Studies conducted by archeologists and geneticists have traced the origins of modern dogs to wolves and ancient dogs living in Europe and Asia, and determine that domestication occurred between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. In 2004, research published in the journal "Science" revealed DNA evidence identifying 14 ancient dog breeds. Of these 14 breeds, seven possess the oldest genetic patterns, making them the oldest known dog breeds on the planet.
What Are the Oldest Dog Breeds?
The national dog of Japan, the Akita is considered a symbol of health, happiness and longevity. Statues of this intelligent, powerful dog are traditionally given to the parents of newborns. In his book "Japanese Dogs and Wolves," Japanese dog expert Hirokichi Saito asserts that the Akita is "descended from a middle-sized Japanese dog crossed with a dog of the northern strain as well as a large sized dog from China." The first Akitas were bred in Japan's Akita region and dubbed Odate dogs. They were officially renamed Akitas in 1931.
The ancestral home of the wrinkly, rough-coated Shar-Pei is believed to be the tiny village of Tai Li in China's Kwangtung Province. Evidence of the breed's existence has been traced back as far as the Han Dynasty, circa 200 B.C. They were originally multipurpose farm dogs who tracked, guarded land, herded flocks and killed vermin. It was believed that the Shar-Pei's fierce appearance and blue-black pigmented mouth would chase away evil spirits.
The Alaskan Malamute
Thousands of years ago, an Inuit tribe called the Mahlemuts migrated with their sled dogs from Siberia and settled in northeastern Alaska. There they developed what is today the domesticated Alaskan malamute. Because the Inuit tribe was relatively isolated, its dogs were protected from further crossbreeding, thus protecting the bloodlines developed by the Mahlemuts. According to malamute breeder and expert Paul Voelker, carvings dating back 12,000 to 20,000 years depict malamutes virtually identical to specimens today.
The Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu is Japan's oldest native breed. Archeological evidence suggests that ancestors of the Shibas were brought to Japan's shores by its earliest known immigrants, the Jomonjin, between 7,000 and 9,000 years ago. When new immigrants arrived with their dogs in the third century B.C., they bred with descendants of the Jomonjin dogs, producing three varieties of Shibas, all of which contributed to today's modern Shiba Inu breed.
The Siberian Husky
Members of the spitz family of dogs, Siberian huskies are direct descendants of sled dogs developed thousands of years ago by northeastern Siberia's indigenous Chukchi people. Russian researcher N.N. Dikov asserts that their ancestors can be traced back 10,000 years. These hardy working dogs of the Chukchi people were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush, circa 1900, and eventually spread into the United States and Canada.
The basenji, dubbed "the barkless dog," is a primitive African breed known for his variety of unique vocalizations. In Libya, cave paintings of dogs resembling basenjis date back to 6,000 B.C., and Egyptian relics dating back to 3,000 B.C. reveal they kept basenji dogs. Utilized by African tribes for their superior hunting and guide skills, basenjis first caught the attention of European explorers in the 1800s. After many unsuccessful attempts, basenjis were eventually exported to Europe in the 1930s.
The Chow Chow
The ancestry of the lionlike chow chows, with their abundant coats and blue-black tongue, can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China, possibly as far back as the Han Dynasty, circa 150 B.C. They served in China with their superb hunting and guarding skills, and unfortunately were also used for food and clothing. In 1880, Queen Victoria became fascinated with the "wild dogs of China," and the first chow chows were imported to England. By 1890 they had made their way to the United States, where today they are kept as protective and devoted family companions.
By Yvette Sajem
Working Dog Web: Ancient Breeds
Live Science: Old Dog, New Origin: First Pooches Were European
Japanese Akita Inu Club: Breed History
Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America: History of the Chinese Shar-Pei
Dog Time: Alaskan Malamute
Saijoto Shibas -- The Small Japanese Dog: History of the Shiba
Dogs Worldwide: A Brief History of the Siberian Husky
American Kennel Club: Chow Chow History
PBS Nature: Dogs That Changed the World
Science Daily: Dogs Likely Originated in Europe More Than 18,000 Years Ago, Biologists Report
American Kennel Club: AKC Rescue Network
About the Author
Yvette Sajem has been a professional writer since 1995. Her work includes greeting cards and two children's books. A lifelong animal advocate, she is active in animal rescue and transport, and is particularly partial to senior and special needs animals.