Prior to the genetic changes which have taken place over time in the canine species, evolving the mammal from wolf to dog, man and wolf had a relationship of similar proportions. The wolf, with its superior ability to hunt and track, complemented man, with his finely honed hunting skills, by tracking the prey, leading the man to it, and reaping the benefits of a substantial and tasty meal as a reward.
Because of man’s use of wolves and other canine species in this manner, various forms of cross breeding took place, which has led us to the familiar canine we all either own or encounter today. While specific breeds are still excellent for accompanying man on the exciting hunt and other breeds are beneficial in different ways, there is much disagreement as to the genesis of the actually changes in breeding that took place, leading to what we know of the domesticated of the species today. Some hold fast to the belief that wolves literally evolved into the tame dog, while others believe the canine of today is the result of years of breeding done in different parts of the world.
Regardless of their beginning or the place they hold in the lives of humans today, dog and man possess a very intimate and unique relationship indeed.
Before 1800, dogs were owned for strictly utilitarian purposes, whether it be for protection, hunting, herding, or another productive function. Other than the smaller “lap” dog kept mostly for the sake of companionship, the canine was another tool. In writings of old the dog was never portrayed in a friendly or protective light, making it a part of a family dynamic. Dogs were referred to as wild, dangerous, and potential dangers at all times. Over the next two centuries, however, the attitude of humans toward dogs began to change dramatically; it is believed this alteration of opinion was due to the development of the vaccine for rabies, which lessened the fear felt by the general population. This allowed them to get to know the animal and its species on a more personal level, providing the human with realization of the true nature of the animal.
The following bit of prose was cited in the New York Literary Journal. It can be located in Volume 4, 1821:, and is the earliest know English example of prose using the term “man’s best friend”:
The faithful dog – why should I strive
To speak his merits while they live
In every breast, and man’s best friend
Does often, at his heels, attend.
Attorney George G. Vest represented a farmer in an 1870 lawsuit, which consisted of the farmer seeking damages for the shooting death of his dog, Old Drum. Vest’s closing arguments were recorded as including the following:
“The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or un-treacherous is his dog.” A statue of Old Drum was placed on the courthouse lawn in Johnson County in 1958. It bears the following quotation by Vest: “A man’s best friend is his dog.”
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