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How to Build a Dog


On the eve of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show owners shuffle through the check-in line in the lobby of Hotel Pennsylvania, the competition’s official lodgings. This is the world’s elite canine mixer, where you can see dog lovers with every shape, size and color imaginable. Why are dogs so different?

credit: National Geographic

The February cover story of National Geographic magazine features a fascinating article titled “How to Build a Dog” written by Evan Ratliff. The article goes into detail how scientists have found the secret recipe behind the spectacular variety of dog shapes and sizes, and it could help unravel the complexity of human genetic disease.

For reasons both practical and whimsical, man’s best friend has been artificially evolved into the most diverse animal on the planet—a staggering achievement, given that most of the 350 to 400 dog breeds in existence have been around for only a couple hundred years. The breeders fast-forwarded the normal pace of evolution by combining traits from disparate dogs and accentuating them by breeding those offspring with the largest hints of the desired attributes. To create a dog well suited for cornering badgers, for instance, it is thought that German hunters in the 18th and 19th centuries brought together some combination of hounds—the basset, a native of France, being the likely suspect—and terriers, producing a new variation on the theme of dog with stubby legs and a rounded body that enabled it to chase its prey into the mouth of a burrow: hence the dachshund, or “badger dog” in German. (A rival, flimsier history of the breed has it dating back, in some form, to ancient Egypt.) Pliable skin served as a defense mechanism, allowing the dog to endure sharp-toothed bites without significant damage. A long and sturdy tail helped hunters to retrieve it from an animal’s lair, badger in its mouth.
Evan Ratliff, National Geographic

So why are dogs so different? The answer, the researchers say, lies in their unusual evolutionary history.

A Perfect Example from February 2012 National Geographic magazine

Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic

The photos are from “the February 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.”


About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).


  1. I watched part of the dog show the other day, and love hearing about the history of the evolution of the breeds. It amazes me how some of these dogs were “designed” to be hunting dogs for specific types of game.

  2. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your blog. You have some really great articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d really like to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested. Thanks!

  3. I would like to adopt a dog that is good for a small apartment but can take long walks. I’m thinking of a fox terrier or something close to that sort of nature. I would like to ask what sort of dog collar and leash is most suitable for a fox terrier type of dog? Should I even get a collar or should I get a harness? What’s the difference? Also, I’m thinking of a adopting it as a puppy. What sort of new puppy supplies should I acquire if to get the house ready? Where would be a good and cheap place to go to find dog collars, leashes, and puppy supplies?

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This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a commission for sales referred from links on our site. We're also Amazon Associates, so we may earn from those qualifying purchases, too. Learn more!