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War Dogs Bore Burning Oil to Panic Enemy Horses: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends" by Mark Derr. Source: Overlook Duckworth via Bloomberg

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- In addition to being loyal companions over the millennia, dogs have been trained to do everything from hunting down food to attacking strangers.

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In battle, Greeks used “fire helmets,” specially trained dogs that carried pots of burning oil on their heads to scare enemy horses. Celtic catch dogs were taught to chomp onto the noses of oncoming equines.

In our time, working dogs sniff out explosives and contraband and help people with disabilities. But as more canines are bred as bio-jewelry and emblems of conspicuous consumption, valuable traits such as curiosity, boldness and playfulness are disappearing. More than 400 genetic ailments have been found in U.S. purebred pooches.

I spoke with Mark Derr, author of “How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends,” on the following topics:

1. Big Game Hunters

2. Genetic Changes

3. Ratters & Hunters

4. Show-Off Dogs

5. Individual Personalities

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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