The dog is one of the two most ubiquitous and popular domestic animals in the world (the cat is the other). For more than 12,000 years it has lived with humans as a hunting companion, protector, object of scorn or adoration, and friend. The dog has evolved from similar (that is, undifferentiated) fur-bearing animals into more than 400 distinct breeds. Human beings have played a major role in creating dogs that fulfill distinct societal needs. Through the most rudimentary form of genetic engineering, dogs were bred to accentuate instincts that were evident from their earliest encounters with humans. Although details about the evolution of dogs are uncertain, the first dogs were hunters with keen senses of sight and smell. Humans developed these instincts and created new breeds as need or desire arose.
Dogs are regarded differently in different parts of the world. Western civilization has given the relationship between human and dog great importance, but, in some of the developing nations and in many areas of Asia, dogs are not held in the same esteem. In some areas of the world, dogs are used as guards or beasts of burden or even for food, whereas, in the United States and Europe, dogs are protected and admired. In ancient Egypt during the days of the pharoahs, dogs were considered to be sacred.
Characteristics of loyalty, friendship, protectiveness, and affection have earned dogs an important position in Western society, and in the United States and Europe the care and feeding of dogs has become a multibillion-dollar business.
Dogs have played an important role in the history of human civilization and were among the first domesticated animals. They were important in hunter-gatherer societies as hunting allies and bodyguards against predators. When livestock were domesticated about 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, dogs served as herders and guardians of sheep, goats, and cattle.
Although many still serve in these capacities, dogs are increasingly used for social purposes and companionship. Today, dogs are employed as guides for the blind and disabled or for police work. Dogs are even used in therapy in nursing homes and hospitals to encourage patients toward recovery. Humans have bred a wide range of different dogs adapted to serve a variety of functions. This has been enhanced by improvements in veterinary care and animal husbandry. (Encyclopedia Britannica)