Historically all dogs were originally scavengers and hunters, gradually integrating themselves into human settlements. From these early beginnings it is likely that different members of these mostly wild wolf-type dogs would have been more willing to interact with humans and the more aggressive and hostile of the population would have been driven away from the camps to fend for themselves.
Over generations of puppies being born closer and closer to humans, more of a natural bond between the two species evolved. When exactly dogs become more closely associated with people is not complete known, but it definitely dates back thousands of years. Some dogs would have been outstanding hunters and most certainly would have been used in chasing game and flushing out game. Other dogs may have been more closely associated with the camps and small rudimentary farms, acting as guard dogs and even flock protectors.
Dogs, at this point, would have been different than their wild relatives the wolves. It is likely however, that there was still a significant amount of breeding between the semi-domestic and wild populations. Although there are no accurate records there was likely little difference in the appearance, temperament and natural abilities of these early dogs since there was no specific breeding programs.
The first breeding programs to develop a body shape and type of dog date back over 5000 years. These breeding programs were design to produce dogs that had a unique and uniform appearance and set of behaviors. The first dog breeds were developed in Egypt were the sight hounds, and the early ancestors of the very regal Saluki breed. In Africa the Basenji breed was established and in Asia several breeds including the Pekingese, the Shar-Pei and the Chow Chow among just a few became not only breeds of dogs but signs of standing and royalty. In some countries owning a specific type of dog was reserved only for people in positions of power and average citizens could not own that particular type of dog by law.
Once breeding for physical attributes was successful, an increasing awareness of rudimentary genetics or inherited natural abilities followed shortly after. It also makes a lot of sense that the first specialized breeds were those that were required most by the people of the times. From these early breeding programs came regional types of dogs that bore similar physical appearance to each other as well as strong breed characteristic or trait, also translated to mean natural intelligence.
Areas such as Britain and the United Kingdom tended to produce strong working and herding dogs including the Border Collies, Scotch Collies, Corgis and a great many of the small sized terrier breeds. These dogs were all bred to be independent problem solvers, with the terriers more independent than the pastoral or herding breeds when it came to spending time out on the farms and fields. The terrier breeds were developed to hunt vermin including rats and mice that were responsible for the spread of disease both in rural and urban areas. Intelligence in herding breeds included understanding how to make sheep or cattle move in required patterns as well as how to coordinate the actions of the herd based on the signals from the farmer or shepherd.
Hunting dogs and large breed working dogs were a throw back to the original use of dogs within those very early civilizations. However hunting and sporting breeds became more refined with pointers, setters, retrievers and dual purpose type dogs all very important in daily living but also in relaxation and sport of the time. Specialized breeds such as Beagles, Foxhounds and even Dachshunds were all developed for specific sports type hunting. Labs and Retrievers of many different varieties were prized for their ability to assist the hunter and to bring back game birds without causing any damage to the carcass. Intelligence in these breeds includes problem solving abilities, scent discrimination, visual understanding of hand signals and verbal commands as well as an ability to understand the movement of game and birds.
Giant and large breed dogs had history been used as pack animals and protectors, as well as guard dogs and even fighting animals. Many of the original breeds of bulldog types and mastiffs were used as fighting dogs, thankfully this is now outlawed and most are bred as companion pets at this time. These dogs were bred to be courageous and intelligent, able to tell friend from foe and protect their property to the death if necessary.
Companion dogs were not bred until just a few hundred years ago, at least at the level they now are. Even some of the working, herding, and hunting dog breeds now have separate lines for field work as well as show. Each type within the breed is slightly different and the hunting or field lines typically more endowed with the natural instincts of the breed than the show line that is bred more for conformation and adherence to the breed standard. Companion dogs were required to adjust to living in a variety of environments from country estates to tiny apartments. Often companion dogs need to understand a lot more environments and adapt to a wide variety of places and living conditions, something that many of the other groups have a great deal of difficulty in doing. Although companion dog breed may not have a specific natural instinct or talent, they are some of the most versatile dogs and have become popular because they are relatively easy to train and typically highly social types of pets.
Intelligence has always been important in dog breeding, however defining intelligence between different breeds is very difficult. Almost any dog owner or breeder is going to have his or her own personal preferences, but most will agree that some breeds are easier to train and generally more versatile than others. While this may not make them more intelligent, it does make them more popular. For most dogs intelligence is relevant to how they have been handled, socialized and trained, with breed differences and abilities factored in. There are charts and research listing different dog breeds by intelligence, which can be used a rough guideline if this is essential in choosing a dog. Most dogs, however, will be able to learn almost anything a human could want to teach them as long as the person has patience, a positive attitude, and is willing to teach at a pace that the dog can master and learn.