How Popular Dog Breeds Have Changed After 100 Years of Breeding

February 19, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

St. Bernard

In most cases, it was not for the better.

Dogs may be one of our best friends, but did you know they haven’t always looked the way they do today?  Many popular breeds have changed a lot over the last 100 years — thanks to humans — and it has not always been for the better.

The Science of Dogs blog compiled a side-by-side comparison of several common dog breeds, from the 1915 book Dogs of All Nations by Walter Esplin Mason, with what they look like today.

Take a look for yourself.

Bull Terrier

Bull Terrier in 1915 and today
photo credit: Science of Dogs. Image has been edited for size.

This may be one of the most shocking transformations.  At one point, the bull terrier was a very beautiful and athletic dog with a well-proportioned head and a slim torso.  Dogs of All Nations called it “the embodiment of agility, grace, elegance and determination” and the “gladiator of the canine race.”

But now, bull terriers have a football-shaped head and a thick body.  Unfortunately, the dogs are now prone to developing extra teeth and a chronic habit of chasing their tail.

SEE ALSO: Why Is Chocolate so Bad for Dogs?


photo credit: Science of Dogs. Image has been edited for size.

See how much shorter the boxer's face on the right is?  Unfortunately, a shorter face leads to a host of problems.  Not only do modern boxers have a shorter face, a condition called brachycephaly, but the muzzle is slightly upturned.  This leads to difficulty breathing and controlling their body temperature — limiting their physical abilities.

English Bulldog

English bulldog
photo credit: Science of Dogs. Image has been edited for size.

A lot can go wrong when breeding for looks, and English bulldogs are no exception.  The current version of the Bulldog has more pronounced facial wrinkles, and an even thicker and squatter body.  They suffer from a list of diseases, overheating, breeding and breathing problems. and their median age of death is 6.25 years.  

German Shepherd

German shepherd dog
photo credit: Science of Dogs. Image has been edited for size.

German shepherds often come up when talking about ruined breeds, and that is because they used to be really fantastic.  In 1915, Dogs of All Nations, described it as a “medium sized dog” weighing just 55 pounds, with a “deep chest, straight back and strong loins.”

However, today’s German shepherds are much larger — 75 to 95 pounds — with a more sloping back, making them more prone to hip dysplasia — a condition where the leg bones don’t fit properly into the hip socket.  They also suffer from bloat, where the stomach can expand with air and twist, which can sometimes be fatal.

SEE ALSO: Cats or Dogs: One Supposedly Loves Their Humans Five Times More

St. Bernard

St. Bernard
photo credit: Science of Dogs. Image has been edited for size.

St. Bernards used to be working dogs; however, now they are oversized, their faces are flattened, and they have been bred to have a lot of skin.  Unfortunately, they quickly overheat and are prone to diseases such as entropion, ectropion, Stockard’s paralysis, and hemophilia to name a few.

Shetland Sheepdog

Stland sheepdog
photo credit: Science of Dogs and Krysta/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) Image has been edited for size.

The Shetland sheepdog, back in 1911, weighed between 7 to 10 pounds with medium-length fur.  Today, the dogs have been bred to be larger, at least 20 pounds, and as you can see, their fur is incredibly long.  It’s unclear why that is, but these dogs are very intelligent and are excellent herders.

Although no breed will ever be free of disease, it is clear that selective breeding just doesn’t work.

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