They may be man’s best friend, but man has also changed them beyond all recognition, these incredible pictures of dog breeds reveal.
A hundred years ago, dogs like the Bull Terrier, Boxer, English Bulldog, and Dachshund were well-proportioned, generally healthy, and physically active. Today’s versions of these breeds are markedly different.
Over the years, several breeds have been bred to exaggerate certain physical traits at the expense of their health, longevity, and quality of life. The Science of Dogs blog put together a side-by-side comparison of several popular dog breeds from the 1915 book Dogs of All Nations by Walter Esplin Mason showing what they look like today.
- Bull Terrier
The bull terrier was first recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885. In 1915, it appears to have been a fit, good-looking dog, with a well-proportioned head and slim torso. Dogs of All Nations called it “the embodiment of agility, grace, elegance and determination”, and the “gladiator of the canine race”.
But today, bull terriers are bred to have a football-shaped head and thick, squat body – a far cry from the lean and handsome dog of 1915.
The AKC now states that the dog’s face “should be oval in outline and be filled completely up giving the impression of fullness with a surface devoid of hollows or indentations, ie, egg shaped”. According to Science of Dogs, it also developed extra teeth and a habit of chasing its tail.
- English Bulldog
Few dogs have been as artificially shaped by breeding as the English bulldog. In Great Britain, the dogs were used for bull-baiting – a bloodsport where dogs were used to bait and attack bulls – until it became illegal in 1835. In 1915, the bulldog already had some of the characteristic features we see today, like saggy jowls and a squat stance.
Today, breeders have bred the bulldog to have more pronounced facial wrinkles, and an even thicker and squater body. The AKC describes the ideal dog as having a “heavy, thick-set, low-swung body, massive short-faced head, wide shoulders and sturdy limbs”. Sadly, bulldogs suffer from a number of health issues, such as breathing problems and overheating.
- German Shepherd
German shepherds have come to symbolise everything from loyalty and companionship to police brutality. The AKC first recognised is as a breed in 1908. In 1915, Dogs of All Nations describes it as a “medium sized dog” weighing just 55 lbs (24 kg), with a “deep chest, straight back and strong loins”.
But today’s German shepherds are bred to be considerably larger (75 to 95 lbs or 34 to 43 kg), with a more sloping back. The AKC describes the ideal specimen as “a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life”.
However, they are also prone to health problems, such as hip dysplasia, where the leg bones don’t fit properly into the hip socket, and bloat, a condition in which the stomach can expand with air and twist, which can sometimes be fatal.
- Airedale Terrier
Though you can’t tell from this photo, Dogs of All Nations described the coloring of the Airedale’s head and ears as a rich tan, as well as the legs up to the thighs and elbows. And the dog’s coat was “hard and wiry”, but not long enough to be “ragged”.
Today, the color appears not to have changed much, but the fur of modern Airedales definitely looks longer and more “ragged” than it was in 1915. Airedales are considered the largest of all terriers, and are sporting and playful.
- Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland sheepdog, or Sheltie, wasn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1911, just four years before the book this image is from was published. At that time, the book reports that it weighed just 7 to 10 lbs (3 to 4 kg), and appears to have had medium-length fur.
Today, the dogs have been bred to be larger, weighing at least 20 lbs (9 kg), though still sleight. And their fur has become unmistakably longer than in 1915. The AKC now describes them as “small, alert, rough-coated, longhaired working dog”. They are also very intelligent, and good at herding.
- Basset Hound
Look at how low to the ground today’s Basset Hound is. His shorter stature is the result of changes to the rear leg structure. He also has surplus skin, and needlessly long ears. Today’s Basset Hound’s droopy eyes are prone to eyelid abnormalities, and he also often suffers from problems related to his vertebra.
See how much shorter the Boxer’s face on the right is? Boxers are brachycephalic dogs, meaning they have pushed-in faces. Like many brachy breeds, the Boxer’s already short muzzle has been bred even shorter over the years, and slightly upturned as well. Brachys have difficulty breathing and controlling their body temperature, which often places extreme limitations on their physical abilities.
Dachshunds a century ago had short but functional legs and necks in proportion to their overall size. Since then, they have been bred for longer backs and necks, jutting chests, and legs so short their bellies barely clear the floor. Doxies have the highest risk of any breed for intervertebral disc disease, which can cause paralysis. They are also prone to dwarfism-related disorders, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and leg problems.
The Pug is another brachycephalic dog that has been bred to exaggerate the trait. The result? High blood pressure, heart problems, low blood oxygen levels, breathing problems, a tendency to overheat/develop heatstroke, dental issues, and skin fold dermatitis. At the other end of this poor dog is a “highly desirable” double-curl tail, which is actually a genetic defect that can result in paralysis.
- St. Bernard
Today’s version of this once-highly skilled working dog is supersized, with a pushed-in face and excess skin. The St. Bernard doesn’t do much work these days, because he quickly overheats. Some of the diseases he’s prone to include eye and eyelid abnormalities, Stockard’s paralysis (a spinal cord disorder), and bleeding disorders.