Progress: Evolution or Excess?


The enormous plasticity of the canine genome has, with man’s assistance, turned the original, fairly basic canine into a marvelous assortment of creatures that is now probably a more varied species than any other.

The dog entered man’s life some 10,000 years ago, probably resembling a wolf or coyote more than anything else. Over time, as the dog became an aide to man in various tasks, certain general types evolved that better fitted the dog for certain purposes. Some became tall and lean and leggy, as with those that required speed for pursuit. Some became heavier and more muscular to work as guardians or in combat. Some became small and quick for hunting other small creatures. Temperament too changed, with a loss of the acute wariness of a wild animal and an acceptance of man’s society.

By medieval times there were dogs suited for hunting feathered game, called setters, “spaynels” and water dogs; hounds for following and holding game at bay, from rabbits to deer and elk; flock guardians, shepherds’ dogs and drovers’ dogs for working with livestock; draft dogs for hauling sleds and carts; “terrars” for the dispatching of vermin and following prey into the underground; and even turnspit dogs to trudge endlessly in a wheel in kitchens.

Then in the 19th century the idea of competition evolved. Sportsmen gathered to parade their dogs before men chosen as experts, in order to decide which dogs might be most physically suited for the work they were intended to do, and also which were most handsome. “Sporting dogs” were the ones originally seen at these competitions, which included not only setters and Pointers but also hounds and terriers, all used in various aspects of hunting. Hunting had evolved from a strictly practical activity into one pursued for enjoyment and utility. Pride in one’s dogs, combined with what seems to be an innate desire for competition — well, that was all that was needed to spur the development of a formal means for this competition.

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