From Functional Wolves, to Functional Dogs, to Fashionable Dogs.
Approximately 15,000 years ago humans and tame wolves communicated for the first time. I believe that until this point in evolution, humans had not yet acquired the social development for this evolutionary inevitability, where homosapiens and canids realized they were destined to be friends. And as dog-people like myself would agree – best friends.
Fast forward to ancient Mesopotamia (7000-6000 B.C), widely considered the birthplace of civilization, and we see that a new subspecies has evolved – Canis Lupus Familiars, a.k.a the DOG. These breeds consisted mainly of the ancient Greyhounds, Mastiffs and Danes. They were loved, considered family, and slept indoors. The Mesopotamians honoured their dogs in the form of drawings and sculptures, often depicted at the feet of goddesses.
The origin of the word ‘dog’ remains one of the greatest mysteries of English etymology. Some believe the word ‘Dog’ did not evolve organically, but is actually a semi-palindrome of the word ‘God’.
If we fast forward a few more thousand years – We find ourselves in England, Circa. 1880. Up to THIS point in history, dog breeding was centred on creating functional dogs. Or dogs bred to perform a job at a level of proficiency that far exceeded human capabilities. This is how all the breeds for hunting, tracking, sledding, pointing, ratting, rescuing, retrieving, guarding, all came to be.
Fundamentally, if a dog is bred to perform a specific task the natural end-result would be a near-perfect dog – with the best combination of biomechanics, strength and natural drive to perform that task extremely well. I believe that since the dog’s natural instincts are being rewarded, it also helps develop the dog’s sense of purpose and value to its owner.
The onset of the industrial revolution ushered in a whole new era, where the previous 13,000 years of breeding functional dogs went completely off the rails. Function took a backseat to what fashions were trending amongst Victorian middle-class society. Dogs were now considered a fashion statement, in some cases an accessory. They were revered for their physical appearance instead of their natural-born abilities. London was the epicentre for what would eventually become one of the biggest events since homosapiens and canids first befriended. The new hobby known as “Dog Fancy” resulted in an explosion of new dog breeds, as everyone and their uncle was breeding dogs to see what could get the most mass-appeal.
The Victorians also began to re-design many of the pre-existing working breeds to look more ‘aesthetically pleasing’. This of course caused a rapid shift from breeding functional task-oriented dogs to ‘designing’ dysfunctional fashionable dogs. So much attention was given to conformation and proportions, and in some cases – disproportions, that little to no attention was given to the long-term health implications these changes would have. The Dachshund, for example, was modified from its original ‘functional’ proportions to the ‘dysfunctional’ proportions you see below.
The Dog that Changed the Game.
The dachshund, aka ‘weiner-dog’, made its debut in 1600’s Germany. Since this was still in the era of functional dog breeding, the dachshund was selectively bred to have unique proportions and characteristics that enabled it to perform tasks that made life easier for humans. The dachshund was bred for one purpose – Get deep within burrows, drag out a badger, and kill it. Hence the name “Dachshund” (dachs = badger, hund = dog). In order to carry out this daunting, somewhat ruthless, task the dog needed to be relatively cylindrical in dimension, with the strength and audacity required to overthrow and destroy its apposition.
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog” – Mark Twain
It may be natural to assume the dachshund’s longer appearance is due to it having a longer spine, but this is simply untrue. In fact, all dog breeds are born with 27 vertebra in their spines (7 Cervical, 13 Thoracic, and 7 Lumbar).
So how else do we explain their weiner-like appearance?
The answer may surprise you…
Dachshunds are bred with a genetic condition known as Achondroplasia, otherwise known as Dwarfism. There are in fact dozens of dwarf-breeds including the Shih Tzu, Corgi, Pekinese, French bulldog, and Basset hound – to name a few. As with human-dwarves, dog-dwarves have relatively normal sized spines with disproportionately short and bowed extremities.
The indisputable Poster-child for Animal Chiropractic.
The Dachshund’s tiny extremities significantly impacts the way forces are distributed throughout their bodies. Dogs with normal sized extremities, such as those that resemble their wolf ancestors, are able to absorb much of the biomechanical forces of movement in the joints of their front and rear legs. These natural shock absorbers act to significantly decrease the force transmitted throughout the spine and intervertebral discs. Unfortunately for the Dachshund and other dwarf breeds, their disproportionally short extremities are unable to sustainably absorb enough of these biomechanical forces. This is precisely why Dachshunds rank #1 amongst all breeds for disc-related injuries, such as Disc herniations and Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Not surprisingly, dachshunds are also the most common breed to undergo invasive spinal surgery.
Approximately 85% of canine disc herniations occur at the mid-back in an area known as the Thoraco-lumbar region. As you’ll soon learn, this area is prone to chronic injury in all dog breeds but is especially pathological in dachshunds and other dwarf-dogs.
The Thoraco-lumbar area is a transitional region of the spine, meaning it’s where the Thoracic-spine transitions into the Lumbar-spine. The same is true for the Cervico-thoracic and Lumbo-sacral transitions. Transitional areas are unique because they experience more Shear Force than other areas of the spine.
Shear Force: Unaligned forces pushing one part of a body in one direction, and another part of the body in the opposite direction.
The Thoraco-lumbar transition is special because this is where the spinal joint angles abruptly change, from the more horizontal plane of the thoracic joints to the more vertical plane of the lumbar joints. As a consequence, this region experiences contant shear force as it does its best to accommodate the difference movement patterns. The shear force energy is inevitably absorbed by the surrounding joints and soft tissues which causes the area to become stiff and dysfunctional.
This dysfunctional spinal motion can be thought as the X-factor behind disc injuries. Simply put, in order for a disc to remain optimally healthy it requires the vertebra above and below to move properly. Since the disc has a relatively poor blood supply, it relies on this proper movement for the diffusion of nutrients and waste materials in and out of the disc. Dysfunctional spinal movement acts to inhibit this diffusion system, which can result in chronic disc aggravation causing inflammation, herniation, dehydration, and calcification.
It’s important to understand that conditions like Disc herniation and IVDD are progressive disorders, meaning they occur as the result of chronic dysfunctional joint mobility. A dog will NEVER herniate a healthy disc. In most severe disc cases, in fact, the dog has been treated with NSAIDs or steroids on several occasions before the disc inevitably herniates.
I hope this has opened your eyes to the important role dogs have played in our civilization, and how we did not merely domesticate the dog – we domesticated with dogs. We also need to appreciate that some of the most recent changes we’ve made to dogs has negatively impacted their long-term health, which makes it our responsibility to ensure they live the healthiest and most sustainable life possible. More importantly, I hope it’s inspired you to become more informed of the underlying causes of injury and chronic disease in your pets and explore natural alternatives to optimize their health. So let’s strive to understand what makes our dogs happy and gives them purpose. Let’s bring function back into our dogs lives.
For more information about how animal chiropractic can help improve the quality of life of your pet. Visit us at:
The Stockyard Chiropractors | The Dog Joint
2567 St Clair West, Toronto ON (Dundas and Runnymede)