The World Canine Federation recognizes over 300 different dog breeds, while the Cat Fanciers’ Association has only 42 different types of moggies on their books. Why the difference?
“I guess dogs are just a lot more useful than cats,” says Gilbert, a professor of paleogenomics at the University of Copenhagen.
Now, before the claws come out, let’s take a closer look at why and what usefulness has to do with race count.
All dogs are domesticated from wolves, a process that Gilbert examines through genetic studies. Wolves are social animals that live in packs and work together. They are also predisposed to listen to a leader, the so-called alpha dog, a role that humans can replace.
“All of these characteristics mean that dogs can be trained to do so many things that are useful to humans, like pulling and carrying things, hunting and protecting,” adds Gilbert.
Cats, on the other hand, are largely solitary creatures that tend to have an ambivalent relationship with humans, at best. “Because they don’t come from a particularly social animal, there’s not much you can get a domestic cat to do,” says Gilbert. “So while dogs were bred to perform different tasks, cats were largely bred for their appearance, with the result that there are more dog breeds than cat breeds.”
The case of the feral kitten
To underline the importance of this predisposition to socialization, it suffices to consider the case of the feral kitten. As Gilbert explains, if a cat runs away, goes feral, and has kittens, and those kittens don’t have human contact in their first few weeks, they’re nearly indomitable. An adopted street dog, on the other hand, will form a bond with its human owners and can be domesticated.
“You can only change behavior if there is a permanent behavior to build on,” notes Gilbert. “Although cats are great hunters, you can’t breed a cat to hunt on command because that behavior never existed in the first place.”
In other words, cats are inherently inherently resistant to performing the wide range of functions often associated with domestication.
What does puppy love have to do with it?
Of course, there are exceptions to the more helpful dog rule. Although there are no working cat breeds, not all dogs are bred to work: it is clear that some are bred for nothing more than to shower their human owners with love and support. affection (we’re looking at you pugs).
“We tend to forget that dogs were originally bred purely for function, that it’s only in the last 100 years that we’ve begun to select for looks,” Gilbert notes. .
But that doesn’t mean dogs aren’t bred for a purpose anymore. Guide dogs, comfort dogs for post-traumatic stress disorder, and sniffer dogs at airports are just a few examples. “These are new tasks for which dogs – and not cats, mind you – are employed”, concludes Gilbert. “This demonstrates once again why dogs are more useful than their feline counterparts and why, as a result, we have more breeds of dogs than breeds of cats.”
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Click here to read more about Gilbert’s research: Large-scale sampling and incorporation of ancient canids sheds new light on the relationship between wolf and dog.
Quote: Why are there so many dog breeds but only a few cat breeds? (2022, September 30) retrieved September 30, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-dog-cat.html
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