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Origin. - General Characteristics. – Habitat.–Varieties.-F. Cuvier's Divisional
Arrangement. — Arrangement adopted by the Author.
From the earliest times we have reason to believe that the dog has been the faithful companion and assistant of man in all parts of the world, and his fidelity and attachment are so remarkable as to have become proverbial. Before the introduction of agriculture, it was by means of the hunting powers of this animal that man was enabled to support himself by pursuing the wild denizens of the forest ; for though now, with the aid of gunpowder, he can in great
measure dispense with the services of his assistant, yet, until the invention of that destructive agent, he was, in default of the dog, reduced to the bow and arrow, the snare, or the pitfall. The dog was also of incalculable service in guarding the flocks and herds from the depredations of the Carnivora, and even man himself was often glad to have recourse to his courage and strength in resisting the lion, the tiger, or the wolf.
Much has been written on the origin of the dog, and Pennant, Buffon, and other naturalists have exhausted their powers of research and invention in attempting to discover the parent stock from which all are descended. The subject, however, is wrapped in so much obscurity as to baffle all their efforts, and it is still a disputed point whether the shepherd's dog, as supposed by Buffon and Daniel, or the wolf, as conjectured by Bell, is the progenitor of the various breeds now existing. Anyhow, it is a most unprofitable speculation, and, being unsupported by proof of any kind, it can never be settled upon any reliable basis. We shall not, therefore, waste any space in entering upon this discussion, but leave our readers to investigate the inquiry, if they think fit, in the pages of Buffon, Linnæus, Pennant, and Cuvier, and our most recent investigator, Professor Bell. It may, however, be observed that the old hypothesis of Pennant that the dog is only a domesticated jackal, crossed with the wolf or fox, though resuscitated by Mr. Bell, is now almost entirely exploded; for while it accounts somewhat ingeniously for the varieties which are met with, yet it is contradicted by tủe stubborn fact that, in the present day, the cross of the dog with either of these animals, if produced, is incapable of continuing the species when paired with one of the same crossed breed. Nevertheless, it may be desirable to give Mr. Bell's reasons for thinking that the dog is descended from the wolf, which are as follows:
“In order to come to any rational conclusion on this head, it will be necessary to ascertain to what type the animal approaches most nearly, after having for many successive generations existed in a wild state, removed from the influence of domestication, and of association with mankind. Now we find that there are several different instances of the existence in dogs of such a state of wildness as to have lost even that common character of domestication, variety of colour and marking. Of these, two very remarkable ones are the dhole of India and the dingo of Australia. There is, besides, a half-reclaimed race amongst the Indians of North America, and another also partially tamed in South America, which deserve attention. And it is found that these races in different degrees, and in a greater degree as they are more wild, exhibit the lank and gaunt form, the lengthened limbs, the long and slender muzzle, and the great comparative strength which characterise the wolf; and that the tail of the Australian dog, which may be considered as the most remote from a state of domestication, assumes the slightly bushy form of that animal.
“We have here a remarkable approximation to a well-known wild animal of the same genus, in races which, though doubtless descended from domesticated ancestors, have gradually assumed the wild condition ; and it is worthy of especial remark that the anatomy of the wolf, and its osteology in particular, does not differ from that of the dog in general, more than the different kinds of dogs do from each other. The cranium is absolutely similar, and so are all, or nearly all, the other essential parts; and, to strengthen still further the probability of their identity, the dog and wolf will readily breed together, and their progeny is fertile. The obliquity of the position of the eyes in the wolf is one of the characters in which it differs from the dog ; and, although it is very desirable not to rest too much upon the effects of habit on structure, it is not perhaps straining the point to attribute the forward direction of the eyes in the dog to the constant habit, for many successive generations, of looking forward to his master, and obeying his voice.” *
Such is the state of the argument in favour of the original descent from the wolf, but, as far as it is founded upon the breeding together of the wolf and dog, it applies also to the fox, which is now ascertained occasionally to be impregnated by the dog; but in neither case we believe does the progeny continue to be fertile if put to one of the same cross, and as this is now ascertained to be the only reliable test, the existence of the first cross stands for nothing. Indeed, experience shows us more and more clearly every year, that no reliance can be placed upon the test depending upon fertile intercommunion, which, especially in birds, is shown to be liable to various exceptions. Still it has been supported by respectable authorities, and for this reason we have given insertion to the above extract.
* Bell's British Quadrupeds, pp. 196-7.
In every variety the dog is more or less endowed with a keen sight, strong powers of smell, sagacity almost amounting to reason, and considerable speed, so that he is admirably adapted for all purposes connected with the pursuit of game. He is also furnished with strong teeth, and courage enough to use them in defence of his master, and with muscular power sufficient to enable him to draw moderate weights, as we see in Kamtschatka and Newfoundland. Hence, among the old writers, dogs were divided into Pugnaces, Sagaces, and Celeres; but this arrangement is now superseded, various other systems having been adopted in modern times, though none perhaps much more satisfactory. Belonging to the division Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Feræ, family Felidæ, and subfamily Canina, the species is known as Canis familiaris, the subfamily being distinguished by having two tubercular teeth behind the canines on the upper jaw, with non-retractile claws, while the dog itself differs from the fox with which he is grouped, in having a round pupil in the eye instead of a perpendicular slit, as is seen in that animal.
The attempt made by Linnæus to distinguish the dog as having a tail curved to the left, is evidently without any reliable foundation, as though there are far more with the tail on that side than on the right, yet many exceptions are to be met with, and among the pugs almost all the bitches wear their tails curled to the left.