100 Years of Breeding Changed These Popular Dog Breeds

Dogs have changed a lot over time. Let's take a look at how 100 years of dog breeding has changed the features of popular dog breeds.


Dogs might be man’s best friend, but just 100 years ago your prized pooch probably looked totally different. Let's find out how human influence and selective breeding have drastically altered some of the world’s most popular dog breeds over time!


This loyal breed is a descendant of the now-extinct German Bullenbeisser, which was a mix of mastiff, bulldog and possibly even Great Dane or Terrier. Earliest boxers were initially used for bullbaiting until the practice became illegal in 1835, when they became butchers' helpers by controlling cattle in slaughterhouses.

The modern boxer was also developed as an attempt to revive the Bullenbeisser when dog shows became popular in the 1800s, as people favored its distinct features. Early boxers had pointed ears and longer snouts, compared to the shorter face, more upturned muzzle and floppier ears we’re familiar with today.

Bullenbeiser vs Boxer

One possible explanation is known as ‘domestication syndrome’, which refers to the way dogs have lost their wolf-like primal features like pointed ears and elongated snout simply through lack of necessity in domestic environments.

how dogs evolved domestication syndrome

Unfortunately, this shortened snout is also the cause of some serious breathing problems which means the boxer is prone to overheating, limiting its physical capabilities. There was also a trend of cropping boxers' ears to remain pointed, which was wrongly thought to prevent the risk of infection and is now illegal in many European countries.

The Bull Terrier

The Bull Terrier isn’t the most conventionally attractive breed, but once upon a time, this stocky dog looked almost unrecognizable. The bull terrier was first created in the 1800s as a mix of the English Terrier and the Bulldog, and was described by the American Kennel Club in 1885 as ‘the embodiment of agility, grace, elegance and determination’.

Sounds anything like the dog we know today? Check out the shocking comparison below.

The Bull Terrier then and now

At best, the dog on the left looks like a very distant cousin of the one pictured on the right. The bull terrier originally had a slim, curved body and a chiseled nose, and it stayed that way until dog fighting became more popular and they were selectively bred to become stockier and more flat-headed for combat.

100 Years of Breeding Changed These Popular Dog Breeds

Years of genetic alteration has now created an almost football-shaped head which can sometimes cause serious health problems due to having too many teeth inside their enlarged jaws. If that wasn’t bad enough, this breed also typically suffers from mental deficiencies such as a tendency to compulsively chase their own tails.


Better known as the sausage dog due to their elongated bodies, this breed can be traced back to 15th century Germany where they were first created to sniff out badgers and other burrow-dwelling animals with their short-legged build.

The photograph below shows just how different the Dachshund looked in 1915, with legs and a neck which were more proportionate to their overall size, compared to the deliberately stunted legs of today’s Dachshunds.

Dachshund then and now

As their population dwindled during WW1, they were also bred with dogs imported to the USA, and as a result, their chests became more jutted and their backs more flattened, setting a new standard for generally lower abdomens.

Despite making them more attractive to buyers, this more compact build also puts the Dachshund at risk of intervertebral disk disease, which can sometimes lead to paralysis.

Basset Hound

The Basset Hound is one of the most recognizable breeds for its droopy eyes and long ears, but these features didn’t occur as naturally as you might think. The breed is a direct descendent of the bloodhound and was first used for fox hunting due to its adept sense of smell and short legs, but after being presented at a Paris dog show in 1863 there was a shift to focus more on its appearance.

basset hound hunting foxes

As you can see in the photo below, early Basset Hounds once stood proud and alert, but through selective breeding, their legs gradually became more curved and stunted, possibly as a result of an extra copy of a specific gene-producing growth protein.

100 Years of Breeding Changed These Popular Dog Breeds basset hound

By identifying droopy eyes and long ears as the breed's ‘winning features’ and choosing to enhance them, the modern Basset Hound is now also prone to a whole slew of new problems including ear infections and dermatitis in excess skin folds.


The Saluki is a refined breed known for its elegance and speed, and research suggests it might be one of the oldest domesticated dogs known to man. Originating in the Middle East, legend has it that Egyptian Pharaohs hunted gazelles and hares with Salukis in tandem with falcons, and archeologists have even uncovered mummified Salukis in ancient tombs.

The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1929, and as seen below, they have always been slender dogs with a distinctly long-haired tails.

Saint Bernard old breed

As dog show standards began to demand more pronounced features among breeds, the Saluki was selectively bred to have even taller legs and long, luxurious ears compared to earlier depictions showing a more proportionate length. Thankfully, the Saluki hasn’t suffered too much as a result of human intervention, but they are predisposed to certain eye problems like progressive retinal atrophy.

Saluki dog breed now

Saint Bernard

The gentle yet strong Saint Bernard has adventurous origins. After being founded in 980 AD by St. Bernard de Menthon, they were first bred by monks by crossing the ancient Tibetan mastiff with the Great Dane.

Saint Bernards were originally used by the Hospice (a refuge for travelers through the dangerous Alpine pass between Switzerland and Italy) and worked as rescue dogs during avalanches.

saint bernarnd hospice alpine pass

As they traded in their working days for top spots in pedigree dog shows, the early Saint Bernard, pictured below in 1915 with a short coat and long snout, was replaced by a more popular long-haired variety with a short, upturned muzzle.

100 Years of Breeding Changed These Popular Dog Breeds Saint Bernard then and now

As a result, this popular breed is now a mere shadow of the dog it once was. With a broader skull and a steeper angle between the nose and forehead, the modern Saint Bernard is prone to various problems including ‘ectropion’, which is a folding outward of the eyelid rim.

West Highland Terrier

The modern ‘Westie’ is an incredibly popular family dog, but its original purpose was very different. The West Highland was originally accidentally bred from the Cairn Terrier in Scotland in the mid-19th century and was selected to help control the population of rats, foxes, badgers, otters and other vermin.

west highland terrier hunting

The old Westie was favored for its bullet-shaped sturdy body and an alert tail strong enough to be pulled out of tight underground holes. After years of selective breeding and domestication, today's Westie isn’t nearly as athletic as these early ancestors, and its skillset has largely diminished.

Comparisons show how their coat has been enhanced to dwarf the face, while the legs have been deliberately stunted – making them at least an inch or two shorter.

West Highland Terrier then and now transformation

This makes them prone to a condition called luxating patellae, where the kneecaps pop out of a normal position. Nowadays, you’ll probably find the Westie modeling for brands like Juicy Couture, rather than rat exterminating.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Named after King Charles II, this breed is descended from the former King Charles Spaniel, which was a favorite of the late king and appeared in many contemporary paintings.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel painting

In the late 1600s, this popular dog, with long ears and a defined snout, was interbred with the pug, which produced a smaller variation with flatter noses, upturned faces, rounder heads and more protruding eyes.

This new ‘Cavalier’ King Charles Spaniel became so popular that by the 1920s an American named Roswell Eldridge offered prize money during a London Cruft’s Dog Show to anyone exhibiting King Charles Spaniels with long noses. This was an attempt to find dogs which resembled those depicted in Van Dyck’s paintings of young Charles II and his Spaniels.

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) (after) - The Three Eldest Children of Charles I - 20906 - National Trust

Due to a drop in population during WW2, today’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have been heavily inbred, and now suffer from a multitude of health problems. The most threatening is known as ‘syringomyelia’ which occurs because their brains are too large for their shrinking skulls.

Chow Chow

Although their exact origin is unknown, the Chow Chow is thought to date back to ancient China due to similar likeness being found in Chinese pottery as far back as 206BC. Experts believe these dogs served many working purposes for the nobility, including hunting, herding and pulling sleighs.

The Chow Chow arrived in England and America at the end of the 1700s, and early depictions show them as a medium-sized dog with a long, curled tail and slightly shaggy coat.

Chow Chow early breed

As Chows became more fashionable, selective breeding enhanced their coat to become heavier with an almost mane-like trim surrounding the face. By 1895, the standard for dog shows was based on the lion-looking Chow Chow, which was already a far cry from its early ancestors.

Chow Chow 1915

More modern Chow Chow varieties have even since been bred with a mass of excess skin rather than just fur, especially surrounding the face. Their incredibly deep-set eyes now means that this breed has a reduced peripheral vision, alongside various genetic eye disorders.


Poodles are often thought of as the ultimate accessory dog, but their origins are very different. The American Kennel Club attributes the earliest poodles to 17th Century Germany, and they are depicted in the image below in an almost unrecognizable fashion.

Poodles then

The poodle was originally considered a water retriever, meaning they were excellent duck hunters, mostly because their dense coat is moisture resistant. Although the standard poodle commonly had a long, corded coat like the one pictured below, owners likely started breeding and shaving poodles to make it easier for them to move in water, leaving fur around the ankles for warmth and to protect joints from rheumatism.

Poodles 1915

During the reign of King Louis XVI in the 18th century, imported poodles were also extravagantly trimmed to match the coifs of the French nobility, and the trend continued in America and the UK as the standard poodle made its way to dog shows. It’s hard to envision today’s flashy poodles as the working dogs they once were…

Poodles now

English Bulldog

This robust breed originated in the British Isles and was named because of its use in bull baiting, as their short build made them a good match for full-grown bulls. Even in early artistic depictions, the bulldog was already a stocky and muscular dog, but after bullbaiting was banned in the 19th century more effort was made to enhance its distinct appearance.

english bulldog bullbaiting

Experts suggest the original bulldog was eventually crossed with a pug, which gradually made them broader and shorter with more pronounced jowls. Through years of conscious breeding, today’s bulldog is a mere caricature of its former self, and the comparison below from 1915 to now shows how they have accumulated more muscle mass alongside shorter legs and excess skin.

British Bulldog then and now

The English Bulldog is also now sadly considered one of the unhealthiest breeds with an average lifespan of just 6.25 years, mostly due to life-threatening ailments causing cardiac arrest and even cancers.

German Shepherd

Famed for its obedient nature and intelligence, the German Shepherd is one of the world’s most common breeds. But subtle changes over time have distorted it from what it once was. After originating in Germany in the 1800s as efficient sheep herders, the breed was later welcomed in America and the UK and was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908.

The standard German Shepherd, like the one pictured below, was considered a medium-sized dog weighing around 55lb with a deep chest, straight back and strong legs.

German Shepherd 1909 illustration

Today, the typical German shepherd is some 30lb heavier, weighing around 85lb, with a barrel chest and a worryingly sloped back. Experts suggest this feature was wrongly introduced by governing breed authorities as a standard in dog shows, and soon became the norm.

German Shepherd dog breed

This, combined with significantly less physical exercise within a domesticated setting, is now cause for concern as their permanently angular stance can often lead to hip dysplasia, meaning the leg bones don’t fit properly into the hip socket.


The pug is one of the most instantly recognizable dogs around, and it might be one of the oldest, too. Researchers speculate that the pug originated before 400 BC, descending either from the Asian Shorthaired Pekingese or as another crossbreed. Early depictions in art like the 1745 portrait by William Hogarth barely resemble the dog we know today.

William Hogarth with his pug painting

Moreover, plenty of royal figures including Queen Victoria also owned pugs as they increased in popularity throughout Europe in the 19th century. Although originally much taller with more pronounced facial features, the traditional pug began to change after the American Kennel Club officially recognised the breed in 1885.

Show breeders selected distinctive traits like the naturally curled tail and shortened snout, possibly enhanced through gradual domestication, and began augmenting these through selective breeding. By 1915, the standard pug already had a recognizably flatter face, and this soon became the norm.

pug dog then and now

Nowadays the pugs’ characteristic features are also the cause of several health issues including hampered breathing, overheating and even potential paralysis thanks to their deliberately double-curled tails.

I hope you were amazed at the way these breeds used to look like in the past and how much they have changed. Dogs 100 years ago vs now do look very different, and we can only imagine how these breeds will look like in another 100 years! Thanks for reading!

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