A rose may be a rose by any other name, but when you call a dog a poodle it becomes a very different animal than if you call it a bulldog. Both the poodle and the bulldog are examples of dog breeds of which there are more than 400 recognized world-wide. Breed creation has played a significant role in shaping the modern dog from the length of his leg to the sound of his bark.
From as early as 70 AD basic characteristics and types of dogs were identified, but breeds as we recognize them today were not formalized until the 19th century when dog showing and breeding during the Victorian era became increasingly popular. At that time, the common approach to dog breeding took a turn that remains in effect to this day. During that period clubs were formed to propagate specific types of dogs and competitions were developed to reward the creation of perfect specimens of a breed based on physical criteria. Prior to this time dog competitions focused on the working ability of the dog such as hunting and chasing rather than on their outward appearance and the breeds were created through backcrossing and inbreeding to fix desired traits. In order to carry out the new competitions new rules were introduced to control breeding so that registering a dog with a breed club required that both of the dog’s parents be registered members of the breed club as well, effectively isolating each breed and reducing the available gene pool which dramatically affected the overall health of purebred canines. For instance, selection for coat color is believed to have influenced the development of severe spinal disease in the Cavalier King Charles spaniels and this is just one example out of many.
With the rise in interest in purebred dogs, Kennel Clubs were founded in the United Kingdom and USA in the late 1800s to govern dog showing and breeding, register dogs and establish the first stud books. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 184 breeds, while the UK Kennel Club currently recognizes 215 breeds. Breeds are classified them into groups, designated by the original function of the breed.
Use this interactive table to explore the world of dog breeds