Dogs are considered human’s best friends. A dog can fill many roles in a person’s life – they are a companion, support system, healer, security, and occasionally partner in crime. They stick with us through our best and worst times. When we need a listening ear to confide in, a dog is always a great option.
They keep secrets very well and never judge. Throughout time, dogs have evolved. Some breeds are created on purpose to fill a particular need for companionship or pest-control while others naturally adapt because of the elements. Below are six dog breeds that have fascinating histories.
Why were pugs bred? Believe it or not, it wasn’t to win the world’s ugliest dog contest. Pugs are one of the oldest breeds on the planet and can be traced back as far as 551 BC. In Ancient China, pugs were beloved and treated like royalty. Emperors bred pugs to keep as their pets and to give as gifts. It was illegal for anyone who wasn’t royal to breed a pug or own one unless it had been a gift from the emperor.
Pugs were so exalted that they often had their palace wings, servants, and bodyguards. Emperor Ling, in power from 168-190 AD, even assigned pugs to the same royal rank as his wives. So next time you see a pug, you might want to consider addressing it as “your majesty.”
Over the years, there has been speculation that Chihuahuas may have originated in China even though they are named after a city in Mexico. Scientists in Sweden decided to compare the DNA of various dog breeds to determine their origins. The study concluded that Chihuahuas are indeed from Mexico.
Along with Peruvian hairless dogs and Arctic sled dogs, Chihuahuas were likely bred by ancient Native American tribes. Chihuahuas are descended from a breed of canine called the Techichi which can be traced back to the Mayans. Explorers brought dogs with them from another area of the world. When those dogs bred with the Techichi, Chihuahuas, as we know them, were born.
Eventually, the Aztecs came into power. Clergy and prominent members of society treated Chihuahuas as sacred. Images of Chihuahuas are carved in Aztec temples, and skeletons of the dog have been found in Aztec burial grounds. Some people believe that lower classes of the Aztec culture may not have held such high regard for Chihuahuas.
One theory suggests that poorer Aztecs may have raised the dogs as a primary source of meat. I wonder if they taste more like beef or chicken.
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If there were a water Olympics for dogs, the Newfoundland breed would be a contender. This giant dog is built for water endurance. Newfoundland fur is thick and extremely water resistant. They have webbed feet and long toes that enable them to peel quickly through water in a motion unique to them.
Their swimming ability and natural strength help Newfoundlands to withstand strong waves, making them ideal for rescuing fishermen who have fallen into the sea. Originally, the breed is from Newfoundland where it developed after its ancestors were brought there from parts of Europe by fishermen. Huskies, great Pyrenees, and boarhounds are all theorized to have helped create the Newfoundland.
4. St. Bernard
You plan an epic vacation to the Swiss Alps, but while you are enjoying a mountain hike, an avalanche cuts you off from the world. With only limited provisions and waning daylight, you need help and fast. Who are you going to call? Ghostbusters? Firefighters? EMTs? Lassie? I’d suggest a search and rescue crew with a St. Bernard. For centuries, these amazing dogs have been saving lives.
Monks running a monastery in the St. Bernard Pass in the Western Alps began using dogs to help rescue snow stranded travelers in the 1600s. These dogs, now known as St. Bernard’s, were descended from mastiffs. They were much smaller than the St. Bernard’s we all know and love and had shorter hair. As the breed adapted, the dogs gradually became larger and grew longer coats.
Over time, the St. Bernard’s intelligence and sense of smell has become evident. The dogs were sent out in groups of two or three, sometimes without a human, to look for lost and injured travels during storms. Once an injured person was located, one dog would stay with them to provide body heat while another dog went in search of help.
Napoleon and his army of a quarter million soldiers used this system to protect them from “white death” while they trekked through the area. Not one man died from weather-related illness or injury. Though the dogs were productive and there are at least 2000 documented cases of them saving lives, all good things must eventually end. Now, helicopters are used in St. Bernard’s Pass rescues rather than dogs.
Feisty, energetic, curious, cocky, alert, and brash are all words that can be used to describe Pomeranians. The little guys usually weight in at under seven pounds, but I’m not sure they are aware of that fact. This might be because the ancestors of the tiny Pomeranian are the Spitz family of dogs from Iceland.
A toy breed now, centuries ago the Pomeranian was a sled dog racing through snow and ice. At some point, someone in Pomerania decided to try their hand at shrinking the dog. Their breeding program was obviously successful, and the breed was named accordingly. Just make sure to keep their tear stains under control.
6. Italian Greyhound
One of the oldest breeds, Italian Greyhounds have existed for 2000 years. Skeletons and other artifacts recovered during archeological digs have linked the dogs to what are now Greece and Turkey. Much of this breed’s journey has been lost to time and lack of record keeping, but by the Middle Ages, the Italian greyhound had become an in-demand pet in Italy, leading to the breed’s name.
Anyone who was anyone had to have a greyhound, and the dogs are featured in many paintings and sculptures from that period. Immortalizing one’s pet through art was apparently on-trend.