The dog has been around humans, the latest research shows, for the past 15,000 years, or more. In the beginning the dog was merely a “camp follower”. Its presence around the early settlements was tolerated possibly because it helped clean up the waste that accumulated in the village dumps to which the early dog was attracted. These dumps were a relatively risk-free source of food and it didn’t require much effort to obtain enough food for the animal’s survival. All it required was a certain level of “tameability”.
Over time various “land races” evolved with characteristics which were determined largely by the environment they were exposed to which was initially geographic. All the greyhound type dogs come from landraces which evolved all over the Middle East and which were used for hunting for thousands of years – the Saluki of Arabia and the Borzoi of Russia; The herders – precursors of Border Collies – which were to be found in Scotland and the north of England; The stock guardians which were to be found in various parts of the Middle East and Europe – the Anatolians of Spain, as well as the Komondor and Kuvasz of Hungary. Even though these landraces, because of specific behavioural characteristics were used by humans over the years to assist with various tasks, temperament and appearance were more determined by form following function rather than specifically breeding for type. During the last 200 to 300 years, dog fanciers have taken these landraces and artificially selected mainly for appearance – the various breeds conforming to a “standard”. Along the way, some of the breed characteristics were diluted. A show-bred border collie would probably not have the ability to herd sheep, and the show-bred saluki would most likely not be able to hunt hares in the desert. However, be that as it may, all the breeds existing today, more than 150 ranging in size from the Great Dane to the petite Yorkshire Terrier, have still retained some of the original characteristics, and these should be taken into account both when choosing a puppy to suit your lifestyle or when embarking on your training.
All the above, recognised breeds have been grouped into a number of categories. These categories usually reflect what the dog was originally bred for and as such usually share common characteristics insofar as temperament, trainability and tendency towards aggression or shyness.
In South Africa these groups consist of:
- The Gundog Group which includes the various Retrievers, the Pointers and Setters and the Spaniels.
- The Herding Group which includes, amonst others, the Border Collie, The Australian Heeler or Cattle Dog and the Kelpie. It also includes the Stock Guardians such as the Komondor and the Maremma.
- The Working Group which include, amonst others, the Rottweiler, the Husky and Malamute and the German Shepherd.
- The Hound Group which include the various scent and sight hounds such as the Beagle, the Basset, the Greyhound and the Saluki, to name a few.
- The Terrier Group which include, amongst others, the Staffordshire Terrier, the Scotch Terrier, the Jack Russel Terrier, and the Airedale Terrier.
- The Utility Group which includes dogs which do not fit into any particular category and which other Kennel Clubs, such as the American Kennel Club refer to as Non-Working. In South Africa, the dogs categorized in this group are the Chow Chow, the Dalmatian and the Bulldog, amonst others.
- The Toy Group which include Maltese, Papillon and Pug.
There is a lot of information on the internet about these various groups and about the breeds which make up the groups.