The history of many of the large dog breeds has been one of working dogs all through the ages. While large dogs have always been a staple as a war and military dog starting in the Middle Ages, these dogs also served people in times of peace. Some of the largest dogs, the decedents of the earliest Molosser type dogs, were used all through Europe as draught animals and pack animals, helping out both in the fields as well as to carry produce to market.
The Molosser breed types, which are actually being rejuvenated and recreated by dedicated breeders worldwide, were used in much of the settlement of what are now Europe and Russia as well as parts of Asia. These dogs originally came with the Roman and Greek soldiers, but the Vikings also had huge hound type dogs that were likely to have been similar but much heavier than the modern day Irish Wolfhounds and Scottish Deerhounds. These large dogs came as fighting and war dogs, however they were not aggressive by nature, rather trained to help the soldiers or to pull small carts or wagons hauling supplies and weapons. They were also trained in battle, much the same way that modern police and military dogs are taught to attack specific targets and defend their human handlers.
Large or giant breed dogs were often used in war as pack and transport animals as well as fighting animals for several reasons. The first and most important reason is that they were much easier to keep than horses or oxen and could be turned loose to fend for themselves in the evening, hunting wild game or living off the scrapes from the soldier's meals. The dogs were also less problematic in traversing rough terrain and weren't as likely to become ill and injured as larger horses or the much slower moving oxen. Dogs could also double as hunting animals and would patrol and protect the camps at night, providing warning if enemies approached.
As these large Mastiff type dogs moved across the country, they bred with smaller, local breeds. The result was a spreading of the larger Molosser type profile in many different countries of Europe and Asia. This interbreeding between different types of dogs is still evident in the large number of regional mastiff type breeds found throughout these countries. The Mastiffs breeds were used as pack dogs, guard dogs, and even to pull small carts of produce to and from market. Dogs also worked to protect the livestock both in the fields and around the farmer's house.
In other areas large dog breeds that had a natural affinity for livestock were being developed into a specific type of dog known as a flock guardian. Many of these dogs are very similar today as they were hundreds of years ago, both in temperament and behavior as well as in physical size and appearance. Some of the flock guardian breeds include the Akbash Dog from Turkey, the Komondor from Turkey and the Great Pyrenees. There are literally breeds from almost every region that are considered to be flock guardians. These dogs mingle with the sheep, goats or cattle, keeping a watchful eye. They are gentle and calm unless the flock or herd is threatened, at which time these dogs will fight to the death to protect their livestock. Most of the flock guardians are large sized dogs, however there are some medium sized dogs as well. These dogs were bred to be very rugged and hardy, highly intelligent and very independent. Often flock guardian dogs were also used to protect the house and farm, which the dogs most likely saw as an extension of the flock.
In times of war, especially in World War l and World War ll, dogs again become a central component of many aspects of communication and military action. Breeds such as the Bouvier des Flanders, the Doberman Pinscher and the Rottweiler were changed from being family and home protectors and working dogs and bred to be military dogs, used for sending messages across long distances, carrying supplies in almost impassable terrain and providing patrols with foot soldiers along enemy lines. Several breeds of dogs were so overworked and underbred at this time that the breeds were almost wiped out, similar to the tragedy that almost fell on the Bouvier des Flanders breed. If a few brave breeders hadn't defied orders to turn over all dogs the military it is very likely the breed would have been extinct after World War l.
The northern spitz type of dogs including the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Chinook, Greenland Dog, Canadian Eskimo Dog and the Samoyed also played a very important role in the settlement of the northern areas. These dogs were responsible for both transporting humans but also for bringing in supplies, allowing exploration and providing both protection and transportation most of the year. The amazing Iditarod sled race still honors these dogs and their handlers, known as mushers, racing across 1150 miles from Anchorage to Nome Alaska, all in the dead of winter. The race typically takes from 10 to 17 days to complete and it commemorates the dogs and mushers that rushed diphtheria medication to the small towns and villages along the route to prevent a major epidemic in the year 1925.
Other dogs in different countries have also helped in the development of the nations. The Native American Indian Dog, which is not a true breed but rather a type of dog, also needs to be given full credit for helping native people. They pulled a type of pole device known as a travois, as well as acted in a pack animal role for the nomadic people. These dogs are somewhat controversial today as some people claim the original Native American Indian Dogs have been extinct for many years, and what is seen today is a recreation of the breed. Regardless of the exact claims of breeders, there is no doubt that these dogs did exist and played a large role in the seasonal movement of the people.