Many dog breeders claim that the breed they sell is the oldest or purest dog breed in the world. However, they do not have any science to back up their claims. Part of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Dog Genome Project was to discover, among many other things, which breeds of dogs are the oldest.
However, not one but fourteen breeds came up as the oldest. How did scientists determine which breeds were the oldest? By seeing which breeds possessed the DNA that most closely resembled wolf DNA. Dogs split off from wolves about 100,000 to 135,000 years ago.
One compliant about this study is that only 85 dog breeds had their DNA scrutinized. There are about 300 more breeds in the world. But the majority of dog breeds only were developed since the rise of dog shows in the late 1800s, so the argument is somewhat moot.
Another complaint is that only domesticated breeds were considered. Wild canines like the New Guinea singing dog and the Australian dingo maybe older than any domesticated dog. Although dingoes or New Guinea singing dogs are genetically dogs and can successfully breed with tame dogs, they do not make good pets.
So, Which Breeds, Then?
In alphabetical order, the fourteen most ancient dog breeds are
- Afghan hound
- Akita Inu
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chow Chow
- Lhasa Apso
- Shar Pei
- Siberian Husky
- Shih Tzu
- Tibetan terrier.
Some of the breeds that appear on the list should come as no surprise. The Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky, the Shiba Inu, the Akita Inu, the Basenji and even the Samoyed resemble small, and sometimes fluffy, wolves. These are strong, active breeds with high intelligence. This has earned them the reputation of being difficult to train, but that may be due to the lack of intelligence of the trainer as opposed to the actual intelligence of the dog.
Many dog lovers were amazed to see tiny dogs like the Pekingese, the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Aso included on the list. The Peke, especially, has been bred with flatter faces in the last couple of hundred years, but their long fur, small size and short legs seems about as far from a wolf as a donkey to a thoroughbred. Lhasas and Shih Tzus in particular make fierce, loyal watchdogs and perhaps becoming smaller and hairier helped them survive in their mountainous habitat.
Some people may also be surprised by the presence of “longdogs” Saluki and the Afghan hound. However, students of history and art have noted long-legged sight hunting dogs in ancient artwork for centuries. Before the results of the Dog Genome Project were announced, many canine historians believed the Saluki was the oldest purebred dog breed still in existence just because its likeness appeared do often in Middle Eastern and Egyptian art.
The NHGRI Dog Genome Project. http://research.nhgri.nih.gov/dog_genome/
New York Times News Service. “DNA identifies dog breeds with 99% accuracy.” Mark Derr. http://www.azcentral.com/families/articles/0520SCI-DOG-BREEDS-ON.html?&wired
PBS Documentary. “Dogs That Changed the World.” (2008) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/dogs-that-changed-the-world/introduction/1273/
News.com.au. “Dingo may be world’s oldest dog breed.” March 18, 2010. http://www.news.com.au/national/dingo-is-worlds-dog-oldest-breed/story-e6frfkvr-1225842111309