Diversity and Breed Distinction of Canis familiaris

Goyet Dog 31,700 years Carbon Dated Shepherd Husky Head

July 15, 2011

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

The domestic dog, Canis familiaris is said to be the most morphologically variable of the mammalian species.  According to scientist, artificial selection contributed heavily to the rapid development and variation in color, shape and behavior we see in dogs today.  The difference among dog species rivals that of any other species in the family Canidae.

This unique diversity has helped create the many shapes and sizes of dogs we see today.  It is incredible to see the wide variety of personalities and behavioral characteristics, shapes and utility all in one species.  To understand this phenomenon allows us to glean insight into the behavioral and utilitarian usefulness this variability provides.

According to scientist, “if dogs were founded from only a few wild canids, much of the remarkable morphologic diversity of dogs must be due to mutations that occurred after the supposed origin 14,000 years ago as suggested by the fossil record” (Vila et al, 1999).  Mutations are rare and offer a continuous, but slow source of new genetic material to the gene pool.  Usually mutations have little or no effect and others can be detrimental to the organism.  However, occasionally a mutation provides an advantageous trait.  This method would require huge numbers of populations to be successful.

Vila, Maldonado andWayneoffer a contrasting theory saying, “…if dogs originated from a large population of wild canids and have interbred with them throughout their evolutionary history…the influx of genetic variation from wild populations may be an important reason why domestic dogs are morphologically so diverse” (Vila et al, 1999).  In other words, the interbreeding between the different species within the population of Canidae may have facilitated the increase of variability within the species of dogs.

Historical data pertinent to the development of breed distinction

By whatever means this remarkable variation provided has allowed us to produce over 400 distinctively identified breeds known today.  The notion of breed distinction did not appear until 3,000 – 4000 years ago inEgypt.  The earliest documented breed was the greyhound.  These early dogs of ancientEgypthad long narrow heads, lean bodies and long legs.  These dogs most likely provided the foundation for some of the earliest known breeds.

Most of the recognized breeds we have today were refined and their usefulness recorded during the roman periods.  During this period, hunting dogs, guard dogs and companion dogs became quite common.  The early Romans recognized the dogs’ ability and behavior was affected through selective breeding practices.  They also were able to recognize the importance of early training and rearing of dogs.  It was during these times the importance of the dog’s companionship was first recognized and the dog became a symbol of status to the owner.

We can thank these early Romans for elevating the dog to this high status of faithful companion and protector of home and property.  This perpetuated the utilitarian use of dogs and the refinements we see today in many of the recognized breeds.

However, long before the Romans the Greeks applied selective breeding and were keen enough to recognize “the danger of breeding that displaces function for the sake of appearances” (Lindsay, 2000).

The emergence of breeding for appearance only is relatively new and resulted from the banning of dog fighting and bull baiting inEnglandin 1835 coinciding with the formation of organized dog shows and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824.  As a result, the public looked for new ways to enjoy the company of their dogs.

During the Victorian period, there was a shift from working class owners to that of higher-class individuals.  These high-class individuals were preoccupied with status and appearance to the detriment of function.  The large proportion of breeds today are only 100-150 years old and can be attributed to the remarkable influence of the Victorian-era dog fancy with an emphasis on appearance.

The notion of breeding for physical appearance occurred long before, but did not receive the relative importance until the 19th century.   However, experienced breeders considered the utilitarian use, health and temperament of utmost importance.  According to Lindsay, “…an eye set rigidly on the arbitrary appeal of appearances and beautiful form, the qualities of intelligence and function inevitably degrade over time” (Lindsay, 2001).

The first organized dog show was in England in 1859 and the British Kennel Club was organized in 1873 followed by the American Kennel Clubs formation in 1884, with its original purpose to protect and advance the purebred dog.  The first organized dog show inAmericawasWestminsterin 1877.

Unfortunately, breeding practices include those interested in preserving breeds along with those individuals interested in pets as products.  These commercial and back yard breeders do little to protect the breed standards.  The result, is the increased incidence of “genetic disease” and without the combined efforts of “education and professional responsibility in dog breeding”, the problem will worsen (Lindsay, 2001).

According to Lindsay, “[t]here exists substantial disagreement with regard to the possible genetic transmission of temperament traits and behavioral disorders among dogs.”  Lindsay uses, “Springer rage syndrome” referred to as ‘low-threshold dominance aggression’ as an example of a “genetically transmitted behavioral predisposition” and it can be traced to a single kennel.  Lindsay (personal communication with Ilana Reisner atCornellUniversity) discussed the ‘popular sire effect’ as a possible explanation for this process to take place; Dr Reisner says the following (Lindsay, 2001).

The ‘popular sire effect’ occurs when a breeder uses a dog considered to be physically fit,but may harbor in his “…genome an undesirable physical or behavioral trait” that is passed on with little consideration.  It is assumed the responsibility would be placed on the dog rather than the dame due to “limited reproductive potential” of the female (Lindsay, 2001).

Even with current breeding practices contributing to the decline in the domestic dog’s health and temperament, the effects of domestication according to Lindsay, “…are inherently degenerative with regard to the natural prototype being genetically modified to match human purposes.”  In spite of the shear numbers of dogs, Lindsay says the “…reproductive success is at the cost of biological soundness and is fraught with dangers associated with overspecialization and close breeding, e.g., genetic drift and founder’s effect” (Lindsay, 2001).

He concludes saying, “…the dog’s biological success or failure is not dependent on ‘fitness’ in the broad sense demanded by nature, but by an arbitrary set of demands related to a narrow ecological niche in cohabitation with humans.” He sums this up with a quote from Darwin saying, “[a]s the will of man thus comes into play we can understand how it is that domestic races of animals and cultivated plants often exhibit an abnormal character, as compared with natural species; for they have been modified not for their own benefit, but for that of man” (Lindsay, 2001).

Structure and behavior – the affect on dogs 

For the purposes of this paper, it may be more important to understand the link “between a dog’s performance and its external and internal structures” to help us understand its behavior.  According to Coppinger and Schneider, “[p]eople who work with functional dogs tend to believe that breed-specific behavior is inherited.”  This does not imply the dogs’ behavior is resultant of its genes, but rather “behavior is a consequence…and limited by, the animal’s morphological and physiological structures.”  It would be incorrect to say the dogs “behavior is passed from generation to generation” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

To understand this, it might help to know exactly what animal morphology and physiology means.  Morphology is a branch in biology, which defines the form and structure of organisms.  Physiology defined is the branch of biology that explains the functions and activities of living organisms and their parts, including all physical and chemical processes.  It is the organic processes or functions in an organism or in any of its parts.  These are the ‘external and internal structures’ of the animal.

According to Coppinger and Schneider, “…the arrangement of the nervous system, morphology and physiology is in some way a consequence of the genes that the animal inherited.”  They use the “running and pulling” behavior in sled dogs as an example.  They describe the dog has having the “potential before training begins” and it becomes the handlers responsibility to “release that potential” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Characteristics of Sled dogs 

According to Coppinger and Schneider, sled dogs are a good example of how a breed is created.  These dogs are selectively bred for various desirable traits.  The most desirable traits are speed, size, conformation and the lack of agonistic (disruptive) behavior.

Racing dogs, Coppinger and Schneider say, “…must be morphologically efficient, minimizing mass and motion while maximizing speed.”  As the dog racing sport grew, it became apparent that the better dog teams consisted of “uniformity of size and conformation.”  The early sled dog known as the Alaskan husky bred through hybridization with the Siberian husky, known as a “fast hardy trail dog” having the ability to “run fast on groomed trails” and “behave themselves on a team provided breeders with “access to a diversified population of increasingly specialized dogs.”  The sled dogs of today are a product of this selective breeding process based partly on these abilities (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

The physiological characteristics of the racing sled dog include the ability to run fast.  These dogs are selectively bred for their gait.  Sled dogs “lope or gallop with no flight” meaning that at least one foot remains on the ground at all times. The length of the gait determines speed.  However, the length of the gait is determined by the size and shape of the dog (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

In addition, size may be important, because dogs exceeding “25 kg have less endurance” and their “rectal temperatures during running may exceed 40 C and since large dogs “…cannot dissipate heat quickly” they may succumb to heat exhaustion.  In addition, larger dogs expend more energy carrying their own weight and smaller dogs are unable to conserve heat and lack the longer stride (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

These dogs conditioned to perform as a cooperative unit are discouraged against dissention within their ranks.  Drivers manage their teams like a well-oiled motor.  Punishment is a no-no; drivers avoid troublesome conditions, by managing the dogs.  “The drivers’ job is to supervise the process” the method used is “establishing a routine” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Managing a group of dogs and avoiding potential disagreements can be a daunting task.  The good driver maintains an aura of confidence by demonstrating his leadership through being an “observant manager” thus avoiding the loss of “wasted energy” by selecting the appropriate dogs for the task (Serpell, Ch 3, 2001).

According to Coppinger and Schneider, “[w]hen sled dogs run, they are playing.”  The act of running with the team demonstrates “non-functional or non-rewarding behavior, in the classical meaning of reward” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Sled dogs fit the theory “…any measurable differences in behavior are products of measurable differences in structure.”  Structure is an “inherited pattern of molecules…including bones, muscles and nerves” and included are “…support systems like blood, hormones, neurotransmitters and other biochemical components.”  They conclude the “…theory does not deny environmental influences nor does it deny an animal’s ability to modify behavior through learning.”  However, they say, “…learning itself is heritable, in that the organism needs to have the structure with which to learn, and the type of learning is limited by those structures” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

In addition, it is imperative during the selection process to eliminate any breeding stock with innate aggressive or predatory behavior that would be difficult to control and would distract from a cohesive unit.  According to Coppinger and Schneider, “[m]alamutes…make poor sled dogs” describing them as too large, unable to maintain top racing speeds for long periods of time and they “tend to be vociferous fighters” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

According to Coppinger and Schneider, “[t]he ability to perform a particular task is rooted deeply in trainability, with the [stipulation] that the animal has the structure and disposition to be trained.”  They use the word “disposition” to describe whether the animal has or does not have “innate motor patterns that either facilitate or disrupt the trainable performance.”  (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Characteristics of herding dog

According to Coppinger and Schneider there are two types of herding dogs and each type has distinctive breeds.  Both types work in the same environment and react to similar stimuli.  However, they both have distinct duties.  The “guarding” dogs live among the livestock and help by disrupting the behavior of predators.  The “herding” dogs “disrupt” and direct the behavior of the livestock (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

To be successful in training these two types of dogs, one should be aware of the critical socialization period of dogs.  Understanding the “emergence of innate motor patterns” and “reinforcement or prevention of innate behavior” determines the “quality and frequency” of these traits (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Guardian and herding dogs need to be “attentive, trustworthy and protective” to be effective.  This attentive behavior is “learned between four and 14 weeks” when a dog would establish “social bonds.”  These “social bonds” can be directed to another species “by allowing the pup to display such behavior to sheep or other livestock” and not directed to other species such as humans (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

During this critical time, usually around “five months” a guarding dog must be prevented from displaying any “tendency to play with the stock.”  This tendency is commonly associated with emerging “predatory motor patterns.”  Typically, these patterns are disrupted by removal of the stimulus or correction.  In most cases, the “extinction” of these patterns would occur after this associative period has passed (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

The predatory motor pattern of a dog is orient, eye, stalk, chase, grab, kill/bite and dissect.  According to Coppinger, “[n]ot all breeds of dogs have a complete set of predatory motor patterns.”  He says, “[d]ogs and carnivores in general don’t show kill behaviors to animals they grow up with, or individual animals they know” (Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001).

Predatory motor patterns just like social motor patterns emerge during the critical developmental period of dogs.  Each of the predatory motor patterns mentioned earlier “emerge independently from one another during their own critical subperiod” according to Coppinger (Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001).

Timing is essential in controlling these motor patterns.  They must be reinforced when they appear, otherwise they “drop out of the repertoire” and will not appear again.  To explain this further, Coppinger uses the following example.

Suckling in newborn puppies is a good example.  The suckling motor patterns, sometimes called the suckling reflex, turn on in most mammals slightly before birth.  If the puppy doesn’t suckle within a few minutes after birth, the behavior extinguishes, presumably because it does not grow the proper nerve connections.  The puppy that does not suckle within a few minutes after being born loses the ability to perform the sequence.  It cannot be taught to do it later. Not only can you not teach an animal to suckle, you cannot teach one to chew and swallow.  These are innate motor patterns that develop or onset later.

According to Coppinger and Schneider, “…good working sheep-guarding dogs, predatory motor patterns never or only weakly emerge.”  The eye, stalk or dissect are considered “rare” and “chase and grab-bite” are displayed.  Eating is not a predatory behavior according to some, and “guarding dogs will eat exposed flesh whether the prey is dead or not, but since they do not show dissect, a pen full of them will not eat an unopened carcass” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

It is said that guarding dogs maintain juvenile characteristics of behavior and any “predatory, courtship or territorial motor patterns directed toward sheep” are described as play.  These behaviors appear to have no functional value and considered disruptive of “functional behavior.”  According to Coppinger and Schneider, “…behavior of livestock guarding dogs appears to depend on correct early socialization and on a juvenilized adulthood” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Many people think of guarding dogs as being fierce protectors of personal property; however, the live stock guarding dog protects livestock by disrupting a predator’s behavior using tactics that include, inappropriate barking, wagging tail, greeting and play behavior and sometimes aggression.  This has proven to be an effective technique as most predators hunting pattern is disrupted and in most cases, the predator will leave the area.

Some common examples of flock guarding dogs might be the Great Pyrenees, Kuvas, Komondor and Akbash.  These dogs are expected to perform on their own and capable of making their own decisions.  However, training is essential to prevent undesirable behaviors, such as excessive barking, wandering off property and preference to the owner can bring its own problems.  Aggression left unchecked can be a common problem among livestock guardians.

To unknowing humans considering these breeds, they may appear as large white fluffy teddy bears, but these dogs are considered high maintenance and can be difficult to not only control but will require ample training and socialization.   They are not a suggested dog for unskilled busy owners.  However, according to Kilcommons & Wilson, the Great Pyrenees can be an “exception” to this rule (Kilcommons & Wilson, 1999).

Summing this up, Coppinger says, “[w]hen we look at the critical period for social development, we realize that the genetic nature of the dog is being shaped by the environment in which it is growing up.  If there is no environmental stimulation, there is no epigenetic response” (Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001).

Understanding breed characteristics may enable us to short circuit undesirable behavior and reinforce desirable behaviors.  Therefore, it is important for us to do the necessary homework that enables us to recognize symptoms of those undesirable characteristics and allow creative training techniques that direct a dog’s behavior towards those that we deem more desirable.

Characteristics of the Border collie

According to the Encyclopedia of Dogs, the Border collie originated over several generations and included founding breeds such as “Bearded Collies, Harlequins, Bob-tailed Sheepdogs and Smithfields” and the earliest known reference to this dog may have been written in “Treatise on English Dogges,” in 1570 by Dr. John Caius’.  References that are more recent indicate a “Border Collie type dog existed” as early as the middle of the 18th century.

The breed named for it place of origin includes the border countriesEnglandandScotland.  The popularity of this breed grew out of increasing sheep raised in this region.  These dogs provided the shepherds an economical way to manage and facilitate getting their stock to market.

There are several specialized breeds for herding sheep, but the Border collie has surfaced as the most dominant of the herders.  Border collies bred for their working ability and genetics will determine the characteristics necessary to be successful as a herding dog.

Some common characteristics of a good Border collie should include the ability to gather sheep, clap which refers to a crouching movement, the ability to think independently and development of eye.  Eye is a unique characteristic, but is not only unique to the Border collie.

According to Coppinger and Schneider, “the emergence of predatory motor patterns is ontogenetically variable; training of herding dogs does not and really cannot, begin until after the onset of eye, stalk and chase.”  During the critical developmental period, the Border Collie would be encouraged to display ‘eye” behavior, that would include orientating to the stimulus and stalk behavior such as “clapping” described earlier, but would be discouraged from showing any further part of the predatory sequence including grab, bite and dissect (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

According to experiments performed atHampshireCollege, the “release of eye behavior in adult Border Collies was stimulated in part by anticipation of movement of…prey.”  The results from these studies revealed that “motionless and inactive” chickens resulted in Border Collies performing “displacement” behaviors such as play bows and barking.  Coppinger and Schneider said, “[s]howing of eye seems to provide its own reward” and “[o]nce the onset of the motor pattern occurs ontogenetically, the only way to keep most collies from showing eye is to remove them from the stimulus” (Serpell, Ch 3, 1995).

Understanding this behavior as self-rewarding provides a clue to modification if necessary.  A Border Collie, for instance in a rescue situation, that enjoys chasing cars and bicycles may need this behavior redirected towards outlets that are more appropriate.  Those who find themselves unwittingly owners of this breed should consider participating in dog sports such as agility, fly ball and competitive obedience, Frisbee competition and for those ambitious individuals’ sheep herding trials.  This participation will provide an outlet for their normal dog’s behavior.

According to Kilcommons and Wilson, it is not unusual to encounter behaviors such as “car chasing, bicycle hounding” and nipping at human heels would not be considered unusual behavior.  In addition, “pacing, spinning, and circling” could be expected for those dogs left without adequate exercise and mental stimulation achieved through training.  It should be advised to watch young children “who emit high-pitched sounds” who end up becoming targets for this breed and many other breeds as well.  These behaviors are “…controllable through training and sensible management,” advise Kilcommons and Wilson (Kilcommons & Wilson, 1999).

Coppinger and Schneider conclude, “…dogs are genetically programmed to behave like dogs, but different breeds and even different dogs do not display the program in the same way.”  As you continue, breeds perpetuated through breeding programs to show more of the predatory drive that include chase, grab, and bite are discussed (Serpell, Ch. 3, 1995).

Characteristics of the German Shepherd Dog 

The German Shepherd Dog is characterized as one of the more adaptable breeds.  The GSD, utilized around the world still carries out numerous tasks such as guide dogs, guard dogs, drug and contraband detection dogs, search and rescue and companion dogs.  The GSD originally known as a pastoral shepherd dog has only been around about 90 years.

The transformation from shepherd dog to what we see today is a result of the industrial revolution.  The declining numbers of predators meant adaptation to other tasks sought by shepherd dog breeders in the late 1800’s.  The future of the GSD greatly influenced by the efforts of Capt. Max von Stephanitz, formed the society, called Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde or SV as it is referred.  This marked the beginning of the future of the GSD.

Much of the foundation stock was derived from von Stephanitz’s first dog, called Horand v Grafeth.  This dog’s offspring provided much of the foundation for the early German Shepherd Dog.  During this early period, inbreeding was common, but it provided breeders the fixed qualities evident today.  The breeding for utility and intelligence was of utmost importance to von Stephanitz.

With the approaching twentieth century, von Stephanitz realized the need to consider future roles for his beloved breed.  After World War 1, the dog received new roles such as messenger dog, rescue dog, sentry dog and personal guard dog.  The GSD’s name was temporarily changed after the end of the war.  It was thought including the word German would affect the breeds growth, so it was renamed the Alsatian Wolf Dog, but was changed back in 1977 to its original name.

With the arrival of the GSD inBritain, its qualities as a shepherding dog were overlooked.  At this time,Britainhad better-known dogs such as Corgies, Collies and Old English Sheepdogs.  The breed more known for its reputation as a war dog was essential for its adaptability to other tasks such as Seeing Eye dogs.  At this time, the GSD remained predominant at performing this task, prior to the Labrador.

Like many dogs, unscrupulous breeders have maligned the breed, with dedicated breeders maintaining the quality of characteristics as closely as possible.  The formation of the SV inGermanyand the Register of Merit has attempted to control and maintain the breed’s essential characteristics.

According to Kilcommons and Wilson, “[t]here are few things a good German Shepherd Dog cannot do.”  However, they cite its drawbacks as “…neurotic, sickly, unsound, aggressive, shy dogs…with widespread genetic and temperament problems.”  Due to strong bonding to humans, “overattachment, separation anxiety, fearfulness of new situations, and overprotectiveness can develop” (Kilcommons & Wilson, 1999).

The GSD’s acceptance of children “varies” and can be “dangerous.”  Kilcommons and Wilson rate the GSD’s bite potential as “…moderate to high” and “…unhealthy, unstable dogs far outweigh the wonderful…companions” we would like to expect (Kilcommons & Wilson, 1999).

This is unfortunate but is supported by Roger A Mugford who states, “[p]articular breeds also show a marked tendency to present a particular type of unwanted behavior” and concluded the “German shepherds…are consistently over-represented with problems of territorial aggression” and “…over-represented in most surveys of dog bites” (Serpell, Ch 10, 1995).

The Coppinger’s note there exists preconceived notions and reputations regarding certain breeds, in their book Dogs.  This includes “fearful responses” (pg 262) from persons who may take a wider than normal walk by one of these approaching breeds.  These breeds include not only the GSD, but also the Doberman, Rottweiler, Pit Bull and their look a likes.  One could speculate there exists a possibility for repercussions on the dog’s future behavior associated with this response.  A similar response might come from the inexperienced handler through tightening the lead.

According to Lockwood, artificial selection has perpetuated the “…production of various breeds of dogs” that frequently have “…exaggerated physical or behavioral characteristics that would be maladaptive in free-living wild canids.”  He says, “…this has been done to provide protection through inter-specific aggression” in some guarding breeds and “entertainment” purposes in the fighting breeds such as the Pit Bull types (Serpell, Ch 9, 1995).

This leads to the next discussion on the Pit Bull type dog.

Characteristics of the Pit Bull

Opinions vary on the ancestry of the Pit Bull type dogs.  Speculation is they originated from some of the original molossoid dogs used for fighting, hunting and war.  These early dogs may have evolved into the present mastiff and bulldog breeds.  The first recorded use of the bulldog name was in 1631 and later described with bull and bear baiting.

For the purposes of this paper, my interests lie in the breed characteristics and not breed history.  Although speculation regarding the Pit Bull dogs early ancestors may be interesting to fanciers of the breed.  There is enough historical data to provide adequate information regarding the breeding practices and early purposes of the Pit Bull dogs.

According to historical documents, the early Bulldogs were used in several types of work, including “baiting, fighting, stock work, hunting” and as “farm dogs.”  Information obtained from www.pitbull411.com described the dog as “…an agreeable animal, capable of extreme ferociousness but unwavering loyalty and gentleness towards humans.”  The dog is further described as “…an animal-aggressive breed…routinely used in pairs to bait animals and hunt, so overt aggression towards others of their same species was not an extreme trait” (Pitbull411).

Following the law passed in 1835 banning the practice of baiting and through the efforts of enforcement, fanciers of the breed turned to dog fighting.  Selective breeding and introduction of some hardy terrier crosses provided fanciers a dog with “heightened dog-aggression.”  According to Lockwood, “Scott & Fuller (1965) reported a genetically based decrease in the latency to show intra-specific aggression in terriers” confirming “…a characteristic long-associated with such breeds.” (Serpell, Ch 9, 1995).

Gameness discussed in Pit Bull literature is considered an important quality of these dogs.  This defined in Pit Bull literature is the willingness to see a task through to its end, even under penalty of serious injury or death.  According to Lockwood, fighting dogs “appear to have a much higher tolerance of pain, which may be mediated by peculiarities in neurotransmitters or opiate receptor sites.”  In addition, “…lowered threshold for attack and higher pain thresholds in many fighting animals has apparently resulted in the disruption of normal communication in individuals from recent fighting lineages.”  Lockwood says, “[u]nder natural conditions, the aggression of wild canids is held in check by a detailed set of postural and facial signals that clearly indicate mood and intent” (Serpell, Ch 9, 1995).

Normal aggressive encounters usually end with an individual giving appropriate ‘cut-off’ behavior.  Lockwood says, “[d]ogs from fighting lineages have been under selective pressures that suppress or eliminate accurate communication of aggressive motivation or intent.”  The elimination of normal canine postures gives a fighting dog an advantage, as their attack appears unprovoked (Serpell, Ch 9, 1995).

Lockwood says, “…genetic history can influence aggressiveness in breeds and individual dogs…the lineages of fighting and non-fighting animals within the fighting breeds have been separated for many generations, but have shown relatively little physical divergence.”

Pit Bull dogs account for the majority of reported dog bite cases in the United States, with 66 total human dog bite-related fatalities from 1979 -1999 according to a published report in September 2000, in the JAVMA.  The Rottweiler is responsible for nearly half this amount, with 30 cases reported from 1993-1996.  This leads to the following discussion on the Rottweiler.

Characteristics of the Rottweiler

The Rottweiler said to be one of the oldest dog breeds, originated in earlyRome.  Their early appearance was a Mastiff type dog, later crossed with the Greater Swiss Mountain dog and eventually making its way toGermanyand crossed with the German Pincher, gave the dog a shorter, stouter appearance and provided its characteristic black and tan coat.

The twentieth century changed the use of the Rottweiler from a farm hand to that of police work.  The Rottweiler today is considered a companion, service and working dog.  With this comes the responsibility of careful handling and management.  The Rottweiler is a strong and powerful dog that will require daily training and direction to control them.

According to Kilcommons and Wilson, “they are way too much dog for most homes” and “like to be in charge and are more than happy to assume control if given half a chance” (Kilcommons & Wilson, 1999).

Literature on the Rottweiler suggests, “…ownership of a Rottweiler carries much greater than average legal and moral responsibilities, due to traits possessed by this breed, its size and strength.”  The long history attached to the uses of the Rottweiler as a guardian are indicative of it’s proclivity for territorial aggression.  Understanding a particular trait owners may need to take precautions when strangers visit their property, otherwise chance for aggressive attacks could occur.  For more information on the Rottweiler refer to http://wwwcolonialrottclub.org/learnbeforeyoubuy.htm .

I have briefly discussed the diversity of Canis familiaris, how this diversity influenced breed distinction, the characteristics for specific type dogs and some selected breeds.  Understanding the underlying characteristics of breed types assist us in providing a better understanding of the animal we are training and may be attempting to modify.

As responsible dog owners, it is our duty to ensure public safety while maintaining our dogs.  Knowingly subjecting dogs known to be hazardous to the public would be considered irresponsible not only to the public but to your dog as well.


Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger.  Dogs: a new understanding of canine origin,

behavior and evolution.  Chicago:  Chicago UP.  2001.

Kilcommons, Brian, and Sarah Wilson.  Paws to Consider: choosing the right dog for you and your family.  New York:  Warner.  1999.

Lindsay, Steven R.  Handbook of applied dog behavior and training.  2 Vols.

Iowa:  IowaSP.   2000.  Vol. 1.

Serpell, James, ed.  The domestic dog: its evolution, behavior, and interaction with people.

Cambridge:  Cambridge UP.  1995.

Sacks, Jeffery, Sinclair, Leslie, Gilchrist, Julie, Golab, Gail, Lockwood, Randall.  (2000)  Special Report.   Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998 .  217 ( 6 ),  836- 840.

Thompson, Nicky (Ed.).  (1995).  The international encyclopedia of dogs/Anne Rogers Clark, Andrew H. Brace . New York:   Simon & Schuster.

Vila, C., Maldonado, J., Wayne, R.   (1990).   Phylogenetic relationships, evolution, and genetic diversity of the domestic dog.   Journal of Heredity,  90, 71-77.

http://www.pitbull411.com/history.html    Pitbull 411.  History of the Pit Bull

http://wwwcolonialrottclub.org/learnbeforeyoubuy.htm The Colonial Rottweiler Club – Introducing the Rottweiler

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