Loyal, loving, and selfless—dogs are considered to be man’s best friend. They’ve accompanied humanity for about 20,000 to 40,000 years when they were first domesticated. But before they became two of the most ubiquitous house pets in the world, these canine companions played many roles in the lives of people. They were hunting partners, guard dogs, companions, pariahs, and even a source of food.
To understand how dogs are viewed all over the world, it’s important to return to their roots.
The Creation of Dog and the Different Breeds
The dog shares the same ancestor, a small weasel-like mammal that existed about 60 million years ago, with jackals, wolves, and foxes. The beloved canine companions that people know today are believed to have descended from the gray wolf. Researchers have yet to find the exact timing when these vicious predators started to accompany humans and became known today as man’s best friend.
From the gray wolf, over 400 distinct breeds of dog emerged through breeding certain qualities and instincts to serve different purposes for people. Some such characteristics evolved to help dogs survive, integrate themselves into human settlements, and “hold power over humans.”
The 400 distinct breeds are classified into eight groups by the American Kennel Club. These groups include the hounds, working dogs, terriers, herding dogs, sporting groups, non-sporting, toys, and miscellaneous class.
Hounds with their sharp and accurate noses, ability to spot prey at long distances, and phenomenal stamina were the best hunting partners. Highly intelligent, strong, and alert working dogs, working dogs have assisted humans in carrying out many tasks—pulling sleds, guarding property, and rescuing drowning people.
Terriers can be small and cute like the miniature schnauzer or large and stocky, but all terriers are known for their feistiness and energy. They were bred to hunt, eliminate vermin, and guard families and properties.
Choosing the right breed, based on one’s lifestyle, resources, and available home space, is an important consideration when taking home a pet dog. After thousands of years of evolution and conditioning, dogs have developed breed-specific characteristics that determine their temperament, energy levels, life span, and suitability to people and their lifestyle.
Regardless of breeds, dogs are known for their loyalty, enthusiasm to please, and immense love for their people. But not everyone sees eye to eye when it comes to dogs. In some parts of the world, man’s best friends are considered pests, unclean animals, and in certain parts of Asia, a delicacy.
1. Dogs in West Cultures
In Westerns countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, dogs are popular companion animals of individuals and families. According to a survey of pet owners in 2006, over 73 percent of Americans said they had a dog as a pet. Years later, another pet owners survey report that there are 75.7 million pet dogs in the United States.
Although less than the number in the United States, the number of pet dogs in the United Kingdom does not fall below the millions, an estimated population of 8.9 million.
Many people who own dogs regard them as part of the family. In the most loving homes, dogs are treated like children, spoiled with high-end, nutritious food, sent to dog schools, and pampered with safe and healthy treats and toys.
The terms fur child and furbaby have been increasingly used by pet owners in the Western world and other parts of the globe to refer to pet dogs and other furry pet animals. The owners also refer to themselves as fur-parents.
The pet industry in many Western countries is a multimillion-dollar industry. Over the years, western pet owners have become increasingly more keen about providing the best food, treats, toys, and services for dogs and other pets.
They’ve heavily criticized popular pet food brands, which used questionable ingredients in their pet food products and made false claims about the quality of their goods, and even caused a well-known natural treat dental pet care company change their formula after research proved a top-selling product sickened and killed dogs.
Millennials, which is poised to take the largest population in the United States this year, are known for their great love for pets, with over 73 percent reported to own a pet. So much so that they—the generation steeped in student loans and unfavorable debt-to-income ratio, make their pets a priority when choosing a home. They will reject a seemingly perfect home of it fails to tick off all the items in the needs checklist of their pets, says Realtor.com survey.
Many millennials and younger generations would rather adopt a dog or other pets than bring have babies. The rising cost of having children, less time to dedicate to homemaking, and shifting views of family and kids are some of the reasons why the young generation would rather raise a dog than raise a child.
2. Muslims and Dogs
The perception and treatment of dogs are starkly different in many Islamic countries. Dogs are considered unhygienic, impure, and evil in The Koran. Muslims do not touch dogs or have them as pets. They will cleanse themselves if they accidentally brush against one.
But before dogs were considered as impure, historical records show that Muslims used to interact with dogs regularly. Accounts of Prophet Muhammad’s life showed that he prayed in the company of dogs, and his relatives and friends had also raised dogs. Before Islam, these canine companions were depicted with their humans in stone carving from ancient Egypt and Iraq.
Dogs were regularly present in the early days of Muslims. They were seen roaming around harmony in the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina many years before. Between the 700 and 1700 millennium, dogs played vital roles in the lives of Muslims. They guarded properties, deterred intruders, killed vermin, herded sheep and goats, and ate the garbage in cities.
Some 200 years ago, people in many cities began to aggressively clean trash in their areas, believing that it brought disease and death. Humans were cleaning their own trash, so dogs were becoming dispensable. There was little garbage in territories, and whatever was left was raided and eaten by dogs. This led to the association of dogs to trash, which only brought danger and disease to people.
3. Dogs in East Asia
Unlike the Muslims, the early Chinese did not find dogs impure and unclean. Around 1700 B.C. in Northern China, dog meat was among the people’s staple food. Around the sixth century, the practice of eating dog meat was brought to the south by traveling nomadic northern tribes.
Dog meat was considered a food for the gods and was often used as a sacrificial offering to deities. In fact, the Chinese character for offer contains the character for “dog”.
Other than being a food source, dogs also played several roles in the life of the ancient Chinese people. Dogs were also companions, hunting partners, and guards. They helped their owners hunt game and watch over the farmhouse, and kept them company. Often, dogs were buried with their owners to accompany them in the afterlife.
In the 10th century, the emergence of Buddhism gradually changes the practice of eating dog meat. The Buddhist rejected the slaughtering of animals, especially the loyal, faithful, and selfless dog. They believed that to repay a dog’s loyalty by eating them would bring bad karma to the owner.
Eating dog meat also became a political statement somewhere in Chinese history. During the rule of the Manchu in the 17th century, they declared the practice of eating dog as barbaric and prohibited it. The Kuomintang or the Chinese National People’s Party would cook and eat dog meat before every meeting as a symbol of protests against the Manchu.
Nowadays, eating dog meat is not as common and popular as it was before. Although “dog” is still in the menu of some 122 listed restaurants in Beijing, over 50 million dogs are now registered as pets in the Republic, and the trend continues to grow by 15 percent every year.
Still, dog eating is deeply ingrained in the culture as evidenced in one popular Chinese saying, “Dragon meat in heaven, dog meat on earth.” It will probably take more years to shake off the delicious reputation of dogs in the minds and palates of many Chinese
Mainland China continues to practice dog eating, but Hong Kong has longed banned the practice since 1957 while Taiwan recently prohibited it in 2001.
Did you know that dog meat was also eaten in some parts of America, Africa, Europe, and Germany (until the 20th century), and Switzerland (until 1996)? In the Philippines, dog meat was a popular pulutan (an appetizer eaten while drinking alcohol) also declared it illegal to eat dog meat in 1998.
Japan, the land of sushi, ramen, weird inventions, and enviable discipline, is the fifth country in the world with the largest pet dog population, with over 12 million. The pet industry in Japan is reportedly worth $10 billion. Among the many popular dog figures in history, Japan has the most well-known canine companion, Hachiko.
Hachiko’s remarkable loyalty and relationship to his owner Dr. Ueno is a picture of the Japanese people’s love affair with dogs. While Japan’s birth rate plummets, the nation’s pet industry and pets grow bigger. In the midst of the low birthrate panic, the population of pets (about 22 million) has surpassed the number of children (16.6 million under 15) in Japan.
Japanese dogs and pets are spoiled and pampered better than children. They enjoy holidays at hot spring resorts, regular spa treatments, yoga classes, and even designer clothes, like Chanel, Dior, Hermes, and Gucci.
Meanwhile, in neighboring South Korea, the population is divided into two sides, with one condemning the dog meat trade and the other defending their rights to eat dog meat. Just this July, South Korea’s largest dog meat market, Gupo dog market in Busan was shut down and 80 dogs saved after an agreement was reached between local authorities and dog meet sellers.
Eating dog meat is a centuries-old practice in South Korea. In the early days, dogs were considered edible farm animals and surpassed the population of cattle. Over 2.5 million dogs in South Korea are raised in farms each year, with one million slaughtered and eaten. However, young Koreans are changing that.
As the nation grew wealthier in the 1980s and Western influence entered the country, younger Koreans began to advocate against the dog meat trade, calling for the closure of the dog farm all over the country. This year, they’ve successfully reduced the number of dog farms in the country, and in November last year, they closed down the country’s largest dog slaughterhouse.
Now, 70 percent of South Koreans disapprove of eating dog meat for different reasons. About 43 percent say because dogs are companions animals; 24 percent are concerned about inhumane treatment and practices, and 11 percent believe its unhygienic.
As young South Koreans turn away from eating dog meat, they turn to keep dogs as animal companions. Similar to the Japanese, the new generation of Koreans are growing fonder of raising a pet than having a child.
Pet ownership grew to 28 percent in 2018 from 18 percent in 2012. The pet-related industry was worth $2.4 billion last year and is estimated to grow double the size by 2027.
Compared to Western societies, most Asian societies, with the exception of a few, have only just begun seeing dogs as companions and family members, but the future looks promising for these loving and lovable furry and not-so-furry creatures.
Dog Across Cultures
Culture and beliefs affect how different people perceive and approach many things in the world. The inhumane treatment of dogs and other animals should be condemned, but it’s important to consider the history, religion, and culture of people before one judges their views and ideas and proclaims them wrong. What one culture praises; another may vilify.
Dogs may not be everyone’s best friend now, but the world and people are changing. China and South Korea are proof that mindsets can change and cultures can begin to reject what they once accepted and vice versa.
The best thing dog lovers and owners can do is to treat their pets well, volunteer and donate to animal shelters, foster rescues, and be vocal about their love and support for these beloved canine friends.
About the Author:
Emma Nolan is a blogger, writer, and dog parent to three adorable black labradoodles. She likes strolling outdoors with her lovable fur babies when not writing about them.