When we think of man’s best friend, our minds often don’t wander to the subject of extinction. Often we’re more focused on the topic of pet overpopulation, as it is more pressing in today’s society! However, throughout time various circumstances, ranging from war to lack of practical use, have caused entire breeds to cease to exist. Here are short profiles of 10 breeds that have gone in the direction of the Dodo Bird.
The Turnspit Dog was bred for the purpose of canine labor – they were used to run in a wheel that powered a meat spit. The movement of the dog rotated the meat over the fire. It is believed that the Turnspit Dog is the ancestor of the Glen Of Imaal Terrier. A book written in the 1500′s describes the breed as “‘long-bodied, crooked-legged and ugly dogs, with a suspicious, unhappy look about them.” Owners usually kept 2 of the dogs and worked them in alternating shifts. In some kitchens where a roast was cooked every day, it is said the dogs worked one day on, one day off. The saying “every dog has his day” comes from this tradition, as it is said the dogs knew the routine and schedule. By the late 1800′s, the breed was extremely rare as a mechanical device was invented to turn the spits.
A Dog Turnspit in a Kitchen at Newcastle Emlyn, South Wales by Thomas Rowlandson. c. 1800
The Alaunt is an extinct breed that is said to have resembled the Caucasian Ovcharka or the Central Asian Shepherd. These dogs were the working companions of the nomads of Indo-European Sarmatian background – the Alani tribes. The Alans bred specific lines for the purposes they served – herding, guarding and hunting. After the Huns conquered the Alani tribes many other bloodlines were introduced into the breed. The Alaunt de Boucherie, a mastiff-type dog, is believed to be the foundation for many of the molosser dogs we know today.
Dutch artist Abraham Honduis’s painting of a mastiff-type dog.
The Dogo Cubano was a Mastiff-type breed that was used in Cuba to guard against runaway slaves and for dog fighting. It is believed that the breed was brought over from England in the 1500′s. These dogs were known to be driven and fierce. Over time the breed was crossed with Argentine Dogos and few were kept, as slavery was outlawed and they were costly to feed. Gradually they faded into extinction.
The Alpine Spaniel was not what we typically think of as a spaniel – this large dog (reaching approximately 2 feet at the shoulders and 6 feet from nose to tail!) is believed to be the predecessor to the St. Bernard and the Clumber Spaniel. This breed was kept in monasteries in the Alps and aided in the rescue of travelers stranded in the snowy mountain passes. The dogs worked in pairs and would seek out the lost individuals and then lead the monks back to them. Rumors of extinction began circulating in the 1830′s as the level of risk these dogs faced in their work led to many casualties. In 1847 an illness fell on the dogs and the sole survivor was out crossed to keep the line going. The Alpine Spaniel crossed with Newfoundlands created the direct foundation of the St Bernard. When crossed with the Basset Hound, the Clumber Spaniel originated.
Photo by Curious Expeditions
Hawaiian Poi Dog:
The Hawaiian Poi Dog is a Pariah Hound that was brought to Hawaii with the Polynesians over 1000 years ago. The dogs were an important part of the native tribe’s society. They were raised as food for the villagers (fed a diet of poi, a food made from the taro root) and were also considered a good luck charm. The Poi Dog was potbellied, had a flat head (some say caused by their vegetarian diet) and were considered dimwitted. They were often found roaming around with hogs. Eventually the practice of eating dogs became taboo and the Poi Dogs crossbred with dogs that came with European settlers. In 1990 the Honolulu Zoo attempted to genetically recreate the Poi Dog, but the project was discontinued after 12 years with little success.
Salish Wool Dog:
The Salish Wool Dog was a unique Spitz-like breed bred by the native people of Washington State and British Columbia. The small, white, long-haired dogs were kept in groups ranging from 12 to about 20 and kept safe on islands or in gated off caves. They were sheered like sheep in the early summer as their fur was a prized commodity. It was spun into yarn and woven into treasured Salish blankets. As European settlers moved into the territory, the native people suffered from disease and their culture began to crumble. The Salish Wool Dogs were crossed with other dogs and they were considered extinct in 1858 as a distinct breed.
By Paul Kane
English White Terrier:
The English White Terrier, was an attempt at a prick eared version of the many fox hunting terrier breeds of the UK. Last seen in the late 1890′s, the English White Terrier was developed in the 1860′s by a group of fanciers that desired prick ears on working white terriers. However, genetic problems ran in the lines (almost all were deaf) and the dog was not fit for work in the fields – the entire purpose behind its creation. However, crosses of English White Terriers and English Bulldogs led to today’s modern Bull Terriers and Boston Terriers.
Chinese Happa Dog:
The Chinese Happa Dog is a short-haired dog that resembles today’s Pekingese, Japanese Spaniel and possibly the Pug. The Happa dog had a wide stance in the front legs, but then narrowed in the rear. While long haired dogs were kept by the nobles in the Forbidden City, it is believed that Happa dogs were kept by lesser ranking nobles.
Photo by messy_beast
Indian Hairless Dog:
The Indian Hairless Dog was last seen in the mid 19th century. They resembled nude greyhounds and were used for hunting game in some of the hottest parts of India. While mostly hairless (as the name implies) it did have tufts of hair on the head, feet and tip of the tail. The skin was grey or red.
Tahltan Bear Dog:
The Tahltan Bear Dog was a small breed kept by the Tahltan people of British Columbia, Canada. While they only weighed about 15 lbs, this fiery primitive breed was used for bear hunting. In teams of 2 they would taunt and attack the bear from both the front and the back – running on top of the snow, avoiding claws and teeth until hunters arrived. While Tahltan Bear Dogs continued to exist into the 1950′s and 60′s, the dogs seem to lack immunity to common ailments of domestic dogs, thus the gene pool grew smaller and smaller. There are still mixed breeds in the region that show traits of the Bear Dogs.
Photo: BC Archives