8 Exquisite Dog Portraits, and What Kids Can Learn from our Four-Legged Friends

National Geographic
Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic

It is a truth near-universally acknowledged that dogs are a man, woman and child’s best friend.

But there’s more to dogs than Frisbee tossing and a warm companion on a chilly evening. In the current issue of National Geographic magazine, a fascinating report details how scientists have discovered a kind of secret recipe behind the tremendous variety of dog shapes and sizes, and it just might help decode the “complexity of human genetic disease.”

“The story that is emerging,” says Robert Wayne, a biologist at UCLA, in National Geographic, “is that the diversity in domestic dogs derives from a small genetic tool kit.”

Take a look at eight gorgeous portraits (featured in the February 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine) of dogs from the 2011 Westminster Dog Show and understand with your kids how scientists are learning about more than just friendship from our four-legged friends:



  • Pug & Saint Bernard 1 of 9
    Pug & Saint Bernard
    Oakley, a pug (foreground), and Little Dude, a Saint Bernard, stand witness to the immense morphological diversity of their species. If humans varied as much in height, the smallest would be two feet tall and the tallest would measure some 31 feet.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Chinese crested 2 of 9
    Chinese crested
    Researchers have identified a single gene mutation that causes the 'hairlessness' of dogs like Sugar, a Chinese crested.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Black-haird puli 3 of 9
    Black-haird puli
    The eye-shielding curls of Charlotte, a black-haired puli, are produced by the interaction of three genes.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback 4 of 9
    Rhodesian Ridgeback
    The difference between floppy and erect ears is determined by a single gene region in canine chromosome 10, or CFA10. The wrinkled skin of a Chinese shar-pei traces to another region, called HAS2. The patch of ridged fur on Rhodesian ridgebacks? That's from a change in CFA18. Flip a few switches, and your dachshund becomes a Doberman, at least in appearance. Flip again, and your Doberman is a Dalmatian.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Belgian Malinois 5 of 9
    Belgian Malinois
    In a project called CanMap, researchers gathered DNA from more than 900 dogs representing 80 breeds, as well as from wild canids such as gray wolves and coyotes. They found that body size, hair length, fur type, nose shape, ear positioning, coat color, and the other traits that together define a breed's appearance are controlled by somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 genetic switches.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Afghan hound 6 of 9
    Afghan hound
    Manny, an Afghan hound, is among the more elegant examples of canine diversity. The centuries of breeding that produced such diversity in dogs also created isolated genetic populations that are helping scientists understand human diseases. 'We're the people doing the genetics,' says one researcher. 'But breeders have done all the fieldwork.'
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Papillon 7 of 9
    A recent explosion in canine genomic research show that the vast mosaic of dog shapes, colors, and sizes is decided largely by changes in a mere handful of gene regions.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • Tibetan mastiff 8 of 9
    Tibetan mastiff
    Originally bred as guard dogs, Tibetan mastiffs like Midas, a Westminster finalist from Lubbock, Texas, can top 150 pounds. They are highly protective of their owners—an impulse that, along with most other dog behaviors, remains a genetic mystery.
    Photo credit: ©Robert Clark/National Geographic
  • What dogs tell us 9 of 9
    What dogs tell us
    For more on the secret recipe between dogs and the complexity of human genetic disease, see the February 2012 issue of National Geographic, on newsstands now.
    Photo credit: National Geographic

All images courtesy of National Geographic

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