If you go to the dog park you will likely see dog breeds of all shapes and sizes. A 130-pound St. Bernard could be playing with a 13-pound mini schnauzer! If the number of dog breeds you see today is impressive, imagine how many more there are when we consider those that have become extinct. For thousands of years, dogs have been man’s best friend, but what breeds were running about way back then? This article will explore the history of dogs, why some have gone extinct, and best of all, 5 interesting extinct dog breeds!
What are Dogs?
Dogs are four-legged mammals with fur covering most of their body and tail. This fur comes in a variety of lengths, colors, and textures depending on the breed of dog. Height, weight, and many other characteristics- for example, floppy ears, a short snout, or a certain shape head- are also variable across breeds. Some traits not regarding appearance can also be associated with a particular breed, like being especially fast, tolerant of cold weather, or having a strong sense of smell.
Modern domestic dogs are descendants of wolves. This may be hard to believe if you look at a chihuahua and a wolf today. Nevertheless, they share a common ancestor 20,000 years ago! Some of the first dog breeds, and therefore the closest descendants from wolves, are the dingo, Basenji, Tibetan Mastiff, and indigenous Chinese breeds.
Major factors in the evolution of dogs include different selective pressures by humans. Human domestication of dogs began 15,000 years ago. Ever since, dogs have performed a number of tasks and have been bred to be better at these tasks. Dogs are used for hunting, protection, herding, entertainment in the forms of racing and dog shows, assisting the police and military, and assisting people with disabilities. Selective breeding leads to certain breeds being uniquely suited for these tasks.
For example, German shepherds are commonly used by the police and military to detect drugs, explosives, or other illicit items. Amongst all dog breeds, German shepherds have some of the best noses. Similarly, the English greyhound was originally bred to be a hunting dog but then was bred for dog racing. Now, Greyhounds are exceptionally fast.
Why Do Dog Breeds go Extinct?
You may have heard the term “purebred dog” before. Purebred dogs are domestic dogs of distinct varieties that exist as a result of selective breeding. This means that there are different types of dogs that have been bred to have certain characteristics. The problem with purebred dogs is they have low genetic diversity and they experience more health consequences. Purebred dogs are often inbred which increases the likelihood of chromosomal issues. These defects can cause poor health or even earlier death. Some dog breeds that were excessively inbred have become extinct. Some dogs have also been bred out of existence if breeders select against certain traits in creating a new breed.
With some background on the evolution and extinction of dogs, let’s meet 5 extinct dog breeds!
1. White English Terrier
The first extinct dog breed we will meet is the white English terrier! The white English terrier was originally bred from the white fox-working terrier. These dogs have been prevalent in England since the 1700s. Breeding the white English terrier was an attempt at creating a winning show dog. It was a small dog, weighing only 12 to 20 pounds. It had a white, short, and sometimes rough fur coat, pointy ears, and a face somewhat similar to a chihuahua’s.
Unfortunately, the white English terrier was not very popular and they tended to have genetically related illnesses. It diminished as a breed but was crossbred with the English bulldog and gave rise to the bull terrier and Boston terrier.
2. Kuri Dog
The next extinct dog breed to investigate is the Kuri dog. The Kuri dog was originally a Polynesian breed, but it was later introduced to New Zealand. Its fur coat varied between shades of yellow, brown, and grey. It also sported a bushy tail.
Interestingly, the Kuri dog was very culturally significant before its extinction. In New Zealand, the indigenous Maori people used them to hunt. They also used their furs for clothing, decorations, and ate them as a delicacy. European colonization, however, devastated both the native people and the endemic dog breed. When colonizers came, European dog breeds overran the Kuri dog populations and drove them to extinction.
The third extinct dog breed we will discuss is the Bullenbeisser, also called the German bulldog. There were two varieties of Bullenbeisser including a small one and a larger one. They resembled the modern Spanish bulldog or a boxer but had smaller ears and shorter legs. In fact, the Bullenbeisser is an ancestor breed to the modern boxer! Bullenbeissers bred with bulldogs gave rise to boxers.
The larger of the two Bullenbeissers, the Danziger variety, was a powerful dog. It had particularly strong shoulders and was also very agile. It was bred for military use, cattle management, hunting, and personal protection. The smaller variety was called Brabanter Bullenbeisser.
4. Moscow Water Dog
Another cool extinct dog breed to check out is the Moscow water dog. As the name may suggest, this dog breed’s origins were in Russia. The Moscow water dog was the result of breeding the Newfoundland, Caucasian shepherd, and east European shepherd. The breed was never popular and was alive for only a short period.
The Moscow water dog has an interesting backstory to its name. The armed forces of the Soviet Union wanted to create a special dog breed to assist in military operations. The Moscow water dog was the product of this breeding experiment but the project was abandoned. Unfortunately, the water dog would attack drowning victims rather than rescue them.
5. Dalbo Dog
The final extinct dog breed we will meet is the Dalbo dog. The Dalbo dog was extremely large and resembled a St. Bernard or an English mastiff. It had a shoulder height of approximately 80 centimeters! To compare, a St. Bernard’s shoulder height is typically between 65 and 75 centimeters! Its tremendous size made it a good dog for livestock herding and protection of livestock from predators. The Dalbo dog had a thick, heavy coat of fur that was well suited for cold Swedish winters as well.
The Dalbo dog became extinct inadvertently following the demise of other animals in the area. The overhunting of wolves and bears in Sweden lead to a decrease in predation on livestock. There were fewer and fewer animals that livestock would need to be protected from. As a result, Dalbo dogs were out of a job. Being of little use, it became impractical for farmers to sustain such large dogs when resources were tight. A famine during this time was also likely a factor in the extinction of Dalbo dogs.
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