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Press release

Dogs: Man-Made Friends?

New exhibition at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum
13 February - 9 July 2006

From deerhounds to dachshunds and wolfhounds to whippets, no other species has the amazing diversity of shape and size that we see in dogs. Over hundreds of years, humans have shaped 'man's best friend' to suit their needs. Dogs: Man-Made Friends? explores the origins of domestic dogs and their relationship with humans. The exhibition ties in with the Chinese Year of the Dog, which begins in late January 2006.

'The process of animals being bred to encourage certain characteristics is called selective breeding. Today's domestic dogs, are man-made friends - humans have altered their behaviour, shape, size, coat and colouring to create hundreds of very different breeds', said Alice Dowswell, exhibition curator at the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum. 'But some characteristics of modern pedigree dogs haven't proved practical - certain breeds experience difficulties with seeing, breathing, movement or even giving birth, because they've been bred to have heads, legs or bottoms of a certain shape and size.'

Dogs: Man-Made Friends? examines the results of selective breeding using mounted dogs, skeletal material, and fun interactives. Bulldog skulls from different time periods illustrate the changes in skull shape of the breed. Mounted specimens include the unusual bulldog, Spike, who was bred 'backwards' to achieve a longer-legged, more active version of the breed, and the Edwardian miniature terrier Esmeralda, who was immortalised resting on a pillow under a glass dome.

The exhibition also traces the history of the domestication of the dog. Dogs were primarily bred for hunting, guarding and herding. In China, dogs have been bred as pets for more than 2,000 years, as well as for other purposes: the chow chow was developed particularly for its meat, while other large dogs with long shaggy coats were bred for their fur to make warm clothing.

It has long been thought dogs are the descendents of wolves, but their exact origins have been the source of some debate and extremely difficult to establish. Recently scientists have used genetic evidence to discover that grey wolves and dogs are genetically almost exactly the same - only 0.2% of their DNA is different. By comparison, the difference between wolf and coyote DNA is 4%. It is clear that although domestic and wild dog species have interbred, the domestic dog, Canis familiaris is essentially descended from the grey wolf.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the domestic dog appeared 15,000 years. On display for the first time is a skeleton of an Early Bronze Age dog excavated from Tell el-Duweir, 40 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem, Israel - the site of the ancient city of Lachish.

The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum also has an amazing display of domestic dogs in its permanent galleries. This includes two of the most famous celebrities from greyhound racing: the brilliant Ballyregan Bob, winner of 42 of his 48 races during the 1980s and the legendary Mick the Miller. Mick was a canine hero, idolised by millions of British greyhound race goers. He won 46 out of 61 races during his career between 1928-1931, including the Greyhound St Ledger and the Greyhound Derby, twice.

Notes for editors

  • The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum is the Natural History Museum's sister museum in Tring, Hertfordshire. It opened in the late 1800s to house the collections of Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild. The Museum offers outstanding examples of nineteenth-century taxidermy at its very best and was bequeathed to the nation in 1938. It is now part of the Natural History Museum. The public galleries have been modernised, but the fascinating character of the Museum was retained.

Visitor information:
Dates: Monday 13 February until Sunday 9 July 2006
Admission: Free
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00-17.00, Sunday 14.00-17.00, closed 24, 25 and 26 December.
Access: Step-free access is limited to Gallery 1, the temporary exhibition gallery, the shop and Zebra Café. A virtual tour of the upper galleries of the Museum is available in the temporary exhibition gallery.
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 6171

For further information please telephone +44 (0)20 7942 5654 or email