The Domestic Dog
Article: General Information » The Domestic Dog
The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris and Canis lupus dingo) is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. The dog may have been the first animal to be domesticated, and has been the most widely kept working, hunting, and companion animal in human history. The word “dog” may also mean the male of a canine species, as opposed to the word “bitch” for the female of the species.
Dogs were domesticated from gray wolves about 15,000 years ago. They must have been very valuable to early human settlements, for they quickly became ubiquitous across world cultures. Dogs perform many roles for people, such as hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, assisting police and military, companionship, and, more recently, aiding handicapped individuals. This impact on human society has given them the nickname “Man’s Best Friend” in the western world. In 2001, there were estimated to be 400 million dogs in the world.
Over the 15,000 year span the dog had been domesticated, it diverged into only a handful of land-races, groups of similar animals whose morphology and behavior have been shaped by environmental factors and functional roles. Through selective breeding by humans, the dog has developed into hundreds of varied breeds, and shows more behavioral and morphological variation than any other land mammal. For example, height measured to the withers ranges from a few inches in the Chihuahua to a few feet in the Irish Wolfhound; color varies from white through grays (usually called “blue'”) to black, and browns from light (tan) to dark (“red” or “chocolate”) in a wide variation of patterns; coats can be short or long, coarse-haired to wool-like, straight, curly, or smooth. It is common for most breeds to shed this coat.
Etymology and Related Terminology
Dog is the common use term that refers to members of the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris (canis, “dog”; lupus, “wolf”; familiaris, “of a household” or “domestic”). The term can also be used to refer to a wider range of related species, such as the members of the genus Canis, or “true dogs”, including the wolf, coyote, and jackals; or it can refer to the members of the subfamily Caninae, which would also include the African wild dog; or it can be used to refer to any member of the family Canidae, which would also include the foxes, bush dog, raccoon dog, and others. Some members of the family have “dog” in their common names, such as the raccoon dog and the African wild dog. A few animals have “dog” in their common names but are not canids, such as the prairie dog.
The English word dog comes from Middle English dogge, from Old English docga, a “powerful dog breed”. The term may derive from Proto-Germanic *dukkōn, represented in Old English finger-docce (“finger-muscle”). The word also shows the familiar pet name diminutive -ga also seen in frogga “frog”, picga “pig”, stagga “stag”, wicga “beetle, worm”, among others. Due to the archaic structure of the word, the term dog may ultimately derive from the earliest layer of Proto-Indo-European vocabulary, reflecting the role of the dog as the earliest domesticated animal.
Mbabaram is famous in linguistic circles for a striking coincidence in its vocabulary to English. When linguist R. M. W. Dixon began his study of the language by eliciting a few basic nouns among the first of these was the word for “dog” which coincidentally in Mbabaram is dog. The Mbabaram word for “dog” really is pronounced almost identically to the English word (compare true cognates such as Yidiny gudaga, Dyirbal guda, Djabugay gurraa and Guugu Yimidhirr gudaa, for example). The similarity is a complete coincidence: there is no discernible relationship between English and Mbabaram. This and other false cognates are often cited as a caution against deciding that languages are related based on a small number of comparisons.
In 14th-century England, hound (from Old English: hund) was the general word for all domestic canines, and dog referred to a subtype of hound, a group including the mastiff. It is believed this “dog” type of “hound” was so common it eventually became the prototype of the category “hound”. By the 16th century, dog had become the general word, and hound had begun to refer only to types used for hunting. Hound, cognate to German Hund, Dutch hond, common Scandinavian hund, and Icelandic hundur, is ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European *kwon- “dog”, found in Welsh ci (plural cwn), Latin canis, Greek kýōn, Lithuanian šuõ.
In breeding circles, a male canine is referred to as a dog, while a female is called a bitch (Middle English bicche, from Old English bicce, ultimately from Old Norse bikkja). A group of offspring is a litter. The father of a litter is called the sire, and the mother is called the dam. Offspring are, in general, called pups or puppies, from French poupée, until they are about a year old. The process of birth is whelping, from the Old English word hwelp, (cf. German Welpe, Dutch welp, Swedish valp, Icelandic hvelpur).
The domestic dog was originally classified as Canis familiaris and Canis familiarus domesticus by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, and was reclassified in 1993 as Canis lupus familiaris, a subspecies of the gray wolf Canis lupus, by the Smithsonian Institution and the American Society of Mammalogists. Overwhelming evidence from behavior, vocalizations, morphology, and molecular biology led to the contemporary scientific understanding that a single species, the gray wolf, is the common ancestor for all breeds of domestic dogs; however, the time-frame and mechanisms by which dogs diverged are controversial. Canis lupus familiaris is listed as the name for the taxon that is broadly used in the scientific community and recommended by ITIS; Canis familiaris, however, is a recognized synomym.
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