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Ancient dog breeds, is your dog one of the fourteen? - a32

..... 8 ancient dog breeds
---------Relation of ancient breeds to the Wolf

The term ‘ancient dog breed’ is often misunderstood. ‘Ancient breeds’ refer to a science paper written by Parker et al in 2004. This article reviews the original paper and how only fourteen breeds are said to comprise this rare club of dogs.

The study aimed at explaining the genetic structure of the purebred domestic dog.

To do so the research team reviewed molecular markers in 85 diverse breeds of dogs. They found that:

  • Microsatellite genotypes were able to assign 99% of individual dogs into their breed class.
  • Using Phylogenetic analysis, four genetic clusters of dog types were identified based on geographic origin, morphology (shape) or role in human activity (such as working dogs, sporting dogs etc)
  • Within the four clusters, 14 breeds were identified with the most ancient origins – ie tracing back to the first domestic dogs.
  • Genetic relatedness among breeds often correlates with morphological similarity and shared geographic origin.

A brief history of domestic dogs

Currently there are approximately 400 dog breeds of which 152 are recognised by the American kennel club (AKC). By mid 19th century breed types were stabilized by the advent of breed clubs that developed the ‘breed barrier’ that requires that a dog could only become a registered member of a breed if both its parents were registered members.

However the origins of the domestic dog breed goes back at least 15,000 years ago when grey wolves were first domesticated in central China. Yet it is noted that the majority of breeds have existed for less than 400 years!

The study used complex filtering of genetic data. To simplify the results the following graphs may help. The graph shows the 85 breeds represented by a single vertical line with the breeds closest to the left being genetically closest to the grey wolf. This particular graph is for the analysis where breeds were segmented into four clusters, as shown by four colours. The length of the colour segment indicates the breeds proportion of ‘membership’ in that cluster. Dogs with similar colour proportions are genetically closest to each other.

GRAPH: Wolf, ancient breeds and other 70 other dog breeds

The graphs below show the 85 dog breeds under test and their membership to the four genetic clusters. For readability the 85 dog breed graph is split into two. The top graph shows the most wolf like 14 'ancient breeds' on the far left. As the graph goes to the right, the breeds are genetically less ‘wolf like’. The Left of the bottom graph is the centre of the original 85 breed graph, with the far right reresenting the breeds most genetically unlike the wolf.

43 dog breeds, most wolf like on the left (yellow). The wolf would be a straight yellow column.

Most wolf like dog breeds

42 dog breeds (left of graph below joins to right of graph above), Least wolf like breeds shown on the far RIGHT, below

Least wolf like dog breeds

The Parker Dog Study, 2004

It was found that all except four dog breeds could be assigned to a breed using only genotype data. That is 99% of the 414 dogs tested could be defined by genetics to their AKC breed.

It found that while many people may consider other breeds ancient, that before breed clubs, ’purebreed’ rules were relatively lax. This has meant that along with world events such as famine, economic depressions and wars that many of the original ancient breeds died out and have subsequently been ‘recreated’ using stock from phenotypically similar related dogs.

“Different breeds are genetically distinct, and individuals can be readily assigned to breeds on the basis of their genotypes. This level of divergence is surprising given the short time since the origin of most breeds from mixed ancestral stocks and supports strong reproductive isolation within each breed as a result of the breed barrier rule.”


The fourteen ancient breeds identified in the study are from the following locations: Central Africa (Basenji), the Middle East (Saluki and Afghan), Tibet (Tibetan Terrier and Lhasa Apso), China (Chow Chow, Pekingese, Shar-Pei, and Shi Tzu), Japan (Akita and Shiba Inu), and the Arctic (Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Samoyed).

It is worth noting that NONE of these breeds make the top 13 most popular dog  breed online searches in 2011.

It is hypothesised that the grey wolves evolved into early pariah dogs in Asia and migrated with nomadic human groups both south to Africa and north to the arctic. The Nordic breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian husky are said to show the closest visual and genetic relationship to the wolf.

While the Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan Hound were once thought to be two of the most ancient breeds, these two breeds are perfect examples of dogs that have been recreated in recent times by combinations of other breeds, to resemble the original ancient Egyptian sight hound dogs.

Most of the dog breeds that were analysed were created from shared European stock less than 400 years ago. This calls into question the snobbery that ‘purebreed’ dog owners have over strays or designer dogs. When domestic dogs evolved over 15,000 years ago and all but 14 of the current 400 plus breeds are less than 400 years old, there is NO room for such exclusivity judgements.

Something else to consider is that while owning an ancient breed dog may have some status to it, it also means that you are likely to have a very independent dog that for the average owner will be very hard to train or control. It also means that extra work will be required in meeting their specific dog breed needs, whether that be sleed pulling or tracking. The ancient breeds are genetically quite close to the wolf, which as it grows into adulthood loses any trace of neoteny or desire to please humans. If you have an ancient dog breed you may soon realise that its ‘independence’ or ‘stubbornness’ is in fact something profoundly deeper, in fact down to its DNA.

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a link to



Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog (2004) - Heidi G. Parker, Lisa V. Kim, Nathan B. Sutter, Scott Carlson, Travis D. Lorentzen, Tiffany B. Malek, Gary S. Johnson, Hawkins B. DeFrance, Elaine A. Ostrander, Leonid Kruglyak


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