JAnimal charity Blue Cross is campaigning for pugs and French bulldogs to no longer be featured in advertisements. He hopes to slow the demand for flat-faced pooches where “over-breeding” causes breathing and walking difficulties. Yet new dog breeds are introduced every year. How are there so many? And what does this mean for dogs? I asked evolutionary biologist Frank Hailer.
Is it true that all dogs descend from the same line of wolves?
All dogs derive from a single domestication event – a single wolf who became a pet. And there is no genetic evidence of other wild species except the gray wolf contributing to modern dogs. At the same time, it’s probably more complex.
This the event was centuries ago, yet.
Between 16,000 and 40,000 years ago.
While most modern dogs races have only exists since last 300 years.
Three hundred at most. Many breeds have been formed more recently. The concept of controlling dog breeding and defining specific breeds has not been around for a long time.
I still find it crazy! How to create a new breed of dog? How long does it take?
There is no scientific threshold to define a new breed, it is the different canine clubs that do it. So if we cross two existing breeds and create something that we didn’t have before, let them only mate with each other, theoretically it’s a new breed of dog in very few generations. This is probably how most of our dog breeds were born: humans control based on the qualities we want or find enjoyable.
I’m a cat person – but I wonder if so many dog breeds would exist without human interference?
No. Speciation happens in nature, but it’s a very slow process.
I read that despite the diversity of humans – height, gender, skin and hair color, etc. – the difference in our genes is only about 5%. But between different dog breeds, a chihuahua and a great dane, for example, it could go up to 27.5%. Is the “dog” category too big? Do we need a new one?
There are different ways to measure the difference, and what you’re describing is the frequency of genetic traits. Because we crossed dogs, the overall gene pool is small. Another way to measure the difference is DNA, and that’s where we see that dogs are similar to each other because they’ve had up to 40,000 years to develop into something different. ‘a wolf. As for a new category of animals, yes, it’s a matter of time. But very long.
What would happen if we stopped controlling breeding? I know you wrote about stray dogs in Moscow, who have lived without human intervention for 150 years.
They are fascinating because some of our favorite dog traits are gone – tail wagging and friendliness towards humans. There is an experiment in Russia where they bred red foxes due to lack of aggression. The foxes began to have droopy ears and wag their tails.
But what’s next for our beloved pugs? Could we reproduce them healthy?
The short nose is clearly derived from human preferences. If you look at historical photos of bulldogs, 100 years ago they had much longer noses. If we have the power to shorten the nose, we have the power to lengthen it. If we call dogs our best friend, we have to be careful with them.