Unlike other domestic species which were primarily selected for production-related traits, dogs were initially selected for their behaviors. In 2016, a study found that there were only 11 fixed genes that showed variation between wolves and dogs. These gene variations were unlikely to have been the result of natural evolution, and indicate selection on both morphology and behavior during dog domestication. These genes have been shown to affect the catecholamine synthesis pathway, with the majority of the genes affecting the fight-or-flight response (i.e. selection for tameness), and emotional processing. Dogs generally show reduced fear and aggression compared with wolves. Some of these genes have been associated with aggression in some dog breeds, indicating their importance in both the initial domestication and then later in breed formation. Traits of high sociability and lack of fear in dogs may include genetic modifications related to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans, which cause hypersociability at the expense of problem solving ability.
Dogs are highly variable in height and weight. The smallest known adult dog was a Yorkshire Terrier, that stood only 6.3 cm (2.5 in) at the shoulder, 9.5 cm (3.7 in) in length along the head-and-body, and weighed only 113 grams (4.0 oz). The largest known dog was an English Mastiff which weighed 155.6 kg (343 lb) and was 250 cm (98 in) from the snout to the tail. The tallest dog is a Great Dane that stands 106.7 cm (42.0 in) at the shoulder.
Dog meat is consumed in some East Asian countries, including Korea, China and Vietnam, a practice that dates back to antiquity. It is estimated that 13–16 million dogs are killed and consumed in Asia every year. In China, debates have ensued over banning the consumption of dog meat. Following the Sui and Tang dynasties of the first millennium, however, people living on the plains of northern China began to eschew eating dogs. This is likely due to the spread of Buddhism and Islam, two religions that forbade the consumption of certain animals, including dogs. As members of the upper classes shunned dog meat, it gradually became a social taboo to eat it, despite the fact that the general population continued to consume it for centuries afterward. Other cultures, such as Polynesia and pre-Columbian Mexico, also consumed dog meat in their history. However, Western, South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures, in general, regard consumption of dog meat as taboo. In some places, however, such as in rural areas of Poland, dog fat is believed to have medicinal properties – being good for the lungs for instance. Dog meat is also consumed in some parts of Switzerland. Proponents of eating dog meat have argued that placing a distinction between livestock and dogs is western hypocrisy, and that there is no difference with eating the meat of different animals.
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A common breeding practice for pet dogs is mating between close relatives (e.g. between half- and full siblings). Inbreeding depression is considered to be due largely to the expression of homozygous deleterious recessive mutations. Outcrossing between unrelated individuals, including dogs of different breeds, results in the beneficial masking of deleterious recessive mutations in progeny.
In Christianity, dogs represent faithfulness. Within the Roman Catholic denomination specifically, the iconography of Saint Dominic includes a dog, after the hallow's mother dreamt of a dog springing from her womb and becoming pregnant shortly thereafter. As such, the Dominican Order (Ecclesiastical Latin: Dominicanus) means "dogs of the Lord" or "hounds of the Lord" (Ecclesiastical Latin: domini canis). In Christian folklore, a church grim often takes the form of a black dog to guard Christian churches and their churchyards from sacrilege.
Every year, between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter US animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that approximately 3 to 4 million of those dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in the United States. However, the percentage of dogs in US animal shelters that are eventually adopted and removed from the shelters by their new legal owners has increased since the mid-1990s from around 25% to a 2012 average of 40% among reporting shelters (with many shelters reporting 60–75%).
Certain Pacific islands whose maritime settlers did not bring dogs, or where dogs died out after original settlement, notably: the Mariana Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands, Gilbert Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Tonga, Marquesas, Mangaia in the Cook Islands, Rapa Iti in French Polynesia, Easter Island, Chatham Islands, and Pitcairn Island (settled by the Bounty mutineers, who killed off their dogs in order to escape discovery by passing ships).