As the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show gets under way in New York City, the Big Apple is, of course, going to the dogs. The show is like the Super Bowl of the dog world, with more than 2,800 dogs taking part. The dogs are divided into breeds, and how those breeds come to be and what place they have in the $55 billion pet industry makes for quite a ... um ... tale.
Throughout history, there basically have been two ways to make a dog breed. The first is the utilitarian method. Your dog is really good at herding sheep, and your neighbor's bitch (yes, it's okay to use that word in the dog world) is also really good at herding sheep. So the next time she's in heat, you put the two of them together with the idea that at least some of their puppies will also be really good at herding sheep. And they are.
You keep breeding all the good herding dogs with one another, and you eventually end up with a herding breed. And because you live in, say, the Alps or Anatolia or Australia or the Tatra Mountains, all these good herding dogs you have access to are in a relatively small geographic range, so the world eventually ends up with the Australian Shepherd and the Bouvier des Flandres and the Old English Sheepdog and the Pyrenean Shepherd and so on.
(Read more: Westminster dog show opens to—gasp!—mutts)