Dogs seem to serve no other purpose than to be our very best friends. And while this may be true today, history tells a different story. In the past, dogs have served more utilitarian purposes in addition to being companions to humans. Some breeds like Doberman Pinschers were concocted from other breeds to inherit certain traits, while other dogs like Labrador Retrievers had a very important job long before they became popular pets. Read on to discover the original purposes of the most popular dog breeds. You might be surprised to learn your own doggo's true calling.
Shih Tzus Were Property Of The Royal Chinese Court
Shih Tzu's were cherished by ancient Chinese emperors as foot and bed warmers. There's evidence that around 1,000 years ago, these dogs were bred by Tibetan Monks who gifted them to the emperors of China. Because of this, Shih Tzus have long been considered sacred property of the royal court. Anyone else caught owning one was sentenced to death.
It's believed that every Shih Tzu alive today can be traced to one of 14 dogs. Seven males and seven females are responsible for rebuilding the breed after the Communist Revolution in China nearly wiped them out.
Labrador Retrievers Fetched Fish Out Of Icy Waters
Labrador Retrievers are descendants of St. John's water dogs on the island of Newfoundland. Bred from a mix of English, Irish, and Portuguese working breeds, fishermen used St. John's water dogs to pull in fishing nets and to jump in the icy water to retrieve fish that fell off fishing hooks. The fishermen then began breeding them with mastiffs brought in by Portuguese fishermen.
In the 1800s, a British Sportsman named Colonel Hawker was impressed by these dogs, whose coats repelled water and had webbed feet that allowed them to swim. He brought them back to England to assist with hunting and began calling them Labradors.
Bulldogs Were Once Bred To Fight Bulls
In the 5th century, Bulldogs were originally bred to assist butchers in controlling livestock but it wasn't long before they were trained for a bloodsport known as bull-baiting. Bulldogs would latch onto a tethered bull's nose until they successfully pulled the bull to the ground or were killed by the bull. This went on until 1835 when bull-baiting became illegal.
Because of this, Bulldogs wouldn't be around today had they not been brought to America and other parts of Europe. In the U.S., they were used to herd hogs and cattle. In Germany, they were crossbred to create the Boxer.
Beagles Were Made For Hunting Hares
Beagles were around as early as the 15th century in France, Greece, Italy, and England. They were believed to be brought over by the Romans during the conquest of Britain and bred with the now-extinct Talbot hounds initially brought to Great Britain by William the Conqueror.
By the 18th century, they were popular among farmers and small landholders for hare-hunting throughout England. Beagles made for a good-looking utilitarian hound at that point, adding to their popularity. They were especially popular among the English Royal Family for amusement and Queen Elizabeth I supposedly owned an entire pack of them.
Poodles Swam To Hunt Ducks
Poodles have been around since at least the 15th century, as evidenced by German painter Albrecht Dürer who painted them into his work. They're believed to be descendants of the Barbet, a breed of water dog from France, and the Puli, a herding breed from Hungary.
Poodles were bred as duck-hunting dogs in Germany, where they got their name from the word "pudelin" which refers to splashing in water. Their distinct grooming was a result of hunters wanting their dogs to have free range of movement in the water while protecting their vital areas from the cold.
Rottweilers Helped Guard And Herd Cattle
The Rottweiler is a herding breed that dates back to the Roman Empire. They're believed to be descendants to the Roman drover dog, a mastiff-type dog that was used to herd and guard the cattle that Roman soldiers traveled with during their conquest of Europe. During the Middle Ages, they accompanied traveling butchers as guards.
Rottweiler numbers decreased as railroads took over as the main method for moving stock but the breed found new purposes as police dogs, messengers, guard dogs, and in other forms of service during the First and Second World Wars.
Dachshunds Burrowed Underground To Hunt Badgers
Dachshund is a German word that translates to "badger dog." Their origins are traced back to 17th-century Germany, where they were used to hunt badgers. Their short legs and big chests were ideal for digging into badger tunnels.
As the breed developed, standard sized Dachschunds were still used to hunt badgers as well as wild boar. Smaller versions of the breed were used to hunt hare and foxes. They developed flap-down ears to prevent debris and such from entering the ear canal, while their curved tails helped owners see them in tall grass and pull them out if they got stuck in a burrow.
Yorkshire Terriers Were Excellent Pest Control Specialists
During the Industrial Revolution, Yorkshire Terriers were ideal for catching rats in mills and mines. Workers from Scotland brought various types of small terriers with them when they traveled to Yorkshire for work, which is how the breed got its name.
While they made for excellent pest control in factories, hunters started bringing Yorkshire Terriers along to hunt other species. These brave little dogs were carried in the hunters' pockets and unleashed into the dens of other animals. Because of this and their small size, Yorkshire Terriers were highly desirable pets for royalty and the upper class.
Pointers Led Hunters In The Right Direction
Pointers have been traced as far back as the 17th century and are thought to have been brought to England from the European mainland. This breed is believed to have been derived from Greyhounds, Foxhounds, Bloodhounds, and Bull Terriers that were already established breeds at the time.
True to their name, Pointers were used to seek out and indicate prey during hunting season. Before the advent of rifles, Pointers were used alongside hounds during the hunt. They'd point out prey, while hounds would give chase. Because of this, they've made excellent bird dogs ever since.
Boxers Are A Multipurpose Dog That Used To Be A Lot Bigger
Boxers, as we know them today, are a cross between Bulldogs from Britain and an extinct Mastiff-type dog called a Bullenbeisser. During medieval times, Bullenbeissers helped hunt bears, wild boars, and deer. But as the tradition of lavish hunting among German noblemen went out of style by the mid-19th century, the Bullenbeisser breed was deemed obsolete.
They were thus mixed with smaller breeds to make for a sleeker dog much like modern-day Boxers. They've since been formidable companions for soldiers at war and policemen, in addition to being utilized as guard and guide dogs.
Corgis Shepherded Cattle And Sheep
In medieval times, the best weavers hailed from Flanders (modern-day northern Belgium), so monarchs swayed weavers to move to their kingdoms. As a result, Flemish weavers brought the Corgi breed to Wales in 1107, using the dogs to herd cattle and sheep. Corgis were small enough to nibble at cattle legs while being able to avoid retaliatory kicks.
There are now two distinct breeds of corgi: Pembroke Welsh and Cardigan Welsh. Cardigan Welsh Corgis have tails and rounded ears, while Pembroke Welsh Corgis have no tails and pointed ears. Their resemblance is a result of crossbreeding in the 19th century.
Siberian Huskies Have Always Been Sled Dogs
Siberian Huskies were originally bred in northeastern Asia and their lineage dates back more than 4,000 years. They were developed by the Chukchi people who hailed from eastern Siberia, where they were loved as companion dogs and endurance sled dogs.
These dogs were bred out of a need to travel across vast expanses of land while hauling a light load without having to use too much energy. Because the Chukchi were isolated from the rest of the world, they maintained the purity of the breed for many generations until the early 1900s, when they were first used in Alaskan sled-dog racing.
Great Danes Hunted Wild Boar
Contrary to what their name suggests, Great Danes are not from Denmark. These German dogs can actually be traced back to 3000 B.C. where monuments in ancient Egypt displayed drawings of dogs that resembled Great Danes.
Though Great Danes were initially used as Boarhounds, German noblemen started breeding these dogs in large numbers to keep in the home. Because only the wealthy classes owned Great Danes, this breed was pampered and even wore gilded collars. Even though these dogs hail from Germany, they got their name when a traveler in Demark saw one and thought they looked like a bulkier version of a Greyhound.
Pomeranians Used To Heard Animals And Pull Sleds
Pomeranians are descendants of the Spitz-type sled dogs that originated in the Arctic. Their name derives from Pomerania, which was located in northern Poland and Germany, and is credited with breeding the small-sized Spitz that we know today.
Because of their size, it's hard to believe that these dogs were once used to pull sleds and herd animals. But they were much larger when they served that purpose and over time they were mostly bred for vanity. Queen Victoria popularized Pomeranians as pets and at one point had 35 Poms in her kennel.
Pugs Were Only Meant To Keep Us Company
Pugs date back as far as 400 B.C. and while most dog breeds originated to serve some type of purpose, Pugs were bred simply to keep humans company. Originating in China, the breed's adaptability and natural affection for people made them popular companion dogs for the wealthy. Chinese emperors valued pugs so much that the dogs had their own guards and servants.
Pugs eventually made their way into Russia and Europe, where European courts hailed these dogs for the same reasons. By the 19th century, Pugs became popular show dogs in the United States.
Chihuahuas Were Sacrificial Pets
While the Chihuahua's origins aren't exactly clear, folklore and archaeological finds suggest that the breed originated in Mexico. Chihuahuas are believed to be descended from an extinct breed called the Techichi, which were companion dogs used by the Toltec civilization (those that conquered the ancient Mayans).
These dogs were primarily bred as pets but they have been used as sacrifices in religious ceremonies to atone for sins and serve as guides for the dead. Some theories also speculate that Chihuahuas were bred for food. They're named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua along the southern U.S. border.
Shiba Inus Hunted Small Game In The Mountains Of Japan
The Shiba Inu originated in Japan as a hunting dog. They were bred to hunt small game such as birds and rabbit in the mountainous regions of central Japan. During the Meiji Restoration as Japan opened its doors to Western cultures, pure Shibas became mixed with Western breeds and by the early 19th century, almost no pure Shiba existed.
Despite efforts to protect the breed, Shiba Inus were nearly extinct as a result of food shortages and a distemper epidemic (an animal disease) caused by World War II. All living Shibas are now allegedly descendants from three surviving bloodlines.
St. Bernards Saved Thousands Of Lives
The earliest records of the St. Bernard breed date back to the late 17th century, when they were hailed as search and rescue dogs. Named for the dangerous St. Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps, these dogs were kept by monks at the Great St. Bernard Hospice to help them on rescue missions after snowstorms.
The St. Bernard's sense of direction and resistance to cold helped them save an estimated 2,000 lives over the span of 200 years. The original St. Bernard was closer to the size of the average German Shepherd, instead of the behemoths they are today.
Greyhounds Hunted For Egyptian Royalty
Greyhounds were bred as hunting dogs. With keen eyesight and pursuit speed, they could detect far-away prey and were fast enough to pursue and capture them. Because of this, they were worshiped by royalty and noblemen, who cherished Greyhounds as companions as well.
The earliest depictions of Greyhounds date back around 5,000 years to the times of ancient Egypt. These sleek hounds were considered an extension of an Egyptian ruler's divine majesty and were so loved that the death of a Greyhound was treated with the same depth as the death of a human.
Doberman Pinschers Were The "Tax Collector's Dog"
Dobermans are believed to have been bred by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, who ran the Apolda dog pound in the German state of Thuringia during the 1880s. Dobermann had access to many breeds and decided to conceive a new breed that would protect him in whatever dangerous job he took on next.
Doberman wanted a dog with stamina, strength, and intelligence and thus, the Doberman Pinscher was born. Known as the "Tax Collector's Dog," as one of Dobermann's dangerous occupations was tax collecting, the breed has gone on to become a working dog in police and military K-9 duty.
German Shepherds Are The Result Of Selective Breeding
During the mid-19th century, local shepherds in German communities sought to standardize a breed of dog that had all the perfect characteristics necessary for herding sheep: intelligence, speed, strength, and impeccable sense of smell. Breeders ended up with dogs that had all these traits but differed in appearance from one another.
Arguments arose over whether the dogs should solely be bred for working purposes or if appearance should be considered as well. Eventually, by 1899, the German Shepherd we know and love today became standardized. Because of their inherited traits, German Shepherds are often employed in military and police forces around the world.
King Charles Spaniels Didn't Make Good Hunting Dogs
Experts agree that King Charles Spaniels likely originated in East Asia, where they may have been used for hunting. But because the spaniels were short in stature, they didn't make for ideal hunting dogs and were better suited as lapdogs.
That's likely why when they were introduced to Europe during the 13th century. British aristocrats adored these dogs as companion animals. They were a favorite of King Charles II, from whom they take their name. Experts surmise that their small noses are a result of being crossbred with pugs somewhere along the way.
Miniature Schnauzers Caught Rats In Barns
The Schnauzer was known throughout Europe as a working dog since at least the 15th century. Originally, they were trusty companions that helped farmers with general tasks, while also guarding the farm. Eventually, old-time German farmers bred these dogs down to a smaller size to be used as barnyard ratters.
As a result, the Miniature Schnauzer became a prominent as a rat-catching breed. Despite being descendants of temperamental terriers from Scotland and Ireland, Miniature Schnauzers are characteristically more friendly and willing to please.
Boston Terriers Were Made To Fight And Catch Rats
Boston Terriers were bred as a result of the popularity of blood sport in Europe throughout 19th-century England. Breeders would cross bull-type breeds with terriers to create a dog that was good at pit fighting and could also dominate in a ratting contest.
One such muscular dog named Judge impressed an American named William O'Brien who brought Judge to Boston. Judge is considered the patriarch of the Boston Terrier breed and accepted as a common ancestor among pure Boston Terriers today.
Bernese Mountain Dogs Were A Favorite On Farms
Bernese Mountain Dogs served multiple purposes in their native Bern, an agricultural region known for dairy production in Switzerland. Throughout history, they've guarded farms from predators, helped farmers herd cattle and sheep, and at the end of the day, they were there to be your loyal companion after a day's hard work.
By the late 19th century, their numbers were dwindling, however, and Swiss breeders made a concerted effort to reverse the breed's decline. Luckily, the efforts were a success and Bernese Mountain Dogs have been favored as farm dogs ever since.
Havanese Were Always Lap Dogs For The Filthy Rich
Havanese dogs get their name from Havana, Cuba, where wealthy planters and aristocrats owned these dogs as lap dogs. Havanese are believed to be cousins of sorts to the Bichon Frise and the Maltese. In early human civilization, seafaring merchants would sell these dogs around the world. They were brought to Cuba in particular by Spaniards who were set on colonizing the "New World" back in the 1600s.
Over time, Havanese were likely bred with more refined breeds such as Poodles. They were brought to America by Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro's revolution during 1959.
Shetland Sheepdogs Were Called Toonie Dogs
Shetland Sheepdogs originated on the rocky terrain of the Shetland Islands, which is the northernmost point of the United Kingdom. In earlier times, a slang term for these dogs was "toonie dogs," as "toon" was a Shetland word for farm.
As the nickname suggests, Shetland Sheepdogs were used by farmers to herd not only sheep, but also ponies and poultry. Shetland Sheepdogs are rather small in size on purpose. The small size means that they eat less, which was ideal for the harsh climate of the Shetland Islands where food was scarce.
The Brittany Was An Excellent Bird Dog
The Brittany breed is named for the Brittany region in western France where hundreds of years ago, French farmers developed the breed as a versatile bird dog. As a result, the Brittany dog could work on just about any feathered animal such as duck, pheasant, and partridge.
For this reason, Brittany dogs were favored by peasants and poachers who used the dogs as all-purpose workers to scrounge for food to both eat and sell. They were introduced to America in the '30s and since then, American and French versions have crossed lines to become one general breed.
English Mastiffs Were Used In War
The Mastiff, also known as an Old English Mastiff, is an ancient breed that has been around since at least the times of Julius Caesar. In fact, when Caesar invaded Britain in 55 B.C., he was quite impressed with the fight these dogs put up against his legions. He decided to bring these dogs back to Rome to fight wild beasts and human gladiators.
Back in England, English Mastiffs were used to hunt big game, guard large estates, and were also used during war. They aren't to be confused with dogs known as mastiffs, which in general refers to the type of breed which has links all over the world.
Vizslas Were Made With A Need For Speed
If you've ever seen a Vizsla run at a lightning fast speed, just know that that was by design. They were originally bred by the Magyar people, Hungarian tribesmen native to the steppes of Russia during the 9th century. The Magyars were brutal warriors who ravaged their way through Western Europe on horseback and needed dogs that could keep up.
As a result, they bred nimble red dogs that became ancestors of the modern-day Vizsla. Throughout history, these swift canines were used as an all-purpose hunting dog.
A Cane Corso Would Charge At Enemies With Flaming Oil
The Cane Corso originated in Italy, where they were favored as guard dogs. They are believed to be descendants of the ancient Roman molosser dog. Throughout history to the present day, Cane Corsos are useful in protecting property, livestock, and families.
The ancestor of the Cane Corso was a dog of conquest who would charge at enemy lines with buckets of flaming oil strapped to their backs. In those days, the dog was much bulkier than the sleek Cane Corso of the present.
Border Collies Were A Cross Between Roman And Viking Dogs
Border Collies were bred from two types of dogs from two very different regions. When the Romans occupied Britain from 43 to 410 A.D., they brought along their herding dogs since they brought over their own livestock.
Similarly, when the Vikings raided Britain long after the Romans, they too brought over their own dogs. The old Roman dogs and the dogs of the Vikings were thus cross bred over the years, to create a compact and agile dog that made for efficient herders in the hilly landscape of Scotland and Wales.
Belgian Malinois Were Meant To Work Alone
The Belgian Malinois gets its name from the city of Malines in northwestern Belgium. Though they look quite similar to German Shepherds, the Malinois are sleeker, leggier, and have a different-sized head.
However, like a German Shepherd, the original purpose of the Belgian Malinois was to herd livestock in their native land. These dogs were conditioned to do this job solo as they were developed by breeders who wanted to have a dog that had serious work ethic over satisfying the passing fads of pet owners.
Akitas Were Made In A Competition
Akitas are known to have originated in ancient Japan. In the early 17th century, it is believed that the emperor banished a nobleman to the Akita prefecture of northern Japan, where he was left to rule alone. As a result, this nobleman held a competition to breed a large hunting dog and after many generations, the Akita Inu was born.
Akitas were made to be strong and stout, capable of taking on wild boar, deer, and sometimes bears. These dogs are revered as objects of myth and legend due to their origin story.
Portuguese Water Dogs Were Like Canine Fishermen
As their name suggests, Portuguese Water Dogs were utilized by fisherman for their aquatic capabilities. They originated along the coast of Portugal, where they helped fisherman retrieve lost tackle, herded fish into nets, and delivered messages between ships and shore.
The dogs were also very adaptable as they could go from the warm waters of Portugal to the frigid waters of Iceland when they traveled on fishing boats across the Atlantic. These days Portuguese Water Dogs don't really serve that purpose but they are still useful when it comes to water rescues.
Dalmatians Made Excellent Guard Dogs
Very little is known about where Dalmatians come from. Throughout history, they've been depicted in ancient Egyptian wall paintings and Italian frescoes. They're believed to have traveled with Romany gypsies, which experts say may explain why their mysterious heritage.
Regardless, what they do know is that Dalmatians became a choice carriage dog in 17th century England who ran alongside carriages and horseback riders for protection. Dalmatians have since been used by early firefighters for the same reason, which is why they are largely associated with the firefighting profession today.
Whippets Are The "Poor Man's Racehorse"
If you guessed that Whippets are related to Greyhounds, then you guessed correctly. Though the two breeds share the same penchant for speed, Whippets are considerably smaller in size and mild mannered.
In Victorian England, coal miners enjoyed dog racing and rabbit hunting in their off time but couldn't handle owning an actual Greyhound due to their size and amount of food they needed. As a result, miners set out to breed a smaller version of the Greyhound to much success. Since then, Whippets have been known as the "Poor Man's Racehorse" that gets its name from the Victorian word "whappet," which means "a small dog that yaps."
Shar-Peis Were Chinese Peasant Dogs
The Shar-Pei is native to the southern provinces of China and date as far back as 2,000 years ago in the Han Dynasty. In those days, they were owned by peasants and were expected to serve all purposes such as hunting, herding, and guarding livestock against predators.
This went on for centuries until 1949, when the People's Republic of China's Communist regime slaughtered purebred dog populations as dog ownership was frowned upon. A few Shar-Peis were saved, however, and the breed was rehabilitated when it came to the U.S. in the '60s.
Lhasa Apsos Were Like Security Alarms
Lhasa Apsos originated in the Himalayan plateaus of Tibet and were domesticated as early as 800 B.C. Known in Tibetan culture as a "Bearded Lion Dog," Lhasas were originally meant to function as sentinels that guarded the Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries in the sacred city of Lhasa.
One of the oldest recognized dog breeds in the world, Lhasa Apsos worked alongside Tibetan Mastiffs, using their keen hearing to alert residents of intruders with a sharp bark if the intruders somehow got past the Mastiffs.
Chinooks Are Hybrid Sled Dogs
Chinooks were developed by polar explorer Arthur Treadwell Walden in the late 19th century. He traveled across the Klondike for six years and when he returned to his native New Hampshire, he was set on developing his own line of sled dogs. He combined a mastiff-type dog with a descendant of a Greenland husky and ended up with puppies that were friendly and perfect for sledding.
Walden named his new breed after his lead sled dog Chinook, which is a Native American word meaning "warm wind." Chinooks are relatively rare compared to most dog breeds.