Four Dog Breeds with Surprising Histories

Not all kinds of selection are natural. Look no further than our grand, ongoing bastardization of the wolf. Through careful breeding, we’ve managed to produce over 400 recognized varieties of man’s best friend. And while it’s obvious what we were going for with some breeds– wiener dogs were clearly bred for us to stick them in hilarious costumes– other dog origin stories might surprise you. Here are four of the most interesting:

Shar-Pei

Sushisharpei.jpg

Possible Origins: The forbidden lovechild of the Michelin Man and a hippopotamus. A pile of lumpy pancakes coalesced and gained sentience. Somebody left their pug in the wash for too long.

Actual Origin: Those wrinkles aren’t just for storing coins and business cards, though I imagine that is one advantage of owning a Shar-Pei.

Shar-Pei are also known as “Chinese Fighting Dogs” for a reason: for all intents and purposes, these are the Pit Bulls of the East (by which I mean they were bred to attack each other, and not that they spout incoherent, Spanish phrases in the middle of Usher songs). Their loose coats mean that grabbing one by the skin can’t stop it from twisting around and lunging at you. In fact, historically, the more defined a dog’s wrinkles were in its face, the more it was considered a capable guard dog. And did I mention that those wrinkles are a Chinese sign of sovereignty? Laugh all you want at the Botox injection gone awry; next time I meet a Shar-Pei, I’ll be bowing and praying it doesn’t smother me in its kingly folds.

Poodle

Possible Origins: Where Bob Ross’s afro fled to when he died. A terrible, failed early experiment in Rogaine. A drunken night between a greyhound and a Chia pet that both are trying to forget.

Actual Origin: Believe it or not, the haircut was not the brainchild of rich fashion designers with a fondness for leg warmers and too much time on their hands.

Originally, the ‘do can be traced back to the 16th or 17th century. Back then, poodles were bred as water retrievers. That’s why they’re called poodles– it’s from the German word for “splash”, which also is the root for the English word “puddle”. I’ll give you a second to mop up the slivered fragments of your mind, which has just been blown.

Shaving the poodle’s bottom half made it more buoyant in the water, while maintaining fur at the top kept it from freezing to death. Taking the hair off the face made it easier for the poodle to see its target, and the fur on the ankles prevented rheumatism. So all those poofy embellishments actually served a practical purpose at a time. Now, of course, they serve the purpose of warning us to avoid anybody who spends more money grooming their dog than paying for their kids’ educations.

Yorkshire Terrier

Possible Origins:  A young, midget Wookie was banished from Kashyyyk for being too cute. A mop was granted its wish to become a real boy. A butterfly farted on a daisy, and a dog bloomed.

Actual Origin: These guys are just your average, working-class schmoes.

It all began during the Industrial Revolution, when Scottish immigrants moved to England in search of work, taking their terriers with them. Those dogs mixed with the local Waterside terriers, giving rise to something more closely resembling the vivacious breed we recognize today. It was then that these dogs could get to doing what they do best: pulling off the hair bow with such aplomb they make Dorothy from Wizard of Oz look like Ms. Pacman. Wait, hold on– I meant hunting and killing rats in old mines and cotton mills, because that’s what they actually did. These dogs weren’t always the prissy, high-society Prima donnas which I just now decided they are. I mean, look at them.

Irish Wolfhound

Possible Origins: I’m pretty sure this is just a bear.

Actual Origin: These dogs are way more badass than bears, to the point that there is an entire website dedicated to their badassery. Let me share some of the highlights:

  • In Ireland they hunted deer, boar, and wolves so adeptly that battles were fought simply to own more of them. They eventually had to make laws limiting the number you could have, presumably because someone with over four could easily conquer and enslave a small nation.
  • It once was standard practice, before letting these hounds out at night for guard duty, to first make sure all guests were safely inside.
  • In Rome, a hound named Ailbe was so admired that his owner was offered three score hundred milch cows at once and a chariot with two horses and as much again at the end of the year” as a trade. The offer was declined.
  • In one battle, a hound was said to jump onto a chariot– causing it to collapse– then behead the driver, and kill all the horses. I’m not making this up.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to parse fact from fiction in these tales, but the fact that these hounds inspired so much legend in the first place is impressive enough. The day I see a chihuahua capable of biting off my head is the day I stop chugging 5-hour-energies and paint thinner.

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