A Brief History of Dogs in America

Man’s best friend can look many different ways. With the American Kennel Club currently recognizing 202 different dog breeds, the number is only expected to grow.

Nearly half of American homes have a dog, but it wasn’t always this way. Throughout history, dogs were used more as a means of survival than companionship. But that has certainly changed!

The Origin of Dogs

Today’s dog breeds descended from ancestors of the modern gray wolf. They originally inhabited Europe before crossing the Bering Strait to America -- the same way humans are thought to have come to America.

No one knows exactly how and when domestication happened. There are numerous theories that are all heavily debated and equally plausible.

What we do know is that over the span of tens of thousands of years, all over the world, wolves were domesticated and bred for specific purposes, such as hunting, guarding, corralling, tracking, labor, and sometimes companionship. The result was an enormous variety of very different looking dogs.

In North America, many Native American tribes domesticated and bred wolves while others distrusted them and kept them at arm’s length. Some tribes even hunted and ate them.

It’s theorized that domestication in America began when Native Americans and wolves found a sort of compromise -- wolves learned that they could get an easy meal if they hung around humans, and Native Americans realized that wolves could be helpful in several ways.

Many uniquely American dog species were bred by Native Americans, and while most of them are now extinct, they’re an important part of our modern furry friends’ ancestry.

Colonialism was the next step in the evolution of American dogs. Dogs had long been bred in Europe for hunting and sport and were brought along with the Spanish, French, and British colonists during the colonization of the Americas in the 16th-19th centuries. European dogs mixed with American dogs and were further domesticated and bred for specialized purposes.

Becoming Pets

For a majority of their existence, dogs were bred to be faster, stronger, more obedient and docile, better workers, better smellers, etc. Only over the last two centuries has it become acceptable for dogs to be welcomed into our homes as pets and companions.

As a result, dog breeding has shifted to produce endless smaller, cuter, prettier, more adorable and docile breeds of dogs. And yet, it seems that humans are still not done breeding these animals.

Dogs in the Workforce

While a vast majority of dogs are kept as pets today, many dogs are still used to work. K-9’s are bred and trained for use in the police force and military working dogs are used in war and military operations. 

Only recently have these working dogs acquired some of the rights that they deserve, such as the chance to be adopted upon retirement rather than being put down.

Additionally, service dogs make all the difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Their assistance ranges from being the eyes of someone who is blind to sensing when a seizure is about to occur.

Humans succeeded in taming the fierce wolf and transforming it into man’s best friend. Dogs are loving, dependable, forgiving, selfless companions that deserve the greatest care and respect from those who domesticated them.