Red and Blue Heelers are known throughout the world, prized for their work as cattle drovers. It is not uncommon for those outside the realm of kennel clubs to not recognize this breed as the Australian Cattle Dog (ACD). Still bred in many countries and regions for their working ability rather than a standard the name Heeler is fitting, even without the Red or Blue based on coat color.
Many are surprised when they learn that Australia is home to a second heeler, this one far overshadowed by its ‘cousin’. The Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (ASTCD) is sometimes confused as a docked ACD, but in fact they are both separate breeds. Even if they share a muddled history.
Like many dogs, the ancestry of the ACD (and the ASTCD) is debated. It is said Dingoes, Bull Terriers, Dalmatians, Kelpies, and Collies all exist within its makeup. In reality, this is a simplified answer. Kelpies were still in development themselves at the time and the collies used were a type, not a specific breed as we know them today. The Bull Terrier and Dalmatian were each a single outcross, and some have argued if the Dalmatian is but legend. But the Dingo, they are the one certainty.
The world of dog breeds and kennel clubs can be confusing and contradictory. This is even more true when you dip your toes into international waters. Take a look at the Akita. One breed in the United States and Canada whereas the rest of the world has the larger American Akita and traditional Akita Inu. Breeds like the Brittany have never split, but there is a distinction between the North American Brittany (no longer called a spaniel) and France’s Epagneul Briton.
Names alone can cause confusion, even without a language barrier. English Toy Spaniels are King Charles Spaniels in England where the smaller variety of the Manchester Terrier is known as the English Toy Terrier. And don't get me started on Russell terriers - Jack, Parson, or neither!
Perhaps one of the most confusing breed (or breeds) is the German Spitz. One dog with five sizes under the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) and several breeds everywhere else.
To attempt simplicity, let's examine the FCI standard first, before trying to explain where everyone else fits in. The German Spitz is a classic northern breed, spitzen, or arctic, if you prefer. Reminiscent of dogs like the Lapphunds and Samoyed, they are believed to be amongst the oldest European breeds. Just how old the German Spitz is remains unknown, but it has been present in the region since at least the 1400s and may have arrived via the Vikings.
It’s the Trivial Pursuit question every dog lover knows the answer to. What breed has a blue/black tongue? The Chow Chow, of course (because this version of the game is older than the Shar-Pei’s kennel club recognition). In reality, other dogs can have this feature, but their tongues are spotted and uncommon. A pink tongue for the Chow Chow or Shar-Pei is considered a disqualifying fault. However, there is a third, rare breed that shares this characteristic, the Chinese Chongqing Dog.
The Chongqing has yet to be recognized by any major kennel club. Its numbers are low, even in its native China. Like the Chow Chow and Shar-Pei it is thought to be an ancient dog, this one hidden in the region of what is now Chongqing Province.
Exactly how old are these breeds? This is a question that is difficult to answer. Both the Chow Chow and Shar-Pei continue to show in DNA testing as some of the oldest, most primitive dogs. (To my knowledge the Chongqing has not been tested.) However, this doesn’t tell us how long they have existed - or when they both existed. It's the age old question, which came first, the Chow Chow or the Shar-Pei?
The Mediterranean sighthounds are a group of primitive dogs found throughout the Mediterranean region. They do not have the appearance of the traditional sighthound, such as a Saluki or Greyhound. Their large, upright ears share a similarity with primitive dogs such as the Basenji and Xoloitzcuintli. Even the term ‘sighthound’ can be misleading as they use sight, scent, and hearing while hunting.
Like the Mediterranean breeds we explored last week, the bichons, the history of how these dogs first arrived in the region is debated. They span across islands and the mainland, from the Canary Islands to Sicily, where they have been present for centuries. Unlike the bichons, there is no timeline to follow as these breeds are all said to have existed since antiquity.
The most accepted theory is that they have descended from the dogs of ancient Egypt, similar to the extinct Tesem. Under this belief they would have spread out from Egypt via the Phoenicians, perhaps aided by the Greeks and Egyptians. However, recent DNA testing has attempted to discredit this long-held theory. A often cited study of 80 breeds highlighted 14 that were closest in relation to the wolf, none from this region. I could not find a list of what breeds were used and whether any of the Mediterraneans were among them. Under this new evidence some suggest that dogs of a similar type have evolved in multiple areas at different periods throughout history due to having the same purpose.
Taking the DNA into account some believe these breeds are a modern attempt to recreate Egypt’s ancient dogs. Meanwhile other authors have dismissed them. They point out dogs have interbred with wolves since domestication, skewing the results. Additionally, they do not take explain how all share the same distinct type, not seen anywhere else. It is possible they may have influenced each other's development, particularly on the mainland - but this seems just as unlikely on the islands. None of this explains the ancient pottery and texts that describe them. Therefore further testing would need to be completed before these results are accepted as fact.
Since we lack a timeline, this article will explore the breeds geographically, starting with the Canary Islands and the Podenco Canario. Although found throughout the Islands, the Podenco Canario is most often found on Gran Canary and Tenerife. Whether or not these dogs were brought by the Phoenicians it is known they were established before their homeland was discovered by Spain in the 15th century. Originally they were kept by the native Guanche and while these natives were eventually absorbed by the Spanish settlers their dogs lived on. The Podenco Canario remains rare and is little seen elsewhere, even on the Spanish mainland.