Humans have been domesticating animals for many thousands of years. The process of selective breeding was, at first, accidental. Obedient, non aggressive wild dogs were kept while those that were aggressive or temperamental were killed or returned to the wild. This process, over generations, produced animals with a genetic makeup yielding the trait desired by humans.
The process was used with horses, cattle, dogs – any animal that would benefit humans. As we came to understand the effects of selective breeding, the process was accelerated and the variation in animals expanded.
We designed cows to produce milk, cows to produce beef, cows to thrive in hot, dry climates, horses to carry loads, small horses for children, horses to work stock. There were dogs bred for hunting, tracking, guarding, herding and simply companionship – all very different and all created by human interference.
The Great Dane was originally bred to hunt wild boar and deer. He had to be large strong and fast, with a coat that didn’t snag as he raced through the undergrowth.
Designed for bull baiting, the bull dog had to be broad and solid with a low center of gravity and powerful jaws.
The chow chow is one of the oldest breeds of dog, descended from the gray wolf in Northern China. Breeders have managed to produce these dogs in a range of colors, all with the distinctive dark purple tongue.
Our fascination with designed animals has grown from practical domestication to indulgent amusement often at the expense of the animals well being. The pet market is huge and, given time, most peoples fantasies can be satisfied.
Bubble eye goldfish are bred purely as human entertainment. Lack of a dorsal fin, a split tail and large cumbersome eye sacks make them poor swimmers. The eye sacks are thin, delicate and easily punctured, leaving the fish prone to infection.
The cute pug face on this kitten is the result of extreme selective breeding known as ultra-typing. It looks great in the pet shop, but the cat will have a life of breathing difficulties, weeping tear ducts and eating problems.
A spherical head, tiny ears and pure white coat sure make this rabbit appealing, but the poor animal would have little hope of survival anywhere outside a backyard cage.
In a world driven by market forces it is understandable that designers not only lead with innovative design but also bow to market pressure. Sometimes we must question whether satisfying market forces occasionally goes too far.
Author – John Lovett