All creatures great & small
Why are dogs all different shapes and sizes?
The world of dogs is incredibly varied, no other species has such diversity. In size from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane. In coat from the hairless Chinese Crested to the profuse coat of the Afghan. In anatomy from the short nose of a Pug to the long-nosed Bloodhound and that’s before you even think about the numerous ear shapes and eye shapes that make up the different breeds.
Why has this happened?
How did this happen and was it intentional?
The English Kennel club recognises 218 breeds of dogs each one distinct in their own way with a breed standard to identify them.
Why so many different breeds and attributes?
Dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to be functional. To do jobs that we as humans are either unable to do, like get into tiny holes and flushing out vermin or don’t want to do, like jumping into a river to retrieve a shot bird. Instead we have bred dogs with particular traits making them keen, willing and able to do these jobs for us.
No one dog could do all these jobs, their temperaments or size would be in conflict. The dog that is keen to frantically dig enabling it to catch and kill a rat would not have the same temperament or inclination to retrieve a bird, gently hold, carry and place it at its owner’s feet.
Dogs are amazing and they have evolved to be literally ‘Man’s Best Friend’ in whatever pursuit we require, from fetching, carrying, seeking, finding or guarding and comforting.
The Kennel Club does a great job of splitting the breeds into specific groups. This then gives us an insight into the individual temperaments and sizes that go with each of these groups.
Many of the pastoral breeds have evolved in rural areas where the livelihood was centred around rearing and looking after valuable livestock. Different breeds have evolved to work in various terrains, climates and predators. This job needs a hardy, fearless, loyal, obedient yet independent thinking dog, so no Bichons allowed here! The size difference comes from the need to either nip at the heels of livestock in the case of the Corgi, or be nimble like the Hungarian Puli who jumps on the backs of large herds to make a shortcut; or the large Briard who will cover uneven ground effortlessly and work all day.
The breeds in this group traditionally were kept to guard property. They were kept outside and the relationship with them was unsentimental. As society has changed, so too has our relationship with these types of dogs. Being highly intelligent, self-assured, hard-working and courageous many of these breeds have become service or rescue dogs. They increasingly take on more and more sophisticated jobs from assistance to detection; fitting better into today’s society. The Newfoundland, who once pulled in fisherman’s nets, now jumps from helicopters into the sea to save people in distress. Again, a job not suited to a Bichon.
The breeds in this group are divided into two categories; scent hounds and sight hounds.
Scent hounds are generally shorter legged, so they are nearer the ground to snag a scent and have large drop ears which help capture the scent. They track game accompanied on foot, which can therefore make walking a scent hound quite a pursuit! Longer legged scent hounds were bred for being accompanied on horseback.
The slimmer, long legged sighthounds cover ground easily and were used for hunting. They have longer fore faces and eyes placed more on the side of their heads giving much greater peripheral vision and motion detection, making their sight an attribute or superpower!
Bichons have neither the long pendulum ears nor the enhanced sight to do this job.
The word Terrier has several meanings from ‘burrow’ to ‘earth dog’. The term is also used to describe a person who never gives up, which aptly captures a very determined group of dogs, bred to hunt hare, rabbit and control vermin; quick on the draw with incredible spirit and bravery. Used by both gentry and the working class, a keen and prolific hunter was a dog to be prized.
Terriers come with both long and short legs and can dig amazing holes or enter burrows. They have beautiful necks built to dispatch a rat or rabbit efficiently. With changes in society many of these practices no longer continue and the popularity of several terrier breeds has regrettably declined.
This group of breeds is the most diverse, bred to do specific jobs that no longer exist. Historically, many like the Schipperke, or the Lhasa Apso had guarding jobs on barges and in temples. The Dalmation would accompany horse drawn carriages to protect them from Highwaymen or the Akita bred to fight or hunt bear. Today they make fabulous pets.
This group of dogs have many temperament traits due to the diversity of the jobs they once did, from amenable to stubborn, friendly to aloof and calm to lively, there is something in this group for everyone.
Fenix carriage dog trails
This group of breeds is divided into 3 categories Hunt, Point and Retrieve. Before the invention of guns, smaller gundogs were used to chase or flush out game into nets. Once guns where used, greater distances came into play and larger, longer legged dogs were used for the speedier recovery of game. Pointers were used to identify where the game was at greater distances before the smaller dogs flushed them out. Three different groups of dogs all bred to do a specific job. Nowadays with landownership changes and shifts in society, large packs of dogs are not common so through selective breeding and training some gun dogs have become multipurpose.
Unfortunately, the Bichon with its wool coat is still not suited to this job.
This group of breeds thinks it has the best job in the world. Toy breeds reflect the total change in our relationship with dogs. Their size is their uniqueness with many larger breeds being miniaturised to become more ornamental and toy, like for example the Italian Greyhound and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Toy breeds still retain a lot of the characteristics and temperaments of their larger cousins making them big personalities in little bodies. They like nothing more than to entertain and be loved. In today’s society people’s lives have changed dramatically and nothing shows the change more with dogs than the toy group. No dog would have ever earned its keep by giving cuddles!!
Which leaves the Bichon siting firmly within this group as one of its great ambassadors.