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Understanding Dog Diversity: Impact of Shape and Size on Behaviour and Health

Explore how dogs’ diverse shapes and sizes affect their behaviour, health, and well-being. Learn about their origins, breeding, and tips for managing different breeds.

What are the functions of a dog?

Understanding Dog Diversity. The domestic dog is a truly fascinating creature. Dogs are often described as one of the most physically diverse species on the planet, petite to tall, slim to stocky, long-coated, short-coated, and various other differences.

What do these differences mean for our dogs, and how can their shape and size impact what we expect them to do?

They understand the origin of dogs and how breeds and types develop, which can be a great way to manage our dogs’ lifestyles and activities to maintain their health and well-being.

Dog origins

Science is quite clear that all domestic dogs originated from a common wolf-like ancestor. Furthermore, research indicates that the fundamental genetics of dogs and wolves are broadly similar, with evidence suggesting about 99.9 per cent genetic similarity.

This evolutionary relationship raises some interesting questions about our dogs: are they wolves in our sitting rooms, even our smallest, fluffiest, and most miniature wolf-like dogs?

Well, science says not really. Wolves’ physical appearance, shape, and size are consistent – dogs are much more diverse!

Did you know? Dog breeds only started being recognised in the 19th century with the use of stud books and pedigrees to keep breeding record.

There are some social and behavioural differences between dogs and wolves and even some digestive ones – some dog breeds have an increased capacity to digest starch, for example. These differences result from genetic changes from domestication, selection, and evolution.

In the same way, humans are genetically very similar to bonobos (about 98.7 per cent identical), so subtle genetic differences are often essential.

For our dogs, the diversity of shapes, sizes, colours, coat types, ear length, and so on are clear visual indicators of how even tiny genetic changes can significantly affect appearance and general biology.

What do these changes mean for our dogs, how do we manage and care for them, and can they affect their health and well-being?

The Domestic Dog

The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) has been identified in fossil and archaeological records as familiar in human society for at least 40,000 years and probably much longer.

While this is a tiny period in more significant evolutionary history, when we shared our lives, food, and even homes with dogs, we substantially affected them. Early dogs gradually became more tame and relaxed in human company.

What are the best characteristics of dogs?
Modern Domestic dogs vary widely in their physical appearance.

Selecting Desiderable Dogs

Humans would also have selectively bred those dogs who, for whatever reasons, were preferred; some dogs would have been better at hunting, guarding, or as companions than others.

These would have been encouraged to breed with other dogs having the same characteristics. Selective breeding like this is incredibly powerful in producing future generations with desired attributes.

Indeed, when selective breeding is done regularly, many generations are produced in a short space of time, and significant changes can be observed, both physical and behavioural.

Taming dogs from their wild ancestors probably involves them ‘choosing’ to be with us for the hunt, safety, companionship, and warmth.

Humans are also very drawn to physical appearances. Therefore, dogs with specific differences that were unusual, attractive, or maybe even thought to be linked to a particular behaviour or ability would again have been selected and bred from, hoping to produce more of the same!

We see this clearly with the modern dog, where some breeds and types have been so heavily selectively bred for a physical appearance that they look VERY different to their original wolf-like ancestors.

Indeed, archaeology suggests that dog domestication has been associated with significant changes in the skull shape, notably the shortening of the muzzle.

The Domestic Dog, In Some Cases, its Changes are Even More Extreme Now

Many dog breeds ‘ physical and behavioural characteristics became consistent due to specific breeding for functional needs.

For other breeds, human desires and wants to have an impact. Think about what attracted you to your dog. Was it how he looked, how he behaved, or something else? The truth is, for many people, physical appearance is essential.

Did you know? Some dogs are born with no tail, or a very short one naturally. This is due to a genetic mutation and they are often called ‘bobtails’.

This is no different from how we choose our dogs. In my case, I love the size and shape of Spaniels; combine that with floppy ears and an outgoing, optimistic personality, and well, here I am several Spaniels later!

The problem is that sometimes we get so concerned about HOW our dogs look that we forget what it means for them, their health and well-being.

This means that we sometimes choose dogs initially bred for specific roles because we like them and then discover that their behaviour is incompatible with our lifestyles.

For example, the collie that ‘grazes’ children and the spaniel that chases birds in the garden. Understanding what our dogs were bred for can help us have harmonious relationships!

Doggy Diversity

Wild and free-living (including feral) dogs typically have a very consistent physical appearance.

They are medium-sized, with long legs, an elongated muzzle, a slender, athletic body, pricked, upright ears, and a mobile tail used for communication.

This physical appearance is characteristic of many wolves, foxes, and other canine species, including our domestic dogs’ dingo and relatives.

Please take a look at our domestic dogs; they are very different. Physical size and body weight vary enormously, from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane.

Ears vary from small to pointy or floppy. Tails can be long, curly, straight, corkscrew, or absent.

Facially, our dogs show considerable diversity, from long, pointed muzzles in breeds such as the Borzoi to extremely short muzzles, as seen in many Bulldogs, Pugs, and French Bulldogs.

There are also differences in coat length, colour, and type. We also groom and clip our dogs in particular, sometimes for convenience and function, occasionally simply because we like it.

We have even surgically altered how dogs look, although this is increasingly viewed as unethical, unacceptable, and illegal in many countries.

Fit and Function

The origin of dog breeds and types was generally for specific functions. For example, dogs who needed to run fast to hunt and chase were bred to have long legs and explosive athletic capabilities, like the Greyhound.

Dogs like the Border Collie were bred for trainability, endurance, and hardiness. Breeds intended as companions were smaller, friendlier, and less needed the same mental and physical stimulation as other breeds.

This does not mean. However, smaller breeds don’t benefit from exercises like any other breed or type; it should never be fit OR function, always fit AND function!

What are 5 characteristics of a dog?
Feral and free-living dogs tend to be far more consistent in their look.

Fit For Function?

Sometimes, breeding for appearance has had quite extreme consequences—unfortunately, many examples of exaggerated features in domestic species, not just dogs.

All arise from specific genetic changes selected for when breeding. Many of these changes are helpful for functionality; the speed of the Greyhound comes from his athletic physique and specific muscle fibres, which help support explosive bursts of speed. However, some changes are less suited to function.

Did you know? The elaborate clips seen on Poodles actually had an original function; the hair was left on areas of the body thought to be in need of protection, especially when swimming in cold water.

They may have had benefits for the roles the dogs were bred for initially but are less critical now. In some cases, the changes are even more extreme than historical ones. This means that we need to consider the health and well-being of our dogs and how their physical form might impact them.

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Long backs and short legs might mean we limit jumping on and off furniture and running up and down stairs. Likewise, dogs with short muzzles might need careful management in the heat and when exercising.

Large and giant breeds grow slowly and have a skeleton that needs careful and correct nutrition to ensure proper growth and development.

Even simple extremes like the floppy ears seen in many breeds can be associated with ear infections and injury.

Acknowledging the origins of our dog breeds and types can be helpful to ensure they fit with our lifestyle and that we can manage their well-being effectively.

This doesn’t mean you cannot have different breeds and types doing various activities, but you might want to be careful. For example, if you aim to be a sledge dogMusher“, a Maltese might not be the best choice!

The Domestic Dog Destinies

The dog is an amazingly diverse creature. It is often said that there is a breed/type for everyone, and the diversity in shape, size, appearance, temperament and other characteristics that we see in our dogs is clear evidence of this.

Good breeders of all breeds and types of dogs invest time, effort, and money to produce healthy, happy dogs that will make fabulous companions.

By choosing our dogs well and thinking carefully about their origins, what they were initially bred for and what their physical makeup permits them to do safely, we can ensure we give them the best and healthiest life possible.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Dogs with elongated muzzles, such as the Borzoi and Afghan Hound, are dolichocephalic, meaning ‘long head’.
  • Other dogs with moderate muzzle lengths, like Labradors and Spaniels, have a mesocephalic or mesaticephalic skull, meaning ‘ medium head’.
  • Dogs with shortened muzzles, such as the Bulldogs and Pug, are termed brachycephalic, which translates as ‘short head’.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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