If you’ve been following The Westminster Kennel Club 139th Annual Dog Show you may have wondered why certain breeds are presented at dog shows with a distinct look. As dogs were bred throughout the centuries, specific characteristics were written into their breed standards, but why? Here are some interesting insights to why some of your favorite breeds look the way they do!
Poodle. Bred as a water retriever, a Poodle's thick outer coat can get heavy when wet, so owners trimmed the bottom half of the body to help keep them afloat. To keep their organs warm in cold waters, the hair was kept long over the chest and head. Bracelets of ankle hair were left to protect joints from rheumatism, and a topknot was used to keep long hair out of the eyes when swimming. Colorful bows were added during competitions to help owners identify their dogs. Put all that together and you get a slightly funny looking yet practical poodle!
Beagle. Before coming to the United States, Beagles went through many breeding transitions. Some were bred to be pocket sized, and some were bred based on their hunting techniques. The Beagles we know today weren't bred until the late 1800's in New York. It was the "Patch" Beagle strain where these dogs became their current size and primarily white with a very large tri-colored "spot" on their back.
Westie. According to history, the Westie's color resulted from a tragic nineteenth-century accident that occurred while Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch, Scotland was hunting fox. The Colonel accidentally shot and killed one of his wheaten-colored Cairn Terriers. Devastated, and determined to prevent such accidents in the future, he decided to breed a new white dog that couldn't be confused with foxes.
Saint Bernard. This breed has many distinct face and neck markings. Historically a rescue dog for mountain travelers, a white spot on the nape of the neck and a white blaze on the face are especially attractive and desirable, as are dark markings on the head and ears that resemble a mask. The white markings are said to resemble garments worn by priests and the black mask to reduce the glare from the snow.
Collie. Original Collies were closer in size and shape to today's Border Collies, and interestingly, were predominantly black. Once thought to be vicious, this breed became popular because of Queen Victoria. The Queen loved the Collie's appearance which caused breeders to consider more than the it's herding abilities. One Collie, named Old Cockie, who was born in 1867, is credited with the characteristics of the Collies known today, and she is believed to be responsible for introducing brown coat color to the breed.
Rhodesian Ridgeback. The Ridgeback has many European ancestors such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, Greyhounds, and Bloodhounds — with a half-wild native dog kept by the Khoikhoi, a pastoral people in South Africa. This dog had a distinctive ridge of hair along its back, and breeders in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) noticed that dogs who had this ridge tended to be excellent hunters.
Great Danes. Originally bred to hunt boars, Great Danes were first called Boar Hounds! Similar to herding dog's tails that were cropped to prevent injury from livestock, owners cropped Great Dane's ears to prevent boar tusks from tearing through them. Today you can find their ears cropped or floppy since these gentle giants wouldn't be too great at hunting boars these days.
Bulldogs. Bulldogs are now a very calm and lovable breed but did you know they used to be a butcher's assistant? Used as sporting dogs, Bulldogs were used for "bull baiting," which was a spectator's sport. A common practice in bull slaughtering, a bulldog’s short, flat nose enabled them to breathe easily while endlessly holding onto a bull's snout with their teeth. This was thought to tenderize the meat.