Over the years, man has developed a variety of dog breeds, with each one designed for a specific purpose. Many breeds with common characteristics share common ancestors. The Molosser is an ancient dog that has contributed to a number of modern day breeds.
The Molossian people lived in ancient Greece, and they kept a particular type of dog known for being courageous and protective. These dogs accompanied their owners on trade journeys, and also when they went into battle. Physically, the Molosser dog was solid and heavy boned, with floppy ears and a strong muscular neck and body. They have well-developed guarding instincts and were used to guard livestock and protect their owners. Even though there are differences between them, you can see the Molosser ancestry today in breeds such as the Mastiff breeds, the Fila Brasileiro, Dogue de Bordeaux and the Newfoundland.
Not all ancient breeds have changed as much as the Molosser type of dog. The Pekingese is one such breed. These little dogs were companions to the Chinese royal family in the 8th century, and look much the same as they did in those times.
Most dog breeds were developed very recently, over the last 200-300 years. Not all dog breeds survive. If they don’t serve their purpose, there is little incentive for them to be bred. Also, many breeds are further developed into another breed that is even more suited to their job. One example of the latter is the Bloodhound; it is thought to have originated from the St Hubert Hound, which is no longer in existence. In the UK, there are 28 breeds with less than 300 individuals registered with the Kennel Club. In the US, one fifth of the breeds that are currently registered with the AKC have less than 200 registrations. These breeds can be considered at risk of disappearing.
Sometimes, fanciers come to the rescue and continue breeding these rare or endangered breeds, so they don’t become extinct. This can cause problems. With such a small gene pool, there is the chance of genetic disease raising its ugly head. Ideally, new genetic material needs to be introduced into the population. There are two ways of doing this. Firstly, if the breed exists in other countries, then an international breeding program can widen the gene pool. Secondly, if there are descendants of the breed that look similar, they can be crossed with individuals to add diversity to the breed’s genetic make up.
One good example of this is the Chinook, a sled dog that was developed in the United States in the early 20th century. It’s ancestry includes Husky and Mastiff, with the addition of Belgian or German Shepherd. In 1981, only 11 Chinook of breeding age existed. Currently, Chinook are involved in a cross breeding program, where individuals are mated with breeds that are thought to have been involved in the creation of the Chinook. In 2009, the population of Chinook had increased to over 600 dogs.