to pause to sniff the ground while following the scent trail, and so that handlers traveling on foot would be able to keep up with their dogs. After centuries of artificial selection, the beagle has become the master of scent detection and endurance, making it the ideal hunting companion.

The utility of dogs by humans is truly astounding. These three dogs are only a few examples of the many jobs that dogs are trained and selectively bred to perform. Dogs in cold climates, like the Newfoundland, are still used for a multitude of purposes, for example rescuing humans and pulling sleds.

Many sight hounds are used for racing, while scent hounds can be trained to sniff out illegally transported fruit, cadavers, missing persons, bombs, drugs, bed bugs, and even cancer. Still other dogs are used to lead the blind, detect the symptoms of an oncoming seizure, herd sheep, fight criminals, or in rehabilitation therapy. The possibilities seem innumerable for man's best friend.

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