I doubt there were many dry eyes at the conclusion of the movie “Old Yeller.” Yeller was a Black Mouth Cur played by a Van Nuys shelter dog named Spike, a yellow Lab/Mastiff mix that was rescued from the shelter and trained by Frank and Rudd Weatherwax. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a cur is a mongrel mutt or crossbred dog. However, like the feist breeds I wrote about recently, cur dogs are uniquely American and played a crucial role in the lives of early rural settlers who developed a hardy hunting dog that helped them tame the wilderness in the South where these dogs originated. Cur breeds are considered the first true American purebreds and have their own distinct hunting style.
Humans learned many centuries ago the value of having a dog around. An early warning bark from roaming domesticated dogs would have been extremely helpful for a man to defend his home and family. Dogs would have been prized hunting companions as well. Since those early years, we’ve developed breeds to do specific jobs – control, manage and protect livestock, guard our homes and families, control vermin, and help put food on the table. For poor farmers, a reliable all-purpose working dog needed to be versatile and able to earn his keep around the farm. A dog wasn’t a luxury and needed to perform his duties well for his owner to justify the cost of food to feed him.
The acknowledgment of cur dogs can be found in historical writings going back to the 1700s. However, there are no recorded documents telling exactly when this type of dog was developed, nor the exact breeds used in their makeup. Curs are a blend of different hunting breeds, hounds and terriers, as well as feist dogs brought to America with immigrants who settled in the South, mainly around the Appalachian Mountains.
Even though feist dogs have been around in the United States for hundreds of years, these little dogs aren’t widely known north of the Mason/Dixon Line. They were developed for one reason – to hunt. A feist is described as a small, noisy mongrel; a mixed breed dog with a spirited and feisty demeanor.
A feist (also spelled fice or fyce) dog can easily be misidentified as a Jack Russell, but there is a difference. Unlike the Jack Russell, feist dogs are of mixed heritage and are a type of dog, not a breed. However, they do resemble a terrier in temperament and appearance. The hunting style of the Jack Russell is also different from a feist, which doesn’t go to ground after prey.
The United Kennel Club recognizes feists, but the American Kennel Club does not. Also known as Mountain Feist or Treeing Feist, these energetic dogs are found largely in the southern regions of the U.S., especially around the Ozark Mountain and Southern Appalachian regions where the American feist originated. At one time, feists were popular working dogs found on farms throughout the south.
Many dog breeds were named based on their country of origin or original job they were bred to do. Some, like the Papillon, got their name from their physical appearance. A handful of dog breeds were named after a person, including the following:
Boykin Spaniel – In the early 1900s, Alexander White took in a small brown dog he found wandering around the Methodist church he attended in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His intention was to keep the dog he named Dumpy as a pet, but it wasn’t long before White noticed Dumpy had an interest in birds, so he sent the dog to his hunting partner in Camden, South Carolina to be trained. Dumpy blossomed into a premier turkey hunter and retriever. The breed that began with a little stray dog was named after the man who trained him, L. Whitaker “Whit” Boykin.
King Charles Spaniel – King Charles I of England loved toy spaniels and passed his love on to his son, Charles II. When Charles II assumed his role as King, he was seldom seen without one or more dogs by his side. He issued a decree that gave his little dogs access to all public places, including in the House of Parliament – a decree that is still in existence today. The popularity of the breed was at its highest during the reign of the House of Stuarts. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is closer to the original dogs Charles I and II adored, and is larger with a longer muzzle than the King Charles Spaniel, which is known as the English Toy Spaniel in America.
Small dog breeds in the AKC’s Toy Group are perfectly happy to curl up in your lap when you want to relax with a good book or watch TV. They were bred to be companion pets, but these seven small dogs also enjoy going outside to stretch their legs. Most also have the energy and ability to participate in dog sports or go hiking.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This dog may be small, but he still retains his spaniel traits and is a true sporting breed that enjoys getting outside for hikes and walks, or participating in dog sports like flyball, agility and rally. Some have been trained to hunt small prey like rabbits and birds. This is an intelligent breed that loves being with people. The Cavalier can easily steal your heart with his cheery and sweet disposition, large round bright eyes and a tail that never stops wagging.
A favorite companion pet of Chinese royalty, this dog’s name means “little lion.” The Shih Tzu is one of the 14 oldest dog breeds. Archaeological discoveries of dog bones in China date the breed back to at least 8,000 B.C. This happy, outgoing and affectionate breed gets along well with other dogs and is a good family pet. Unlike the Cavalier, a Shih Tzu has no interest in hunting anything, but he does enjoy getting rid of excess energy by doing agility, rally, obedience and other dog sports.
From my perspective, I don’t care if a dog is purebred or mixed. I’ve had both over the years and cherished each for their unique personalities. Mixed breed dogs, however, can garner interesting debates about what breeds are in their makeup. You might be able to figure out a few by looking at the face and overall body type, but one of the best places to start is at the tail. The shape, size, length, how it sets and whether the tail is bushy, feathered or smooth can all give you clues about your mixed breed dog’s heritage.
A dog’s tail is an extension of the spine and consists of flexible vertebrae that give the tail movement up and down or side to side. Muscles located in the lower back are attached to the tail by tendons. The tail gives us information that can indicate a dog’s mood. Recently, scientists discovered a subtle movement to the right or left can mean your dog is feeling negative or positive.
Many of the breeds that are members of the Spitz family of dogs have a bushy tail that forms a sickle and curls up over the back. Some Spitz dogs, such as the Shiba Inu, Akita and Norwegian Buhund, have an extra curl at the tip of their tail. Spitz dogs closely resemble the original body type and look of the first domesticated dog, the Peat Dog from the late Stone Age era, and scientists believe the sickle tail held over the back helped people tell the difference between domesticated dogs and wolves. Chihuahuas are not part of the Spitz family, but they also have a sickle tail type.
The German Shepherd is hands down one of the most versatile dog breeds around. This is an intelligent breed capable of doing a wide variety of jobs. The original job of the dog was as a multi-purpose herder that could protect the flock, home and family, and be a companion pet at the end of the day. However, a split occurred that took the breed in two very different directions and created an American bloodline and a German bloodline.
Captain Max von Stephanitz is the German breeder who developed the German Shepherd dog. He wanted to create a smart, strong, courageous, protective and adaptable herding dog capable of doing his job and then returning home to his family to play with the children. Von Stephanitz was interested in the working ability of the breed, and everything he did was to preserve the characteristics and traits of the dog he developed.
In 1899, he mixed early versions of shepherd dogs to come up with the Deutsche Schäferhunde, the German Shepherd dog, and wrote the standard for the breed in 1901. Soon after, von Stephanitz created a test to evaluate each dog’s herding ability, and Schutzhund to measure their mental stability, protection ability, courage, willingness to work and obedience. Both tests determine if a dog is a good candidate to use in a breeding program. Any German Shepherd bred in Germany and Europe to this day must earn a Schutzhund I title or a certificate in herding in order to be used in breeding.
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