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Good Question: How Did We Get So Many Dog Breeds?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Sky, a 5-year-old Wire Fox Terrier, won Best in Show at Tuesday night’s Westminster Kennel Club’s Dog Show. She beat out 2,800 other dogs to take home the title, which comes with a trophy, ribbon and steak lunch. More than 180 different breeds of dogs took part in the annual event, so that got us wondering: How did we get to many different types of dogs?

According to the American Kennel Club, 178 dog breeds are officially recognized, but there are more than 400 breeds worldwide.

“Dogs are adaptable physiologically,” said Mark Derr, author of “How the Dog Became the Dog.” “For example, part of the jaw will respond differently to different genes.”

Most scientists agree that dogs descended from wolves tens of thousands of years ago. But how and when dogs became domesticated is still not entirely understood.

“There’s a debate about whether dogs picked man or man picked dogs,” said Lisa Peterson, communications director with the American Kennel Club and a Norwegian elkhound breeder.

Dogs were often bred for various characteristics to help humans with working, hunting and everyday activities. For example, German Shepards were bred from shepherding dogs for their strength, courage and intelligence. Later on, different traits were emphasized in their use as police dogs.

“Over time, humans have genetically manipulated their DNA to create a dog specifically suited for whatever it is they want to accomplish,” said Robert Cole, a certified dog behavior trainer.

So while dogs have been bred for several thousand years, it wasn’t until the 1800s that kennel clubs were formed and breeding for appearance over behavior became more important.

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