Amazingly, archaeological sites in England that date back 500,000 years show evidence that suggests a close relationship between the predecessors of both man and dog. Homo heidelbergensis, from which Neanderthals and modern man are descended, trained wolves to hunt and protect them from the lions, hyenas and bears that roamed the land. In return the wolves would be given a meal, shelter and a slipper to chew on and so the symbiotic relationship between man and hound began.
As the Stone Age rolled on, Neanderthals spent their leisure time training wolves to hunt, farm and guard. They carefully chose wolves to breed more intelligent and less aggressive cubs. This selective breeding would eventually result in the animals that we now call dogs.
A wild Wolf
By the Bronze Age, which was about 3000BC, five different types of dog existed; shepherding dogs, pointing dogs, wolf-type dogs, Greyhounds and Mastiffs.
The Romans were the first people to own dogs as pets. The relationship between man and dog became so close that the Romans started taking their dogs to battle around Europe. Whilst venturing through countries the Romans would collect all sorts of different dog breeds and travel with them back to England.
A close up of a bloodhound incredible stern face
As with all booms - there are busts and not long after the fall of the Roman Empire, interest in breeding and training dogs waned and this led to lots of uncontrolled mating. Unwanted mongrels ended up roaming the streets. However, entrepreneurial monasteries started breeding purebred dogs (particular Bloodhounds) to sell to the rich, and they would put heavy blocks around the necks of mixed breed dogs to prevent them from mating with those owned by the rich.
A Roman Mosaic
Rats were a huge problem during the Crusades and to prevent the spread of diseases, peasants developed feisty little dog breeds to chase and kill these pests. They had to be both small enough to fit down holes and brave enough to go after these aggressive little animals. We now refer to these breeds as Terriers, Hounds and Spaniels.
A Jack Russell ratting in the woods
The Middle Ages
Hunting as a sport first became popular in the Middle Ages, which led to a few breeds becoming standardised during this period. The Greyhound, the Great Dane and the Mastiff were now very recognisable dog breeds. More breeds like the Bulldog were also developed for the sport of bull baiting and pit fighting.
A beautiful dark coated male Great Dane
The middle ages were very much an era of wealth and power. Kings, noblemen, church officials and medieval "it girls" would participate in a game of one upmanship by buying their pet dogs extravagantly made collars in rich velvets and leather embellished with gold and jewels.
An elegant white Pomeranian dog
In battle, breeds such as the Great Dane and the Mastiff were given spiked collars to intimidate the opposition and were sometimes even given their own suits of armour to protect them on the field.
During the Renaissance period noblemen grew fond of the idea of breeding dogs as companions. Monarchs started to breed their favourite types of dog, which saw the development of many new breeds, particularly the King Charles Spaniel, named by King Charles IX of France. However, after the French Revolution, the speciality breeds went into a decline. Instead, gun dogs and pointing dogs became very popular as peasants were now able to hunt more freely.
A Renaissance Fountain
The First Ever Dog Show
The first official dog show was held in England in 1859. It was a charity event, held by Aristocrats. The event brought together a huge international community of dog lovers and it helped to secure the longevity of most popular purebred dog breeds.
A beautiful Irish Setter at a show competition
Many new breeds were developed during the 19th century, as people no longer cared for the speciality breeds that were owned by high class people. New dog breeds began being developed for specific purposes again, mostly to do agriculture and farming work.