What We Do

The Origins of Dogs and Breed Diversity

Lesson plan for parents and CSPE teachers.


Fill in the missing words from the list below. There are two words you will not need to use.

Vertebrates are animals that have a skeleton with a…………………………………..

There are……………………..classes (i.e. large groups) of vertebrates. Humans, cats and dogs are vertebrates and they belong to the group called the………………………………………….

Some characteristics of animals change over thousands of years by a process called………………….. That said, humans can deliberately alter characteristics of some animals by…………………………………Dogs have developed from……………………..There are many different breeds of dog which have been bred by humans. Sometimes when humans breed dogs they have some characteristics that are not healthy for them such as short noses, and this can make breathing difficult for the animal.



Do you think it’s right for humans to change animals’ characteristics by selective breeding?

Think about this:

Humans have changed the characteristics of many plants by selective breeding. I.e. the rose. There are many varieties of roses available in different colours with varying scents; some climb, some are bushes. Humans have also selectively bred the wheat plant in order that it produce lots of wheat seeds and can survive in many different climates.


Is selective breeding justified?

Is there a difference in the selective breeding of plants and the selective breeding of animals?

Discuss the above:

Discuss, compare and contrast your ideas and thinkings with others and explain how you came to your conclusion. Think about what you have heard, found and learned and ask yourself…have you changed your mind?

Learning Outcomes:

• Understanding of the human beings ability to use and change our environment.

• Research skills from different sources and a process of selecting information and making an informed decision based on evidence sourced.

• Attitudes of empathy for others/animals lives.

Students should:

Realise dogs originate from wolves and have been long associated with humans from our early existence.

Know and understand that we have domesticated dogs for different purposes.

Find information regarding dogs from different sources and select evidence for a purpose.

Form and share their informed points of view and opinions with others.

We will look at the wolf and the dog. First we look at the wolf.


Find a picture of a wolf and study it.

Here is some evidence for you to study.

Evidence from the study of animal cells recognises that the sole ancestor of the domestic, family pet we know as the dog is the Grey Wolf. Genetic evidence also suggests the existence of domestic dogs over 15,000 years ago but it is possible humans have been associated with dogs for as long as 140,000 years. Dogs were possibly the first species to be domesticated. In various parts of the world this has led to the massive variety of physical characteristics and behaviours displayed by the modern dog.

So, why would our ancestors want to domestic the wolf?

• To keep them as companion animals?

• To help with hunting?

• To act as waste disposers in settlements by eating the food remains?

Wolves (and dogs) are carnivores that eat other animals but they supplement their diet with plant based foods.

The first domesticated dog was possibly a multipurpose animal that was valued for different reasons by different societies. Wolves were the perfect animal for associating with humans as they share similarities with us. For example, they live in social groups and they primarily communicate through body language.

To do:

• Find out where the wolf lives now and how they socialise and live together in packs.

• How would you describe a wolf?

• What are his characteristics?

• What characteristics do you think would be useful to the wolf in order to help him survive?

• What, if any, of the wolf’s characteristics would you change? Why?

• Do you think the wolf would make a good companion animal today?

• How are wolves different from dogs?


• Discuss your ideas and finding with others and explain your point of view.

• Make sure to listen to others views and findings.

• What have you learned?

• Have you changed your mind?


1) Find a picture of a dog. For example, a Labrador. Study it. Find out what you can about this particular breed.

Here are some pointers:

The Labrador was bred to be a gundog and used to collect birds which had been shot by hunters. The Labrador is a popular family pet and is also used as a service dog, i.e. guide dogs for the blind.

Appearance of the Labrador: Medium sized with a short, dense, weather resistant coat; usually golden/yellow, black or chocolate brown in colour.

Special features: Often highly motivated by food and praise making them easy to train. The Labrador has a keen sense of smell making them popular as service dogs and/or sniffer dogs used by the Gardai/customs officers to sniff out drugs or the military to sniff out explosives.

2) Find a picture of a Greyhound and study it: Find out what you can about this particular breed:

Here are some pointers:

The Greyhound is believed to be traceable back to Egypt. This is a sight hound that has been historically used for hunting.

Appearance: Large with a very short and fine coat. Colour varies from fawn, red, brindle, blue, grey or a combination.

Special Features: The Greyhound has a long, narrow skull and is deep chested with a long, slim body and long legs. A Greyhound is a very fast runner but does not necessarily need lots of exercise and a forty minute walk each day should suffice these gentle, quite, people pleasers.

Special Abilities: Hunting and racing.

There is a welfare issue surrounding Greyhounds: A high percentage of them are either abandoned or killed if they are no longer able to perform on the track.

3) Find a picture of a cross breed and study it: Find out what you can about the cross breed:

A cross breed, (mongrel) is a mixture of two or more breeds of dog.

Size: It varies in body size, shape, ear and tail types.

Coat: Could be short haired, long haired, medium haired, shaggy, etc., Some cross breed colours are more common than others and mongrels are often light to medium brown or black.

Special Features: This can be an excellent breed of dog because they are intelligent, protective, and adaptable and make wonderful family pets.

Special abilities: Great at obedience training, dog agility, Frisbee and ball catching games, great with kids, excellent companion.

Welfare issue: A high percentage of mongrels are abandoned as strays to fend for themselves or left at shelters because some people incorrectly believe they are not as special as pedigree dogs. I have three mongrel dogs that make excellent pets and in my opinion, the mongrel is often a healthier breed of dog that will give any pet parent a life filled with love and loyalty.


Make a list of the many different ways a dog can help us in our lives.

• Can you identify different breeds of dog?

• Take a photograph of some dogs you know (with their owners’ permission) – dogs belonging to family and friends – can you identify them?

• Compare and contrast your photographs and the evidence you have found with others.

• Do you agree with their findings? Do they agree with yours?

• Check your answers with the information given and with others who have completed their research.

*See below for additional information that may help you with your research.

*Additional information:

There have been many reasons for the domestication of wolves; this includes their use as tools to aid with hunting and guarding, emotional attachments and, believe it or not, as waste disposers.

As the wolf was the first wild animal to have been domesticated, it appears unlikely that this was deliberate. However, whatever the primary reason for the initial association, the first domestic dog was possibly a multipurpose animal that was valued for different reasons by different societies. Wolves would have been the ideal candidate for an association with human beings due to the fact they live in social groups and communicate primarily through body language.

The domestication of the wolf appears to have been achieved through the process of paedo-morphosis – otherwise known as the slowing down of behavioural and physical development in order that juvenile characteristics persist into adulthood.

The first evidence that dogs were morphologically distinct from wolves dates back 12,000 years ago and suggests the first changes were in muzzle length and skull shape. (The muzzles of dogs are shorter that those of the wolf).

Also one of the obvious differences between the modern dog and the wolf is the breeding characteristics. Dogs are sexually mature earlier – seven to ten months in a dog compared with twenty two months in a wolf. Dogs have as many as three seasons per year compared to one in the female wolf and the socially controlled mating system has been lost in the dog. Other differences include a decrease in reactivity to novelty in dogs and the rise in the age at which the dog begins to show fearful responses to novel things. Overall, the behavioural development of the dog is much slower than that of the wolf with adult dogs showing behaviour more similar to that of the wolf cub.

Brain research in dogs has shown that the brain mass is relatively smaller than that of the wolf. Some of the dogs’ cognitive abilities have decreased compared to those of the wolves.

When following the human gaze to a point several metres away from them the dog will perform better than the wolf. This could be the result of having lived closely to humans for thousands of years.

Just as there are different types of people, so are there different types of dog.

Depending on their breed; dogs will have particular characteristics, i.e. size, appearance, coat and colours. Some dogs are bred to help humans in the course of their work on farms – i.e. the Collie, and some are used to help humans go about their daily business, i.e. the Labrador. Other dogs have been bred to be small, companion animals such as the Chihuahua. Extremely small dogs are often known as Toy Dogs but they are not to be confused with actual toys.

The training of all dogs should be done by a professional dog trainer.

All dogs require regular veterinary treatment and annual vaccinations against diseases.

Animals should always be taken to a vet if they show any signs of illness.

Welfare issues surrounding pure-bred dogs:

Humans have selectively bred dogs to perform particular functions and over the past century the popularity of dog shows and the development of breeding standards have led to a change in the focus toward the physical appearance of the animal. Attempts to produce a physically perfect dog have led to an increase in inbreeding. This has resulted in the rise in incidence of genetically based defects, many of which impact upon the dog’s welfare.

The breed standards of some breeds include mutilations of the animal, e.g. tail docking and ear cropping which is done purely for cosmetic reasons in order to enhance the dog’s physical appearance. This is usually done when the dog is a young pup and is often very painful and likely to negatively affect the dog’s ability to use its tail or ears to signal and thereby communicate with other dogs. *See below regarding information on tail docking and why it’s not good for a dog.

Welfare issues surrounding mixed breeds:

Mixed breed dogs vary in size. We have already discussed how this type of dog is a mixture of two or more breeds. Historically, all pure bred dogs have been selected from a mixed breed population and dogs of mixed ancestry will be genetically healthier than their pure bred cousins.

Pure breeding has made some breeds prone to various genetic health problems. In fact, some have difficulties associated with the exaggerated physical traits of the particular breed. For example the French Bulldog has tiny hips and a large head so much so that artificial insemination and Caesarean sections are often required to produce their puppies. Crossing such a dog with another breed will be likely to produce dogs without these reproductive difficulties.

*Tail docking:

Find a picture of a dog with its tail docked. Study it and read below.

Thousands of new born puppies have their tails docked or cut ff. This is done in the name of fashion and is painful for the puppy. This is a mutilation and literally removes part of the dog’s body. It causes problems for the dog’s welfare because dogs use their tails as a very important way to communicate with other dogs. A docked tail can interfere with the human-to-dog interaction as people have learnt to understand the emotional state of the dog by looking at the position of the dog’s ears and tail.

In the past, tail docking was performed on hunting and herding dogs to prevent them from damaging them with sharp branches; however, most breeds are kept as companion pets and do not hunt, so this is no longer a necessary operation. Docking a puppy’s tail is cruel, inhumane and unnecessary and people should never purchase a dog from someone who docks dogs’ tails.

For more information contact Miriam at miriam.kerins@dspca.ie



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