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NATURE: Dogs That Changed The World, Parts One & Two

Airs Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 9 p.m. & 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Hunting dogs in Papua, New Guinea.

"Dogs That Changed The World" Parts One & Two tell the epic story of one of the most amazing evolutionary journeys ever taken by a species. Thousands of years ago, as humans began to settle in villages, the wolf emerged from the wild and made the startling leap to “man’s best friend.” Once domesticated, dogs would accompany human cultures down through the centuries and to the far corners of the world.

Much more recently, the Victorian Age transformed them into the most varied species, and one of the most common pets, on the planet. In the 21st century, dogs are once more changing our world by their use in cutting-edge scientific research and lifesaving medical care.

Xolo ritual dog, thought to have magical powers in Mexico.
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Above: Xolo ritual dog, thought to have magical powers in Mexico.

Discover Ancient Breeds

Rollover the breed names on this interactive map to find out where those dogs originated from. Click on the names to get more information.

Part One: "The Rise of the Dog" will air at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, 2012: In this episode, you’ll learn about how the domestication of dogs might have taken place, including the theory of biologist Raymond Coppinger that it was the animals themselves — and human trash — that inspired the transformation.

The genetic analysis of Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden has placed the origins of domesticated dogs — and those of the first dog — in East Asia.

You’ll also discover 14 dog breeds that controversial genetic studies show are the most ancient — and the best living representatives of the ancestors to all living dogs.

Part Two: "Dogs By Design" will follow at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, August 22, 2012: Over 400 breeds of dog are recognized around the world, each unique for its personality, habits, and form. Most of these breeds exploded onto the scene over the past 150 years, spurred by the Victorian-era passion for the “dog fancy” — the selective breeding of dogs to enhance particular characteristics.

A Pekinese dog
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Above: A Pekinese dog

By tinkering with its genetics, humans made the dog the most varied animal species on the planet — and also created a host of hereditary health problems. Despite the plethora of new shapes and sizes, dogs have retained the instincts bred into their ancestors by thousands of years of work: the urge to herd or hunt, to dig and to guard.

In “Dogs By Design,” you’ll discover how these hard-wired behaviors help different types of dogs, from hounds to herders, excel at different tasks (and why it can sometimes be so difficult to train them to do otherwise). You’ll also learn how dogs’ finely tuned senses are serving humans and saving lives.

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Preview: Dogs That Changed The World

Above: NATURE's two-part special "Dogs That Changed The World" tells the epic story of the wolf's evolution, how "man's best friend" changed human society and we in turn have radically transformed dogs.

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Dogs That Changed The World: Hard-Wired?

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Watch Hard-Wired? on PBS. See more from Nature.

Above: Genetics and brain physiology can affect a dog’s personality and behavior.

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Director Corinna Faith on "Dogs That Changed The World"

Above: In this Web exclusive video, producer and director Corinna Faith discusses the making of "Dogs That Changed The World," including how locations were selected, what her favorite sequence was, and why this miniseries was so important to her.

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Dogs That Changed The World: The Speedy Saluki

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Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Above: For 6,000 years, the Bedouin have bred Saluki from only the quickest dogs with the best eyesight.