By Sam Carr, author of Amazon bestseller Nostromo the Dwarf
Dogs come in hundreds of breeds, sizes, shapes and colors, and every kind of dog comes from the same ancestor that was about the size of a wolf. So where did all these dogs come from, and why are there more kinds of dog than any other animal we keep as pets?
The answer to that question is very simple: for thousands of years, people have needed dogs, and dogs have needed people. Somewhere long ago when we were just evolving into humans, some particularly curious wolves probably got a little too close to some particularly curious people, and the people shared their dinner with the wolves. It didn’t take them long to realize that they could help each other. The people could provide food and shelter to the wolves, and the wolves could protect the people and help them hunt. After a few generations the wolves weren’t wolves anymore. They had become tame dogs, and people and dogs have been getting along just fine ever since.
But if that’s how dogs and people first got to know each other, how do we have so many kinds of dogs? The answer is what’s called selective breeding. Some jobs require large dogs: guard dogs, or dogs that hunt large animals, or dogs that have to work in very harsh conditions. St. Bernard dogs, for example, were first bred to be rescue people in the mountains of Switzerland. The monks who lived in the snowy mountains needed animals to help find and rescue people who got lost in the snow, so they bred the largest dogs they could find, and then bred the largest of the next generation, and so on, until they had dogs that grew up to weigh 260 pounds! The average dog weighs about 60 pounds, but by breeding for traits they needed, the monks were able to create a whole new kind of dog which was perfectly suited to help them save lives.
But not all dogs were bred to live exciting outdoor adventures. Some breeds exist just to keep people company. All around the world people through history have kept lap dogs, which are very small and usually very friendly. In the past, they’ve also played an important role in keeping away pests. They would chase away rats, and even attract fleas away from their human owners.
But whatever the role a dog is meant to play, they have come to be very much like people. Every dog has its own personality. Some dogs love children and even let them pull and poke at their ears without minding in the slightest. Some dogs need lots of exercise and attention or they become very grouchy. They would not be amused at all at being poked at by a kid. But every dog can be a good companion and friend, if you treat them with kindness and respect.
One Heroic Dog
There are many stories about heroic dogs, but there’s one dog who I know for a fact is pretty heroic—or at least she thinks so! In fact, she made me want to write about a brave, happy and friendly dog, which is partly where the character of Cicero comes from. Her name is Bess, and she’s Golden Retriever. A few years ago I was walking with her near the mountains near where Nostromo takes place, admiring the full moon on a warm summer night. Neither of us were paying much attention to what was happening around us, because we were looking at the stars and listening to the dry gravel road crunching under our feet and paws. We heard a noise a bit further up the road and standing there, looking very surprised, was a black bear. Now, black bears are usually very shy, and this bear had just been minding his own business, eating as much as he could before the winter came. He was as startled as I was, but Bess wasn’t startled—she was mad. She saw the bear, and decided he was a threat and that she had to keep us safe. She started barking and snarling. Before I could grab her, she took off after the bear, making all the scary noises she could think of to make. If you’d seen her then for the first time you’d think she was a ferocious killer, and not the goofy, lazy and friendly dog she actually is. But she thought we were in danger, and acted very heroically, at least for a few minutes.
She chased the bear halfway across a field, and then realized how much bigger the bear was than her. Then she got scared, and came running back to me. All the way back to our house she insisted on walking between my legs, just so she could feel extra safe. And that’s how humans and dogs are: they take care of us, and we take care of them. They’re our best friends for a very good reason.