What Is a Dog? A Definition and a History

What Is a Dog? A Definition and a History

To own a dog is to take on the responsibility to care for a special, unique, truly amazing creature. However, if you’re like most people, you probably don’t think very much about what exactly you’re taking on. What is a dog and why is it your pet?

Dogs have a long, rather unclear history. In fact, there is no exact definition of what a dog is. Though all have similar characteristics, there is not a specific set of characteristics that can define a dog to the exclusivity of other creatures. So, what is a dog? Where do dogs come from? Why are dogs such a popular pet all around the world?

The Biology of a Dog

The scientific name of a dog is the Canis lupus familiaris of the Canidae family, order Carnivora. All dogs are descended from the gray wolf, though various dog breeds have been around for thousands of years. For at least 12,000 years, dogs have acted as companions, protectors, and community icons (whether of scorn or love) to humans around the world. 

There are over 400 breeds of dogs, but all carry a few main characteristics. All dogs contain 39 pairs of chromosomes, one member of each from each parent dog, for a total of 78 chromosome pairs. A dog’s average temperature is 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Most dogs are made up of around 319 bones, give or take a few depending especially on the size of their tail. Dog muscles are fairly similar to human muscles, but their unique build makes dogs incredible runners compared to humans and many other animal species. 

Most dogs have either coarse or fine hair that comes in one of three lengths: short, medium, or long. Grooming is important for helping your dog maintain its health by protecting it from various pests and dangerous germs that may find a place hiding in its coat. 

Just like humans, dogs will get two sets of teeth over their lifetime. The first set, called the deciduous or baby teeth, consists of 28 teeth that usually appear around 6-8 weeks after the puppy is born. The second set of teeth consists of 42 adult teeth including incisors (nipping and biting teeth), canines (tearing and shredding teeth), premolars, and molars (shearing and crushing teeth. These teeth appear by the time puppies are 6-7 months old. 

Dogs originally ate a carnivorous diet with few plants or other vegetables. Once dogs swallow their food, it heads to the stomach to be broken down by digestive enzymes. Most digestion occurs in the small intestines, the pancreas, and the liver. A dog’s poop can tell you a lot about their health, so it’s important to keep an eye on their poop to ensure they are digesting food well and taking in all the nutrients they need from their food.

One of the most well-known characteristics of a dog is its heightened sense of smell. Though dogs have the same five senses as humans, their senses of smell, hearing, and sight are all different from those that humans experience. 

Dog’s noses, for example, are incredibly powerful. For this reason, many dogs are bred to help with animal tracking, finding drugs or other dangerous objects, or hunting dangerous criminals. Dog’s ears can also detect noise ranges far beyond the capability of humans to hear. 

Most dogs reach sexual maturity between the ages of six months and one year. Female dogs cycle around twice a year in most cases and can usually carry litters of between two and twelve puppies depending on their size and health.

The Behavior of a Dog

As you are probably well aware by now, dogs are social and considered to be “pack animals.” For as long as they have been around, dogs have traveled in groups (e.g. wolf packs) and been friendly to domestication. 

Dogs are usually very territorial, which is why they tend to bark and/or bite at intruders who come near their home or yard. Some dogs are more prone to growl or howl than other dogs, though all dogs make some type of barking noise. 

If you want your dog to be receptive to human relationships, it’s important to give them plenty of human contact between three and four weeks of age and onward. If puppies don’t get socialization with humans at a young age, they likely won’t be as friendly toward humans throughout the rest of their lives. 

Over the course of history, dogs have undergone all kinds of breeding to prepare them for specific tasks that humans want them to complete. Today, most breeds have very specific behavioral and physical traits that set them apart from one another. 

For example, Collies and other herding dogs are usually loyal and protective and tend to herd children or other small animals. Terriers who were bred to chase after rodents tend to be playful and incredibly energetic. Newfoundlands have adapted to provide life-saving protection and often use those instincts to guard their humans.

The History of Dogs

The history of dogs is actually long and rather uncertain. There are no exact records, though scientists are confident that dogs descended from wolves. In general, it is believed that dogs were domesticated around 16,000 years ago, though possibly as early as 30,000 years ago.

Since that time, dogs have been used for many purposes. Early humans used them primarily as pack animals, hunting companions, and guard dogs for livestock. In Ancient Egypt and China, dogs were considered sacred. 

It was likely around 3,000 or 4,000 years ago that dogs first developed into breeds in the sense that we are more familiar with today. Over the last several thousand years, dogs have adapted to work with humans as hunting companions, guard dogs, police dogs, assistants for blind or otherwise impaired humans, and as close companions for any and everybody. 

Your Dog and You

Dogs are special creatures, created and bred to protect and support humans in their many endeavors. Though you may not train your dog for anything specific, you’re sure to find comfort and delight in spending time with them.

If you would like help caring for your dog, our team is happy to help! We provide poop scooping services to keep your dog’s yard clean so they can enjoy their play time more effectively! Visit Idaho Poop Scoop to learn more.