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The family Canidae is sometimes loosely referred to as the "Dog" family, and its characteristics, e.g., long muzzle, large canine teeth, and long tail, as canine traits. However, the term usually refers only to the domestic species Canis familiaris.
Two characteristics distinguish dogs from other canids and, indeed, from all other species of animal life. The first is its worldwide distribution in close association with humans, encompassing both hemispheres from the tropics to the Arctic. The second is the enormous amount of genetic variability found within the species. For example, the Irish wolfhound may stand as high as 39 in. (99.1 cm) at the shoulder, while the Chihuahua’s shoulder is usually no more than 6 in. (15.2 cm) from the ground; the silky coat of the Yorkshire terrier may be 2 ft (61 cm) long, while a few breeds (such as the Mexican hairless) are entirely without hair. The evolution of such widely differing breeds has been heavily influenced by conscious human selection, in addition to natural evolution.
Dogs have been selectively bred through the centuries for special purposes, notably to pursue and retrieve game, as draft animals, as guides (e.g., for the blind), and as companions. Although canines possess hearing abilities far superior to humans’, their acute sense of smell is probably the sense most utilized. In addition to traditional hunting and tracking, their sense of smell has been put to such diverse uses as the location of exotic foods and the detection of drugs and explosives, e.g., in luggage and packages.
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