General History Of The Dog

There is no incongruity in the idea that in the very earliest period

of man's habitation of this world he made a friend and companion of

some sort of aboriginal representative of our modern dog, and that

in return for its aid in protecting him from wilder animals, and in

guarding his sheep and goats, he gave it a share of his food, a corner

in his dwelling, and grew to trust it and care for it. Probably the

animal was originally little else than an unusually gentle jackal,

or an ailing wolf driven by its companions from the wild marauding

pack to seek shelter in alien surroundings. One can well conceive

the possibility of the partnership beginning in the circumstance of

some helpless whelps being brought home by the early hunters to be

tended and reared by the women and children. The present-day savage

of New Guinea and mid-Africa does not, as a rule, take the trouble

to tame and train an adult wild animal for his own purposes, and

primitive man was surely equally indifferent to the questionable

advantage of harbouring a dangerous guest. But a litter of woolly

whelps introduced into the home as playthings for the children would

grow to regard themselves, and be regarded, as members of the family,

and it would soon be found that the hunting instincts of the maturing

animal were of value to his captors. The savage master, treading the

primeval forests in search of food, would not fail to recognise the

helpfulness of a keener nose and sharper eyes even than his own

unsullied senses, while the dog in his turn would find a better

shelter in association with man than if he were hunting on his own

account. Thus mutual benefit would result in some kind of tacit

agreement of partnership, and through the generations the wild wolf

or jackal would gradually become gentler, more docile, and tractable,

and the dreaded enemy of the flock develop into the trusted guardian

of the fold.

In nearly all parts of the world traces of an indigenous dog family

are found, the only exceptions being the West Indian Islands,

Madagascar, the eastern islands of the Malayan Archipelago, New

Zealand, and the Polynesian Islands, where there is no sign that any

dog, wolf, or fox has existed as a true aboriginal animal. In the

ancient Oriental lands, and generally among the early Mongolians,

the dog remained savage and neglected for centuries, prowling in

packs, gaunt and wolf-like, as it prowls to-day through the streets

and under the walls of every Eastern city. No attempt was made to

allure it into human companionship or to improve it into docility.

It is not until we come to examine the records of the higher

civilisations of Assyria and Egypt that we discover any distinct

varieties of canine form.

Assyrian sculptures depict two such, a Greyhound and a Mastiff, the

latter described in the tablets as the chained-up, mouth-opening

dog; that is to say, it was used as a watch-dog; and several

varieties are referred to in the cuneiform inscriptions preserved

in the British Museum. The Egyptian monuments of about 3000 B.C.

present many forms of the domestic dog, and there can be no doubt

that among the ancient Egyptians it was as completely a companion

of man, as much a favourite in the house, and a help in the chase,

as it is among ourselves at present. In the city of Cynopolis it was

reverenced next to the sacred jackal, and on the death of a dog the

members of the household to which he had belonged carefully shaved

their whole bodies, and religiously abstained from using the food,

of whatever kind, which happened to be in the house at the time.

Among the distinct breeds kept in Egypt there was a massive wolf-dog,

a large, heavily-built hound with drooping ears and a pointed head,

at least two varieties of Greyhound used for hunting the gazelle,

and a small breed of terrier or Turnspit, with short, crooked legs.

This last appears to have been regarded as an especial household pet,

for it was admitted into the living rooms and taken as a companion

for walks out of doors. It was furnished with a collar of leaves,

or of leather, or precious metal wrought into the form of leaves,

and when it died it was embalmed. Every town throughout Egypt had

its place of interment for canine mummies.

The dog was not greatly appreciated in Palestine, and in both the

Old and New Testaments it is commonly spoken of with scorn and

contempt as an unclean beast. Even the familiar reference to the

Sheepdog in the Book of Job--But now they that are younger than

I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to set

with the dogs of my flock--is not without a suggestion of contempt,

and it is significant that the only biblical allusion to the dog as

a recognised companion of man occurs in the apocryphal Book of Tobit

(v. 16), So they went forth both, and the young man's dog with


The pagan Greeks and Romans had a kindlier feeling for dumb animals

than had the Jews. Their hounds, like their horses, were selected

with discrimination, bred with care, and held in high esteem,

receiving pet names; and the literatures of Greece and Rome contain

many tributes to the courage, obedience, sagacity, and affectionate

fidelity of the dog. The Phoenicians, too, were unquestionably lovers

of the dog, quick to recognise the points of special breeds. In their

colony in Carthage, during the reign of Sardanapalus, they had already

possessed themselves of the Assyrian Mastiff, which they probably

exported to far-off Britain, as they are said to have exported the

Water Spaniel to Ireland and to Spain.

It is a significant circumstance when we come to consider the probable

origin of the dog, that there are indications of his domestication

at such early periods by so many peoples in different parts of the

world. As we have seen, dogs were more or less subjugated and tamed

by primitive man, by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks,

and Romans, as also by the ancient barbaric tribes of the western

hemisphere. The important question now arises: Had all these dogs

a common origin in a definite parent stock, or did they spring from

separate and unrelated parents?

Half a century ago it was believed that all the evidence which could

be brought to bear upon the problem pointed to an independent origin

of the dog. Youatt, writing in 1845, argued that this power of

tracing back the dog to the very earliest periods of history, and

the fact that he then seemed to be as sagacious, as faithful, and

as valuable as at the present day, strongly favours the opinion that

he was descended from no inferior and comparatively worthless animal;

and that he was not the progeny of the wolf, the jackal, or the fox,

but was originally created, somewhat as we now find him, the associate

and friend of man.

When Youatt wrote, most people believed that the world was only six

thousand years old, and that species were originally created and

absolutely unchangeable. Lyell's discoveries in geology, however,

overthrew the argument of the earth's chronology and of the antiquity

of man, and Darwin's theory of evolution entirely transformed the

accepted beliefs concerning the origin of species and the supposed

invariability of animal types.

The general superficial resemblance between the fox and many of our

dogs, might well excuse the belief in a relationship. Gamekeepers

are often very positive that a cross can be obtained between a dog

fox and a terrier bitch; but cases in which this connection is alleged

must be accepted with extreme caution. The late Mr. A. D. Bartlett,

who was for years the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens in

London, studied this question with minute care, and as a result of

experiments and observations he positively affirmed that he had never

met with one well-authenticated instance of a hybrid dog and fox.

Mr. Bartlett's conclusions are incontestable. However much in

appearance the supposed dog-fox may resemble the fox, there are

certain opposing characteristics and structural differences which

entirely dismiss the theory of relationship.

One thing is certain, that foxes do not breed in confinement, except

in very rare instances. The silver fox of North America is the only

species recorded to have bred in the Zoological Gardens of London;

the European fox has never been known to breed in captivity. Then,

again, the fox is not a sociable animal. We never hear of foxes

uniting in a pack, as do the wolves, the jackals, and the wild dogs.

Apart from other considerations, a fox may be distinguished from a

dog, without being seen or touched, by its smell. No one can produce

a dog that has half the odour of Reynard, and this odour the dog-fox

would doubtless possess were its sire a fox-dog or its dam a vixen.

Whatever may be said concerning the difference existing between dogs

and foxes will not hold good in reference to dogs, wolves, and

jackals. The wolf and the jackal are so much alike that the only

appreciable distinction is that of size, and so closely do they

resemble many dogs in general appearance, structure, habits,

instincts, and mental endowments that no difficulty presents itself

in regarding them as being of one stock. Wolves and jackals can be,

and have repeatedly been, tamed. Domestic dogs can become, and again

and again do become, wild, even consorting with wolves, interbreeding

with them, assuming their gregarious habits, and changing the

characteristic bark into a dismal wolf-like howl. The wolf and the

jackal when tamed answer to their master's call, wag their tails,

lick his hands, crouch, jump round him to be caressed, and throw

themselves on their backs in submission. When in high spirits they

run round in circles or in a figure of eight, with their tails between

their legs. Their howl becomes a business-like bark. They smell at

the tails of other dogs and void their urine sideways, and lastly,

like our domestic favourites, however refined and gentlemanly in other

respects, they cannot be broken of the habit of rolling on carrion

or on animals they have killed.

This last habit of the domestic dog is one of the surviving traits

of his wild ancestry, which, like his habits of burying bones or

superfluous food, and of turning round and round on a carpet as if

to make a nest for himself before lying down, go far towards

connecting him in direct relationship with the wolf and the jackal.

The great multitude of different breeds of the dog and the vast

differences in their size, points, and general appearance are facts

which make it difficult to believe that they could have had a common

ancestry. One thinks of the difference between the Mastiff and the

Japanese Spaniel, the Deerhound and the fashionable Pomeranian, the

St. Bernard and the Miniature Black and Tan Terrier, and is perplexed

in contemplating the possibility of their having descended from a

common progenitor. Yet the disparity is no greater than that between

the Shire horse and the Shetland pony, the Shorthorn and the Kerry

cattle, or the Patagonian and the Pygmy; and all dog breeders know

how easy it is to produce a variety in type and size by studied


In order properly to understand this question it is necessary first

to consider the identity of structure in the wolf and the dog. This

identity of structure may best be studied in a comparison of the

osseous system, or skeletons, of the two animals, which so closely

resemble each other that their transposition would not easily be


The spine of the dog consists of seven vertebrae in the neck, thirteen

in the back, seven in the loins, three sacral vertebrae, and twenty

to twenty-two in the tail. In both the dog and the wolf there are

thirteen pairs of ribs, nine true and four false. Each has forty-two

teeth. They both have five front and four hind toes, while outwardly

the common wolf has so much the appearance of a large, bare-boned

dog, that a popular description of the one would serve for the other.

Nor are their habits different. The wolf's natural voice is a loud

howl, but when confined with dogs he will learn to bark. Although

he is carnivorous, he will also eat vegetables, and when sickly he

will nibble grass. In the chase, a pack of wolves will divide into

parties, one following the trail of the quarry, the other endeavouring

to intercept its retreat, exercising a considerable amount of

strategy, a trait which is exhibited by many of our sporting dogs

and terriers when hunting in teams.

A further important point of resemblance between the Canis lupus

and the Canis familiaris lies in the fact that the period of

gestation in both species is sixty-three days. There are from three

to nine cubs in a wolf's litter, and these are blind for twenty-one

days. They are suckled for two months, but at the end of that time

they are able to eat half-digested flesh disgorged for them by their

dam--or even their sire.

We have seen that there is no authenticated instance of a hybrid

between the dog and the fox. This is not the case with the dog and

the wolf, or the dog and the jackal, all of which can interbreed.

Moreover, their offspring are fertile. Pliny is the authority for

the statement that the Gauls tied their female dogs in the wood that

they might cross with wolves. The Eskimo dogs are not infrequently

crossed with the grey Arctic wolf, which they so much resemble, and

the Indians of America were accustomed to cross their half-wild dogs

with the coyote to impart greater boldness to the breed. Tame dogs

living in countries inhabited by the jackal often betray the jackal

strain in their litters, and there are instances of men dwelling in

lonely outposts of civilisation being molested by wolves or jackals

following upon the trail of a bitch in season.

These facts lead one to refer to the familiar circumstance that the

native dogs of all regions approximate closely in size, coloration,

form, and habit to the native wolf of those regions. Of this most

important circumstance there are far too many instances to allow of

its being looked upon as a mere coincidence. Sir John Richardson,

writing in 1829, observed that the resemblance between the North

American wolves and the domestic dog of the Indians is so great that

the size and strength of the wolf seems to be the only difference.

I have more than once mistaken a band of wolves for the dogs of a

party of Indians; and the howl of the animals of both species is

prolonged so exactly in the same key that even the practised ear of

the Indian fails at times to discriminate between them.

As the Eskimo and Indian dogs resemble the North American wolf, so

the dog of the Hare Indians, a very different breed, resembles the

prairie wolf. Except in the matter of barking, there is no difference

whatever between the black wolf-dog of the Indians of Florida and

the wolves of the same country. The same phenomenon is seen in many

kinds of European dogs. The Shepherd Dog of the plains of Hungary

is white or reddish-brown, has a sharp nose, short erect ears, shaggy

coat, and bushy tail, and so much resembles a wolf that Mr. Paget,

who gives the description, says he has known a Hungarian mistake a

wolf for one of his own dogs. Many of the dogs of Russia, Lapland,

and Finland are comparable with the wolves of those countries. Some

of the domestic dogs of Egypt, both at the present day and in the

condition of mummies, are wolf-like in type, and the dogs of Nubia

have the closest relation to a wild species of the same region, which

is only a form of the common jackal. Dogs, it may again be noted,

cross with the jackal as well as with wolves, and this is frequently

the case in Africa, as, for example, in Bosjesmans, where the dogs

have a marked resemblance to the black-backed jackal, which is a South

African variety.

It has been suggested that the one incontrovertible argument against

the lupine relationship of the dog is the fact that all domestic dogs

bark, while all wild Canidae express their feelings only by howls.

But the difficulty here is not so great as it seems, since we know

that jackals, wild dogs, and wolf pups reared by bitches readily

acquire the habit. On the other hand, domestic dogs allowed to run

wild forget how to bark, while there are some which have not yet

learned so to express themselves.

The presence or absence of the habit of barking cannot, then, be

regarded as an argument in deciding the question concerning the origin

of the dog. This stumbling block consequently disappears, leaving

us in the position of agreeing with Darwin, whose final hypothesis

was that it is highly probable that the domestic dogs of the world

have descended from two good species of wolf (C. lupus and

C. latrans), and from two or three other doubtful species of

wolves--namely, the European, Indian, and North African forms; from

at least one or two South American canine species; from several races

or species of jackal; and perhaps from one or more extinct species;

and that the blood of these, in some cases mingled together, flows

in the veins of our domestic breeds.

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