How long have dogs as we know them existed? Have they always been the domesticated companions we think of? Or are they more like the sled dog in The Call of the Wild? We know for a fact that dogs as we know them have existed for thousands of years. However, there seems to be some debate as to how the first dogs came to be. Were they direct descendants of wolves? How did they evolve? Where was the first domesticated dog documented historically?
For many years, experts believed the first hunting dog was documented in some cave drawings that dated back to around 6,000 B.C.—yes, the first dog was supposedly from around 8,000 years ago—however, just a few years ago, genetic research pointed to a group of sled dogs as perhaps the very first domesticated dogs on the planet. Hailing from the country of Greenland, the Greenland Sled Dogs were likely here—in the more domesticated form that we know of dogs—around 9,500 B.C.!
How did scientists come to this conclusion? Dog remains were found on the Greenland island of Zhokhov. When researchers found the remains, they expected them to be of a more primitive dog, one closely related to wolves. However, genetically speaking, this dog was much more like our pups today! According to researchers, the Greenland Sled Dog “was already a long way down the path to domestication.”
There is some argument as to which breed is definitively the oldest. The Akita is thought to be one of these breeds; remains found at the Kamikuroiwa Rock Shelter site date before 6,000 B.C. Drawings on cave walls resemble the Basenji, a breed still in existence today, which are likely put there sometime after 6,000 B.C. The Saluki breed is the Guinness World Record holder for the oldest breed dating back to 329 B.C. However, there have been remains of an Akita found that precede the Saluki’s date of origin.
Let’s take a look at the twelve oldest breeds of domesticated dogs.
1. The Akita Inu
The Akita is a type of Husky with origins dating back to 10,000 years ago. Remains of a type of sled dog were found in Ehime; these remains were thought to date back sometime between 14,000 B.C. and 300 B.C. These canines were smaller than the Japanese Akita modern dog breeds (they are also called the Akita Inu), but they are genetically related.
The Akita breed originally served as a hunter and companions to the samurai. They were utilized to hunt large game, including elk and wild hogs. The Japanese came to hold great regard for the breed; one national monument of the Akita states the breed is “venerated as family protectors and symbols of good health, happiness, and long life.”
The Japanese Akita should not be confused with the American version of the breed. The Japanese Akita has a smaller head and is often described as looking like more of a fox. The American Akita has a head similar to that of a bear; it is also larger and more muscular. Both variations, however, are known for loyalty and bravery in the face of any task.
2. The Greenland Sled Dog
The Greenland Sled Dog is another husky-like breed with some neat genetic characteristics. The Greenland Sled Dog has evolved so that it can eat dog food high in fat, pull a sled in an environment with low oxygen, plus the Greenland Sled Dog can regulate its own body temperature to a certain extent.
Unfortunately, the Greenland Sled Dog is seeing a decline in numbers. Parvovirus and distemper in dogs are to blame for some of the declines.
3. The Afghan Hound
The true origins of the Afghan Hound are debatable; there are those that believe the tall dog with long locks originated in Egypt while others believe it was bred by nomadic people near Afghanistan (hence the name). The Afghan hound was used to hunt large games such as antelope. Some tales would have us believe that the hound was also used to hunt leopards, but there is no evidence to back that claim.
The Afghan hound looks like a regal prince, but the breed is a masterful hunter. It is swift and strong; eyewitness accounts state that the Afghan hound would grab leopards by the neck and take the prey down quickly. British soldiers took them to the United Kingdom, showing them in local dog competitions.
4. The Greyhound
The Greyhound breed is thought to be around 8,000 years old; evidence of temple drawings in Turkey from around 6,000 B.C. show sighthounds very similar to our modern-day Greyhounds. However, there are those who believe these drawings depict a Saluki or a Basenji.
Greyhounds were originally companion dogs that also served as hunting and guard dogs. They are extremely quick, and, unfortunately, many have been exploited as racing dogs. The breed almost became extinct during the Middle Ages when a famine in Europe caused widespread starvation. However, some monks rescued the breed by introducing the Greyhound to royalty, who, of course, encouraged the breeding of the noble and dignified dog.
5. The Basenji
At one time, the Basenji was thought to be the oldest dog breed, but scientific evidence points to the breed actually being about 5,000 years old. Some say the Basenji was developed in Africa while others believed it was around during the time of the Ancient Egyptians.
Ironically, the Basenji still retains many of the traits its ancestors possessed. The breed is not prone to “doggy smell,” but the dog does not bark. Instead, the Basenji “yodels.” The Basenji is also one that resembles a cat in that she keeps herself very clean.
The Basenji was once called “the jumping up and down dog” because it was known to jump straight up in the air. The Basenji is a very skilled hunter with surprisingly good eyesight and a stupendous sense of smell.
6. The Tibetan Mastiff
This humongous ball of fluff is approximately 5,000 years old, and the breed is believed to have descended from dogs used by the military in Ancient Rome. Although there is no scientific evidence to prove it, Aristotle described the dogs as larger than other breeds and “more fierce in their attack on wild beasts.”
The Tibetan Mastiffs are an ancient breed originally excellent guard dogs that protected both livestock and property; they are loyal family dogs, but they can and will be aggressive towards people they don’t know.
7. The Saluki
The remains of the Saluki breed have been found in the Upper Nile region of Egypt, and a gold pendant with a dog resembling the Saluki has been found as well. These two pieces of evidence led to the Saluki being named the world’s oldest dog breed; however, genetic research since these findings have proven otherwise.
Nomadic Arabs and Egyptian royalty prized the Saluki; they were great hunters with both stamina and speed. In fact, Saluki was often used to hunt gazelle as the dog could reach speeds of up to 42 mph! The Saluki is independent, but this curious and clever dog is quite loyal .
8. The Alaskan Malamute
Like the Greenland Sled Dog and the Husky, the Malamute has long served its handler as a sled dog. The Malamute is thought to have originated somewhere between Siberia and Alaska as a highly valued working dog. Legend has it that the breed was adept at fighting off polar bears.
The name “Malamute” comes from the Inuit people of northwestern Alaska, the Mahlemiut. The Malamute developed the ability to withstand the long, bitterly cold winters of the Alaskan weather. The Malamute of today is a great family pet who can be mischievous but loving.
9. The Chow Chow
The Chow Chow, the black-tongued fluffy dog with a bushy tail, originated in China between 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. They were all-around dogs, serving as sled dogs, retrievers, and pointing dogs too. It is thought the dog dates back to the Hun dynasty.
Some believe the dogs were actually bred for human consumption, but other evidence points to the dog as being an astute guard dog. Only Chows and the Shar-Pei possess a black tongue. Ancient literature says that Chows were “allowed to lick up all the little pieces of blue sky that fell on the earth when the stars were set in their places” during the creation of the world.
Notable mentions of the breed include the writings of Marco Polo, who noted the dog was clean, easy to housebreak, and affectionate.
10. The Poodle
The Poodle is said to be about 2,000 years old as a breed. The Poodle was originally developed to be a hunting dog, particularly duck hunting. The dog’s coat served as a perfect one for swimming and as a duck hunting companion. The Poodle was also a companion dog; with breeding that brought about smaller variations of the Standard Poodle dating back to the 1800s.
The Miniature Poodle and the Toy Poodle are recognized by the American Kennel Club as types of poodles. The dog was called a “sleeve dog,” particularly the Toy variation because aristocrats would carry the small dog in their sleeves.
Today, the Poodle is still a companion dog. They are highly intelligent. In fact, a Poodle without proper training can become quite a nuisance as they tend to “take over.” Poodles today have become a popular pet parent when creating hybrid breeds; many breeders cross the Poodle with a Golden Retriever, a Labrador Retriever, or even a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Crossing the Poodle with any of these breeds is meant to bring about a hypoallergenic dog that is smart, loyal, and a great companion.
11. The Tibetan Terrier
The Tibetan Terrier is an ancient dog breed developed in the Tibetan Mountains; they are first documented about 2,000 years ago, making it one of the ancient dog breeds in the world. The Tibetan Terrier is said to be highly favored by royalty and even by the Dalai Lama. In fact, the Tibetan Terrier is called the “Holy Dog of Tibet.”
The Tibetan Terrier is also called the Tsang Apso. They are agile dogs that, despite the name, aren’t true terriers. They possess a shaggy coat, and, at one time, the only way to get a Tibetan Terrier was to be given one as a gift. The Tibetan Terrier is one breed that was never crossed by others; the breed was believed to bring good fortune to owners.
The Tibetan Terrier is a great companion dog. They typically love to be around their humans; they are not much on hunting nor do they need a lot of exercises.
1. What Is The Oldest Dog Breed?
There is some debate as to what breed is actually the oldest! The Guinness World Record belongs to the Saluki; however, there is now evidence that the oldest dog breed could be the Akita Inu (the Japanese Akita) or the Basenji.
2. Are All Dogs Descended From the Wolf?
Yes. All dogs can be traced back to the gray wolf, or Canis lupus.