Dogs are mammals. They are part of the canid family, which includes domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes and jackals. Domestic dogs are called 'man's best friend' because they were probably the first wild animals that became tamed by humans many thousand years ago as a companion and helper. The original dog was a wolf-like animal that is now extinct. It was the ancestor of today's wolf also.

Dog breeds are all shapes and sizes ©Getty Images

Dog breeds are all shapes and sizes ©Getty Images

Today there are hundreds of breeds, or kinds, of dog. They are big and small, with long hair or short hair, floppy ears or stand up ears, and different colours. The different kinds can breed with each other: when two of the same kind of dog breed, the puppies are called pure breed. When two different kinds of dog breed, the puppies are called cross breed or mixed breed.  People generally choose a dog according to what they need or prefer. Each breed of dog has different characteristics, such as retrieving (fetching things), running fast, herding, hunting, and so on.  There are very large dogs, such as Irish wolfhound or great Dane, and there are some very tiny dogs such as the chihuahua. 

Working dogs

Some working dogs are sniffer dogs ©Getty Images

Some working dogs are sniffer dogs ©Getty Images

Some breeds are well suited to different kinds of work.  Working dogs are used to help people, and their existing instincts are trained further.  These dogs are not pets in the usual way.

Breeds such as blue heelers, Australian cattle dogs, German shepherds,  border collies and others are some of the breeds that herd sheep or cattle on farms.

Breeds such as beagles, English springer spaniels and labradors are trained as sniffer dogs that can scent drugs or other illegal items in places like ships, hidden in bags and parcels at airports and in shipping  containers on the docks.

These dogs are trained to let the handlers know when they find something.

German shepherd dogs are used to assist police. They are highly intelligent, strong, large dogs with excellent sense of smell. They can help to search for lost or missing people, to track where a wanted person has travelled, and to stop dangerous people and keep them in one spot till police officers arrive to arrest them. German shepherds are also one breed used by the defence forces to assist in sniffing where bombs may have been concealed.

A guide dog wears a special harness when it is working ©Getty Images

A guide dog wears a special harness when it is working ©Getty Images

Breeds such as labradors, and in some countries German shepherds, are trained as guide dogs for people who cannot see .  Breeds such as German shepherds are trained to assist police in chasing criminals or in sniffing for drugs. These dogs can also be companions for people with a disability.

Maremma dog with sheep flock ©Getty Images

Maremma dog with sheep flock ©Getty Images

 

The Italian maremma is an unusual working dog. It is a very large dog with thick white fur, and it protects flocks of animals. They are not herding dogs, but they bond or become part of, whatever group of animals they are required to protect: sheep, angora goats, chickens, alpacas. Generally it is farmers who own these dogs, but in an interesting new twist,  it is thought that they could protect endangered animals being released back into the wild after captive breeding.  In Australia small marsupials called eastern barred bandicoots are starting to be released into a reserve area and maremma dogs are being trained to  keep them safe from foxes and feral animals, which had caused them to be endangered. 

Read about their assistance in conservation:  

 http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2014/aug/08/maremma-dogs-trained-bandicoot-bodyguards-in-pictures

Life Cycle

A male dog is called a dog, a female is called a bitch, and a young one is a puppy. When a litter of puppies is born, the father is generally called the sire and the mother the dam.

Puppies feeding ©Getty Images

Puppies feeding ©Getty Images

About two months after a male and female mate,  puppies are born.   There can be about six or even more puppies in what is called a litter. 

  For about ten days the puppies are blind and deaf.  While they are very little, the puppies are cleaned and fed by their mother. They drink milk from their mother's teats until they are about six weeks old.  After they are eight weeks old the pups don't need to drink milk, and can be moved away from their mother.

Dogs as pets

Pet dogs wear a registration tag on their collar ©kidcyber

Pet dogs wear a registration tag on their collar ©kidcyber

Around the world, domestic dogs are the most popular choice as pets.

In Australia, dogs must be registered with the local council or shire, and a tag is placed on the dog's collar.

Puppies are micro-chipped: something tinier than a grain of rice is injected into the dog's neck. It has a code on it and that code is linked to the owner's name and phone number, or to a vet. If your dog gets lost, a vet scans the dog and can contact the owner.

Bored dogs can be destructive. ©Getty Images

Bored dogs can be destructive. ©Getty Images

Dogs need training so that they are well mannered and obedient, and so they walk on a leash and under control.  Dogs enjoy having fun and should have toys and activities to avoid getting bored, particularly when no one is home. There are lots of toys you can get that encourage the dog to chew and search.  There are training groups that can help.

 

Housing a pet dog

Pet dogs need a warm bed ©kidcyber

Pet dogs need a warm bed ©kidcyber

Dogs that live indoors must have a dog bed. If a pet dog is to sleep outside at night, it will need a well-built weatherproof kennel that can be warm and dry. It needs to be off the ground a bit to let air circulate and prevent it getting too cold or damp, and it should have washable bedding and rugs inside. Kennels should be located near the house because dogs are pack animals and your pet needs to feel part of the family.

Caring for your pet dog

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Pet dogs eat meat, cereals such as rice, and vegetables.  How often each day and the quantities depend on the age and size of the dog.  Specially prepared dry dog foods that contain all the necessary vitamins and minerals are available from pet shops and from vets.  Generally these are different according to your dog's age.  

A bone or chew stick to chew will help to keep the dog's teeth clean and healthy. Dogs need plenty of fresh water to drink.

A daily walk is important ©Getty Images

A daily walk is important ©Getty Images

Exercise and grooming

Your dog needs some exercise  every day. This means that it will have to be taken for a walk or run. 

Brushing the dog and bathing it regularly will keep its coat clean and healthy and free from fleas.  Dogs with long hair need more brushing than those with short hair. Their ears and feet should be checked for grass seeds in summer, or for infection or cuts.

Pet dogs are part of the family ©iStock

Pet dogs are part of the family ©iStock

Feral animals

Feral animals are domestic animals that have gone wild. Dogs are naturally a pack animal, and in the wild, feral dogs form packs. They prey on both native wildlife and on domestic farm animals.

Responsible pet ownership

Pet dogs depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before becoming a pet owner think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly.

 

Read the things to consider when you are thinking of getting a pet dog:

http://www.rspcavic.org/health-and-behaviour/dogs/dog-care/

Read about pet care and watch videos about training your dog:

http://www.loveyourdog.com/

Read about the use of maremma dogs in animal conservation:  

 http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2014/aug/08/maremma-dogs-trained-bandicoot-bodyguards-in-pictures

Read kidcyber pages about other animal pets.