Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Most of us consider our dogs, regardless of breed or mix, as attractive. And with regard to other people’s dogs, let’s just say the phrase “Wow, your dog is unusual looking!” rarely makes us popular at dog parks. But for centuries, we’ve bred dogs for specific purposes; physical attractiveness wasn’t always preferred.
Sometimes, for example, a breed was developed to scare potential intruders off with a fierce appearance. Other breeds were developed with coats that camouflaged them in the terrain or helped them blend in with the animals they guarded. Some breeds were developed for a distinctive comical, culturally significant, or playful appearance.
Time to hear from some self-proclaimed non-glamorous breeds:
1. Neapolitan Mastiff
I’m not glamorous, but I’m certainly memorable to look upon. I’m recognized by my saggy wrinkles, big jaw flaps, and enormous head. The American Kennel Club standard doesn’t mince words: The essence of the Neapolitan is his bestial appearance, astounding head, and imposing size and attitude. I’ll take it a step further: History indicates I was developed for an almost alarming ugliness to deter intruders. My ancestors trace to Roman war dogs; in Europe, I guarded estates and homes. Today, my appearance intends to inspire awe. Regardless of their true opinion, few onlookers are heard to exclaim “How ugly!” in my magnificent presence. Did I mention I weigh some 140 pounds?
2. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
I was bred in Turkey for a no-frills, functional purpose: to live alongside and protect livestock. Glamor was irrelevant. My working ability trumped any appearance traits. After all, what use was a lovely dog who allowed predators to munch on his sheep or goats? The American Kennel Club breed standard specifies that I was “developed through a set of very demanding circumstances for a purely utilitarian purpose.” My coat, for example, wasn’t developed for color (my breed standard states that all color patterns and markings are acceptable), but rather to protect me in both cold and heat. Today, if my family finds my appearance striking or handsome, that’s simply frosting on the cake.
Since ancient times, members of the Chinese imperial household showered us with adoration. Quite appropriately, Emperors even appointed guards for us. Since commoners weren’t supposed to see us, we were bred small to fit in royal sleeves. The prince mark was a highly desired trait: three wrinkles on our forehead with a vertical bar, mimicking the Chinese character for prince. Our large, unusually prominent eyes were developed to charm hearts outside of China, too; we became popular with European monarchs. Over time, Europeans continued to selectively breed us for a compressed muzzle, wrinkled brow, and apparently (at least according to humans) “child-like” countenance. Forget classic beauty. With us, it’s all about being exceptionally adorable.
We’re proud of our highly unusual appearance: We’re covered in thick, white cords. Our coat wasn’t developed for style, though. The cords shield us from cold and heat. They also protected us from predators in our birthplace of Hungary. Our early ancestors guarded flocks of sheep and other livestock against animals such as coyotes. Our white coat allowed us to blend in with sheep, unnoticed by predators, and yet be visible to shepherds in the dark. Forget glamor and glitz; our appearance is multi-functional!
Our delightful, and (some say) comical appearance has a rather serious history. Our predecessors drove cattle and worked on farms. But because of our strength, tenacity, and bravery, we were used in the unfortunate sport of bull baiting. My large head (in proportion to my body) served a non-comical purpose indeed. By carrying much of our weight in our head, we decreased the odds of breaking our backs when bulls shook us. Our stocky, low-to-the-ground muscular bodies and massive jaws helped save our lives. Fortunately bull baiting was outlawed in England and we can put those sad stories behind us. Today we’re peaceful, sweet companions, proud of our distinctive and charming appearance.