Why Are There So Many Dog Breeds?

There's recent evidence at a molecular level that reveals how dogs evolved from the gray wolf. The domestication process began about 130,000 years ago and now there are many, many dog breeds on the planet.
Why Are There So Many Dog Breeds?
Francisco María García

Written and verified by the lawyer Francisco María García.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

There are many dog ​​breeds on the planet right now – more than 500 recognized ones. Each one of them is unique in regard to traits such as colors, sizes, behavior, character, shape, etc.

Dogs are the most diverse family of mammals in the world. In many ways, we humans are responsible for their evolution and domestication as we favored some of their specific traits over others.

The dog we have today evolved from wolves. From then on, it became its own species with specific characteristics. Researchers say no two dogs are alike in regard to personality, and there are many details that set them all apart.

When did the many dog breeds begin to emerge?

People who study canine evolution believe the ancestors of modern dogs began to separate from wolves over 30,000 years ago. Thus, the first dog breeds as we know them started to emerge.

The multiple theories state that one explanation for this evolution could be that there was a division between two populations of wolves. Possibly, the packs that remained closer to the humans later turned into the many domesticated dog breeds.

Basically, wolves self-domesticated as they approached humans to eat the remains of their meals. Hunger and need seem to be the most plausible reasons.

We already know the dog and the wolf have several common characteristics. However, at the same time they’re very different. A current adult dog may behave similarly to a wolf, but mainly to a young one. Also, depending on the breed, some dogs may show even more juvenile behavior.

Domestication and expansion of dog breeds

A happy couple and their dog.

Then, in the next evolutionary phase, the domestication of such wolves and their progressive transformation into dogs by following humans took place. With the passage of time, the animals integrated into our ancient ancestors’ way of life. They started sharing and being a part of each other’s daily activities.

In a process of subsequent expansion, these first domesticated dogs then spread throughout the globe and began to appear and populate many parts of it.

How the many breeds arose

As our human ancestors started selecting certain dogs based on specific traits and abilities, breeds began to appear and set themselves apart according to their own distinctive characteristics.

Dog breeders also appeared and they began to exploit and even do business with such specialization. With each change and adaptation, dogs adopted increasingly different appearances and behaviors.

Over time, and due to natural mutations pertaining to climates, and human needs and preferences, the breeds grew more numerous. The diversity of breeds and dog abilities are the foundation of our current classifications. Traits such as hunting, surveillance, loyalty, work capacity, that is.

Differences between the many dog breeds

A Rottweiler standing.

However, if they all evolved from the same animal, then why is there such a difference between the physiognomy of a chihuahua, who only weighs a couple of pounds, and a St Bernard? Well, this could be explained by the changes that took place within their genes.

Let’s keep in mind that the dog is the animal that most varies in weight, size, and behavior. A lot more so than any other mammal. One example are the sleeping patterns that vary from breed to breed.

Even though dogs were domesticated about 14,000 to 17,000 years ago, most current dog breeds are, in fact quite recent, and only developed in recent centuries.

At the time when ancient humans raised dogs, many favored aspects like a strong bark (for greater protection of their property), or a docile temperament (so they would be less likely to bite the hand that fed them). People were already, accidentally, making a selection and messing around with the selection of genes.

The evolution that led to the first dog breed

The Greyhound is one of the first dog breeds on the planet purportedly favored by their specific traits. More specifically the Sloughi, which is also known as Arabian Greyhound, whose temperament is reserved, graceful and noble.

The number of mixed dog breeds has grown throughout history and many even have a name. The Labradoodle, for example, which is a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle. Then there’s the Cockapoo, a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. Finally, there’s the Puggle, a descendant of a Pug and a Beagle.

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