What is a survival dog? Well if we think about it, all of the original breeds were simply wild dogs that man put to a useful purpose, primarily hunting and gaurding the stone age camp. These were survival dogs, dogs that helped man survive by a symbiotic relationship between the two. All the breeds we have today started from this primal origin. The tiny lap dogs, St. Bernards, the excessive droolers, and poodles all started from something like a wolf. Now we have dogs that are not survival dogs, they are incapable of surviving without human care. The wild dog has been altered by the will of mankind to become a pale shadow of what it once was.
Now I am not here to denegrate the beloved pets that sits on the couch and watches TV with my readers. They serve a purpose... friendship. That is enough to justify their breed's existence for many. My mother had a poodle for many years and it brought many joyful moments to her life. But for me the creature was a useless annoyance(not to mention a rival for attention, I wonder what Freud would say about that). For me a survival dog, a working dog, a dog with a practical purpose, is what I want and need.
We see the rise of a new social trend called, "prepper culture." The motivations and psychology of this trend is a topic worthy of a blog itself; but this prepper culture brings forward the question of the prepper dog, or survival dog. Now prepper culture is nothing new, even though those who cash in on it by slick mass marketing of, "prepper junk," try to make it some sort of new sexy fad. Humans have been prepping since the human race crawled out of the misty, dark wilderness of pre-history. So, as in my original premise, the prepper/survival dog was the original breed mankind began with.
To define the prepper dog let us imagine life in the stone age. First of all, like the prepper's imagined prepper apocolypse, there were no grocery stores and gas stations open for business. Second of all our stone age ancestors didn't have the latest SUV, so travel was on foot. Third, they didn't have cheap cloths sewn together by sweatshop slave labor in third world countries shipped thousands of mile to the nearest Walmart. Fourth, and most importantly in the imagination of our ancestors, was that there were monsters lurking outside the cave. Death was a constant presence that lurked under every rock and behind every tree. Perhaps this is why children are afraid of what is under the bed at bedtime; it is a primal trait from the stone age when there really were monters hiding in dark spaces near where you slept.
So into this primal and hard life of constant struggle to survive, and evade things that are higher in the food chain than we puny humans, enters the lowly wild dog. At first he/she was a threat. Perhaps packs of them followed migratory humans as they moved camp. Occasionally they might catch a straggling human and eat him/her. In Alaska, contrary to what urban people of the lower 48 have been told, occasionally wolves try to eat someone. It has happened about three times since I moved here 16 years ago. But our ancestors learned the art of sharpening long sticks and making fire. So the wild dogs began to hang around to steal scraps of food. Eventually this familiar intercourse led to more friendly relations between wild dog and wild man. The first steps of domestication began. At first it was a mutually respectful relationship of cooperating equals. But over time the dog became a valuable asset, dependant upon the stone age human genius. Our ability to make tools gave us an advantage over the monsters (such as sabertooth tiger, cave bears, lions, etc.), and also an advantage over animals that were so large that they were previously not prey to even the largest predators(such a mammoths and whooly rinoceros). This was a boon of blessing to the dog. Hundreds of pounds of Mammoth meat were likely shared with the dogs that may have helped bay and herd mammoths.
All of this is mere speculation, but our primal genetic memory has no difficulty conjuring up images of this fuzzy distant past. So the original survival dog would always follow camp, linger nearby in the dark of night, and alert the camp by barking when the monsters prowled too near camp. In the morning the dogs would follow the hunters and quickly learned that if they found game, the hunters could kill it with their sharp sticks more efficiently than a pack of dogs could. They likely got to eat before the caveman's wife did, as Cave Joe gutted the catch. Eventually one Cave Joe smarter than the rest thought that the dog should start doing more of his fair share. He tied some burdens onto the dogs back. Thus the pack dog was born. And with the stone age invention of the sled the sled dog was invented.
Now this whole process of domesticating the original primal survival dog took thousands of years of refinement. This continued into the bronze and iron age. Man did not stop being a survivor and a prepper until recent times. Eskimo culture was stone age a mere century ago, and American pioneers were always preoccupied with prepping as they crossed the praries in their covered wagons(often followed by a pioneer dog). In Northern Europe & Russia lapplanders herded raindeer and hunted with their primal dogs. So the survival dog, to some extent, has been the only kind of dog most people had until recent times. The ego-soothing pet is something born of the luxery of the rich urban life.
I imagine that the wealthy patrician wives of Imperial Romans had lap dogs and cuddly fuzzy couch dogs. But outside the Empire the primal survival dog was the only dog people needed or wanted. So here we are in modern times with cell phones, Walmart, internet, and airplanes. In the Western world we no longer need a survival dog, especially in the big cities. We no longer get our steaks from a Mammoth thigh, but from a store freezer. We no longer have to kill, skin, and tan an animal hide to cover our fat naked bodies; we simply buy cheap third world slave labor cloths at Walmart. Yet our genetic history has clung to the relationship between human and canine. It seems we're wired to have dogs, at least many of us.
A survival dog does three things. One, it is always tagging along. It always follows the human family that it starts with. A survival dog must stick with it's family. Most dogs do this anyway. Second, it is alert to any intrusion and sounds the alarm. Some may expect the dog to even attack the intruder. Most dogs bark at strange visitors, but actually attacking intruders is limited to certain breeds. Third, the dog helps one find food. Many fine hunting breeds do this, although a survival dog must be a jack of all trades and not a specialist hunter. Fourth, many survival dogs, especially in the far north were draft animals, hunters and pack dogs.
The Inuit were famous for their dogs that could haul large sleds containing all the hunter's family property. They could sniff out distant polar bears, and seal holes, and hold at bay prey that the Inuit hunter & dogs found until the prey was brought down. In summer months Inuit used their dogs to carry cargo in packs of rawhide or tanned leather. There are some stunning images of Eskimo dogs holding their own against intruding polar bears, and for hundreds of years the only thing a polar bear feared was a team of Inuit sled dogs that caught their scent. These dogs were the ultimate survival dog for their situation and environment. A good link to read about the Inuit dog...
In the Western Siberian forests the classical Siberian trapper has made a living hunting and trapping on skis with his faithful survival dog... The Laika. These hardy and explosive dogs are amazing hunters. Distinctly different than the modern hunting dog, the Laika will hunt anything and everyting. Over time and experience the dog learns what the master most prefers to hunt and adapts itself to the hunter's whim. What they are most famous for is treeing furbears such as sable, pine martin and the occasional lynx; which was and still is the bread and butter of Siberian trappers.
There are many other examples of survival dogs of different situations. We could mention the pig hunting dogs of tropical and Island jungles. Or the treeing dogs of the Southern states that tree squirrels, coon, bears and even mountain lions in the rocky mountain states. Thereare also the pig dogs of the Southern United States. All of these dogs, to some degree more or less, are survival dogs.
The mind of a modern, "Prepper," is prepping for a catastrophic government breakdown, economic collapse, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, nuclear war, reactor meltdowns, global warming, rising ocean levels, another ice age, race wars, mass migrations out of the cities into the countryside, electromagnetic pulse wiping out the grid, running out of petrolium, middle Eastern religious wars, terrorism, asteroids hitting the earth, tsunamis, famine, planet X coming into the solar system wrecking havoc, alien invasion(terrestial or extra-terrestial?), stock market crash... the list of our pessimistic fears is endless. Prepper culture has come to stay for awhile. For most of human history we have been preppers, it is normal to our species. This brief window of history where we have good times and only think as far as the next meal, is what is not normal. The prepper dog may become the new dog of choice if our pessimistic fears come true.
There is another element to the classical prepper dog that has a darker side. A good example would be the seige of Leningrad and Berlin near the end of WW2. In both situations the dog became a survival solution until they were all gone. As people began to starve in Leningrad and Berlin, they ate every dog, cat, rat, and mouse. The cities were devoid of any living thing other than starving people. Yes, Cave Joe sometimes ate his dogs, especially when they weren't doing well hunting. But as we search for the perfect survival dog, let's hope that it doesn't come to such a grim conclusion.