Comparing Photos of Dogs 100 Years Ago vs Today Shows the Impact Selective Breeding Truly Has on Animals

Tue May 24 2022

While more and more people around the world are following the notion of “adopt don’t shop”, selective breeding of dogs is still a huge problem. Yes, they may be a human’s best friend, but the process of domesticating dogs has dramatically changed the appearance, temperament, and overall health of many of the dogs we know and love today. That’s why countless animal charities are calling for selective breeding to stop.

Although selective breeding has opened up a huge and profitable business for those in the industry, this process is not always in the dogs’ best interests. Dogs have changed so much over the past 100 years that some are now completely unrecognizable – and while some of them look cuter and more family-friendly, the lack of genetic diversity in dogs is proving to be incredibly harmful. These pictures show just how different dogs looked 100 years ago vs. today.

Bull Terrier

Often associated with Bill Sykes in Oliver!, the bull terrier is a popular breed of dog known for its football-shaped head and its short and thick body. Today, they often have a bad reputation, with many people seeing them as aggressive or vicious. Of course, the temperament of each dog varies from dog to dog, but this stereotype may have come from the fact that bull terriers have been bred continuously over the years.

In the early 1900s, bull terriers were actually bred from the old English bulldog and the old English terrier as a way to control vermin. It was their job to hunt and control the rats and mice in the area, and it was even once described as the “gladiator of the canine race.” Back then, bull terriers were leaner and their heads were a totally different shape.

English Bulldog

Despite its name, the English bulldog is extremely popular in other areas of the world, in particular the United States. But what many people don’t realize is that the English bulldog’s biggest clue into its history can also be found in its name. In fact, their breeding can be traced back to the 1600s when they were used by cattle farmers for bull-baiting – until that became illegal in 1835.

After that, the bulldog became more of a domesticated animal, and 100 years ago it was recognizable by its squat stance and its saggy jowls. Selective breeding over the past century has changed their appearance, though. Today, old English bulldogs are known for their even squatter stance and their pronounced facial wrinkles – which can cause health problems.

Old English Sheepdog

When you think of the old English sheepdog, you probably immediately think of an animal covered in hair so long it almost covers its eyes and nose. And what’s so amazing about this dog is the fact that this characteristic has been there from the start – but that’s mainly because this breed of dog is a relatively new breed in comparison to some of the others on this list. It first emerged in the 1800s in England before making its way across the globe.

To begin with, this large and shaggy-haired dog was used as a “drover dog” to pull carts, wagons, and livestock to market. And while they’ve become more domesticated since then, it seems as though their size hasn’t changed too much. They are still huge dogs with long hair, and, in fact, their hair has actually got longer and softer as the years have gone by.

Poodle

When it comes to popular dog breeds, poodles are definitely at the top of the canine food chain. Not only are purebred poodles found in the purses of high society, but this breed is also crossed with the likes of labradors and cocker-spaniels to provide the tell-tale curly hair that the poodle breed offers. However, the flamboyant hairstyles and perfectly pruned locks are a relatively new addition to the poodle breed.

When poodles first made their mark around 400 years ago, they were enlisted to work as duck hunters – and this continued for centuries. Around 100 years ago, you were more likely to see corded poodles around the duck pond, but as owners realized that shaving their dogs would make it easier for them to swim around in the water, they started cutting off the dreadlocks. This process soon morphed into fancy, poofy, cuts.

German Shepherd

Often used within the military and the police force, German shepherds have been described by the American Kennel Club as “a strong, agile, well-muscled animal, alert and full of life.” Today, they are extremely large with sloping backs, full coats, and large ears. And while they haven’t changed a huge amount over the years, they still looked pretty different 100 years ago.

In 1915, German shepherds were described as “medium-sized dogs” that weighed on average around 55 pounds. They’re bred to be much larger and heavier today, though – coming in at around 75 to 95 pounds on average. That’s why they continue to be used in search and rescue missions, as well as being used as security and guard dogs.

Boston Terrier

As you can tell by the name, Boston terriers are historically linked to Boston. The breed was first shown in Boston over a century ago, in 1870 – and it was originally much larger than the dogs we know and love today. In fact, the original Boston terrier weighed around 44 pounds and they were bred for pit fighting. They were incredibly strong, which served them well at the time. Things are a little different now, though.

When pit fighting was banned, Boston terriers had no need to be quite as big and strong, which is why the breed is much smaller today. Another major difference is that modern Boston terriers have a much flatter face than they did a century ago – which can cause them health issues. Other than that, their appearance has stayed largely the same.

Airedale Terrier

Often dubbed the “King of Terriers”, the Airedale terrier first made its mark in Yorkshire, England during the mid-19th century. It was bred from the tan terrier, the old English black terrier, the otterhound, and even the Yorkshire terrier. The idea was to create an all-round and versatile working dog that could hunt, fight, and work around the local farms. The breed was taken across the pond in the 1880s, and it’s since become a hugely popular dog breed.

Back in the day, the Airedale terrier had a tan coat that was “hard and wiry” – which just so happened to show off the unique shape of its head and nose. Today, the colors of the Airedale terrier coat can vary, and this breed’s hair is also much longer and more “ragged” than it was over a century ago. Despite that, these are only small changes.

Shetland Sheep Dog

Normally, a dog’s name gives away everything you need to know about its breed – and that’s certainly the case for the Shetland sheepdog. Not only was this breed originally developed on the Shetland Isles, but it was also bred to be a working sheepdog. Its main job was to aid farmers in herding their sheep, as well as protecting any of their crops that weren’t fenced or covered. It was around 7 to 10 pounds – but now the Shetland sheep dog is much, much larger.

You can tell from these two photos that this breed is not only larger and heavier in size, but that its hair is also much longer. Today, Shetland sheepdogs are being bred to around 20 pounds in weight. This is because they are still primarily used as working dogs rather than as pets, which means that their large size and their strength help them out on the farm.

Chow Chow

Although a chow chow’s bear-like appearance is considered to be cute today, this once served in its favor as a hunting dog. Interestingly, this particular breed can be traced back to the Han dynasty in China (between 206 BC and 220 AD), and it’s considered to be one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. During this time, chow chows were used to herd animals, to keep guard of their owner’s houses, and it was even used as a sled dog.

Despite its time as a working dog, the original chow chow weighed around 50 pounds – while the chow chow we know and love today weighs even more, coming in at around 75 pounds. However, a huge portion of this additional weight comes from the fact that chow chows have been bred to have much longer, fluffier hair, and more wrinkles on their faces.

French Bulldog

While the French bulldog’s roots can be traced back to France, it’s incredibly popular around the whole world. In 2020, it was the second-most popular registered dog in the UK, and the fourth-most popular dog in the United States. With its small stature and its flat face, it’s not hard to understand why many people choose this adorable breed to be part of their family. But its appearance has changed over the years.

What’s so amazing about the French bulldog is that it’s actually been bred to be larger than it was a century ago. During the 20th century, these dogs were fashionable with high-society ladies in Paris and were largely companion dogs. However, as terrier stock has been brought into the selective breeding process, modern French bulldogs are slightly larger and have longer ears.

Great Dane

Confusingly, Great Danes aren’t from Denmark but are instead from Germany – where their roots can be traced back over 400 years. It’s been noted that they were descended from mastiff-like dogs that were bred by the higher echelons of German nobility to hunt game and protect their large country estates. They became known as the “Apollo of the dogs”, but they weren’t as big as we know them to be today.

Although Great Danes used to weigh around 120 pounds a century ago, these loyal working dogs are now much heavier – with males reaching up to a whopping 175 pounds. Not much has changed in terms of their features, but the sheer jump in size is what puts many families off choosing a Great Dane as their family pet.

Pug

Today, pugs are hugely popular dogs – but what many people don’t realize is that these seemingly modern pooches are actually some of the oldest in the world. With roots dating back to 400 B.C in China, it’s believed that pugs were bred to be the companions of the rich. Back then, they looked totally different, and even 100 years ago they were skinnier with more rounded features.

In recent years, pugs have undergone some serious selective breeding. They have been bred to have flatter noses, more wrinkles, and bigger eyes – and while they have roughly stayed the same in terms of their size, these differences have had a major effect on the breed. Many pugs suffer from breathing problems due to their narrowed nostrils, and they’re more likely to have eye ulcers and skin fold infections.

Husky

Although huskies are often considered to be descendants of wolves, they’re no more related to wolves than a poodle or a pug. And while some huskies are bred with wolves to create animal hybrids, the purebred Siberian husky was instead bred by the Chuckchi people of Siberia. These dogs were loyal companions, but their primary function was to be a working dog – specifically a sled dog. The husky was taken to Alaska in 1909, and since then it’s become a popular dog breed around the world.

While the husky hasn’t changed dramatically in the past 100 years, it has changed slightly. Due to the fact that many domesticated huskies are no longer sled dogs leaving in cold countries, selective breeding has allowed huskies to not only vary in terms of their shape and size, but also their color. Today, their ears are also much pointier.

Basset Hound

Today, dog breeding is undertaken by registered breeders across the globe. But in 700 AD, the breeding of basset hounds was undertaken by a group of monks at the Abbey of St. Hubert in the Ardennes region of France. They weren’t breeding these dogs for themselves but instead breeding them for the higher echelon of their (mostly royal) rolodex. During this time, the basset hound was still considered to be a short or “low” dog, but it’s since been bred to be even lower.

As you can see from this comparison, today’s basset hounds are almost touching the floor. Their characteristics have been bred to be even more exaggerated, including their long ears, their short legs, droopy eyes, and their elastic skin. Because of these extreme characteristics, basset hounds are even more prone to injury and disease that affects the joints, the skin, and the eyes.

Newfoundland

The Newfoundland dog is today considered to be one of the largest dog breeds in the world – but that wasn’t always the case. While the original Newfoundland was big, it was noticeably smaller than the modern-bred version. This is surprising, considering Newfoundland dogs were bred as lifeguards and search and rescue dogs. In fact, they often boarded ships with Canadian fishermen to rescue people from the freezing cold waters.

Because of this, Newfoundland dogs needed to be large, with a huge amount of body fat and fur to keep them safe in the icy waters. And while this breed is no longer needed for such rescue missions, it seems as though selective breeding has just made the Newfoundland even bigger. In 1915, this dog would have weighed around 100 pounds. Today, males can weigh up to 150 pounds.

West Highland Terrier

The dog world is full of terriers, but the West Highland terrier is perhaps one of the most common of the lot. Sharing its history with the likes of the Cairn, Scottish, Skye, and Dandie Dinmont terriers, they were all bred for the same thing – to hunt. The West Highland terrier in particular was bred to kill vermin such as rats and mice, which is why it was relatively small and short in stature. The modern West Highland terrier is a little larger, though.

Because these dogs are now spending times in homes instead of in the fields, they have no need to be as short as they once were. Plus, selective breeding has seen them become a little taller – about an inch or two. While this isn’t a lot, these changes are pretty noticeable. But that might have something to do with the fact that West Highland terriers are now popular dogs for commercials and modeling gigs.

Scottish Terrier

Like many of the other terriers found around the Scottish Isles, the Scottish terrier was bred for one particular person; to hunt vermin. Their short stature and their incredible hunting ability made them the perfect addition to farms in the Highlands of Scotland, and they’d sometimes even be tasked with hunting badgers and foxes. Back then, their coats were short and “wiry.” Today, they’re a little different.

Now, the Scottish terrier has a much longer coat that sometimes even touches the floor. This, alongside the fact that they are shorter than they were 100 years ago, makes them look short and stubby – which is what many potential dog owners look for in an animal. As if that wasn’t enough, their hair is now considered to be much softer than it was a century ago.

Great Pyrenees

With its huge body and its impressive strength, it’s no wonder that the Great Pyrenees has been a loyal working dog throughout the course of history. Fossils of this dog suggest that this breed appeared in Europe between 1800 B.C. and 1000 B.C – where it worked hard in the Pyrenees Mountains of France to guard their farmers’ livestock. Then, it became a popular choice for those in high society during the 17th century in France.

Today, the Great Pyrenees isn’t the most popular dog choice for families across the globe – but many people still acknowledge and celebrate the history of this great creature. They also celebrate the fact that this dog has been largely spared from over-selective breeding. While this dog now has slightly bigger eyes and smaller ears than it did 100 years ago, it still remains mostly the same.

Irish Setter

As the name suggests, the Irish setter’s roots can be traced back to Ireland. It was developed during the 18th century, and it’s heightened sense of smell was used by families and bird hunters to make their jobs even easier. In fact, these dogs would detect the birds and “set” when they smelled one to alert their owners – which meant that they would take a low stance with their body, to the point where it would almost touch the ground.

Because Irish setters are not considered to be desirable in terms of the pet market, they haven’t suffered at the hands of selective breeding. Of course, some of their characteristics have changed slightly over the years, but in terms of the Irish setter that only really involves their coat and their body. Their coat is much longer and thicker, but their body is much thinner than it was 100 years ago.

Dobermann

While most of the dogs on this list can be traced back to a particular period in history, the Dobermann is a little different – mainly because this particular breed of dog can be traced back to a single man. German tax collector and dog pound owner Louis Dobermann is credited for developing the Dobermann breed in the late 1800s. It’s been noted that he developed the Dobermann using the strays in his pound in order to create a fierce guard dog who would intimidate his clients.

Today, many people still consider the Dobermann to be intimidating due to its size and its confident stance. But the modern Dobermann does still look a little different than it did 100 years ago – and they’re not as aggressive as they once were. Perhaps the biggest change in the Dobermann is that the body shape is more slender, and the ears no longer stick up like they used to.

Dachshund

While most people normally associate hunting dogs with medium-large-sized dogs, it might surprise you to learn that the dachshund – or “sausage dog” – originated from Germany as a hunting dog. With its short legs and impressive scent work, it was a hugely popular breed in the 17th century for farmers who wanted to catch the badgers on their land. In fact, dachshund quite literally translates to “badger dogs.” They’re a lot smaller today, though.

Due to the fact that sausage dogs have become hugely popular pets, they have been selectively bred to make their characteristics even more extreme. This means that their legs are shorter, their bodies are longer, and even their ears are longer. Because of these changes, one in four sausage dogs suffers from Intervertebral Disc Disease, which affects the back.

Rottweiler

Often considered to be one of the most aggressive dog breeds in the world, what you might not know about Rottweilers is that they’re actually considered to be some of the oldest dogs in the world. To be more specific, their history can be dated back to the Roman era, when Rottweilers would serve as herders or driving dogs – assisting the Romans as they marched over the Alps. And while they haven’t changed dramatically due to selective breeding, they have changed a little.

The Rottweiler that lived 100 years ago was a little shorter and stockier than the Rottweiler that we walk in the park today, and it seems as though their coat has also changed. While the old Rottweiler had a softer coat, it’s now much coarser. Today, many owners choose not to dock their Rottweiler’s tail, either – but back in the day, this tail got in the way of pulling carts.

Saluki

Although the exact history of the Saluki is not known, it’s long been suggested that this breed of dog was wandering the Middle East over 5,000 years ago. This notion is backed up by paintings and sculptures found in tombs and on ancient artifacts, which depict slender dogs with feathered tails, ears, and legs. They’re perhaps one of the most unique dogs in terms of their appearance, but have they changed over the past century?

The short answer is not really. However, the long answer is that there are some minor changes in the appearance of these dogs. Today, Salukis are actually much taller than they were a century ago, and they’re also much thinner than they were – with many owners being able to see the outline of their Saluki’s ribs. They have also been bred so that their hair is longer and more luxurious.

Shar-Pei

Just like in modern times, history has gone through trends when it comes to the popularity of certain dog breeds. And while the Chinese shar-pei originated in China around 200 BC, it fell out of fashion after a while. During the beginning of its reign, the shar-pei was used as a guard and hunting dog, and it even became a fighting dog. But when larger dogs were brought over from the West, it was replaced and domesticated into the home. Just like it is today.

However, the shar-pei’s new role as a domesticated pet has caused its appearance to change dramatically. While the original shar-pei had small wrinkles and skin folds, they have since been bred to have even more – and to be much smaller than they were in the past. Because of this, modern shar-pei deal with a multitude of health problems that owners need to be aware of before adding this breed to their home.