Infographic: How Dogs Evolved

This infographic on the history of man's best friend may be cute, but it hides the dark side of dog breeding.

Some 40,000 years ago, dogs were wolves: silver-eyed stalkers who hunted man with blood-smeared lips in the deserts of Paleolithic Persia. Today, though, millennia of domestication have turned those limber predators into an assorted motley of breeds like the Pomeranian, a pocketbook-sized canine idiot so unwolf-like that it would only be recognized by its primordial ancestors as an amuse-bouche, not a peer.

How the heck did we take a wolf and come up with bulldogs, Yorkshires, collies, golden retrievers, whippets, goldendoodles, and otterhounds? Designed by Parisian artist Alice Bouchardon, the "Evolution of Dogs" tries to make sense of the complicated Darwinian (and not-so-Darwinian) machinations that have led us to the kinds of dog breeds that can be toted in Paris Hilton's handbag.

According to a genetic analysis by UCLA in 2010, what we call dogs today likely originated as gray wolves about 33,000 years ago in the Middle East, the same area where both domestic cats and many livestock animals originated. But exactly how is a creature like a pug, a bull terrier, or even a coyote related to those wolves? In Bouchardon's infographic, the gray wolf's heritage is broken down into 11 different families of dogs, ranging from hounds and herding dogs to toy dogs and mastiffs.

There are now over 400 breeds and they can all roughly be characterized by the shapes of their skull. The most wolf-like dogs, such as Siberian Huskies, have dolichocephalic skulls, which dedicates the largest proportion of the skull to the nasal cavity for smelling and hunting. Mesocephalic skulls are the most common, and dedicate equal portions of the skull to cranium and nasal cavity, while brachycephalic skulls are ones like in the pug and bulldog, where the snout is either flat or nonexistent.

Although this infographic is light in tone, it's important to keep in mind while looking at it that over-breeding has largely ruined many of these breeds over the course of the last century. Consider, for example, what some of the most popular dogs today looked like just a hundred years ago, and it becomes clear that humans have aggressively bred many dogs to actually increase their likelihood of having genetic diseases. The result? Breeds which are more likely to win blue ribbons at dog shows, but which live lives full of illness and suffering.

As cute as the Bouchardon's "Evolution of Dogs" chart is, we should try remember that many breeds of dogs would be better off trying to recombine with other breeds back into the gray wolf, not further diverge down a path of genetic mutation from its ancestry.

[Image: Golden Retriever via Shutterstock]

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