How the modern dog became what it is today is still somewhat of a mystery following the results of a recent genetic study out of the United Kingdom.
Researchers at Durham University used genetic material to trace the roots of the domestic dog as we know it and gain insight into the evolutionary chain of the canine companion. According to the results, today’s Chihuahuas, Mastiffs, and every breed in between are genetically distinct from their ancient predecessors.
Why? “We really love our dogs and they have accompanied us across every continent,” explains Durham University evolutionary biologist Greger Larson. Experts like Larson believe that the first dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, and over that span of time, the genetic makeup of what we know as the modern dog was affected the most by human migration and human intervention.
The study, which was published in full by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), looked at the genetic samples of 1,375 dogs representing 35 different breeds, comparing the data to that gathered from wolves. Most of the breeds’ origins could only be followed back about 150 years to the Victorian Era, during the height of the selective-breeding craze.
“All dogs have undergone significant amounts of cross-breeding to the point that we have not yet been able to trace all the way back to their very first ancestors,” Larson adds.
According to the study’s findings, some modern dog breeds that are considered to have the most ancient of origins, such as the Akita, the Basenji, and the Saluki, had closer genetic links to early dogs, but still can only be traced back a couple thousand years.
“The study demonstrated that there is still a lot we do not know about the early history of dog domestication,” Larson says. “There’s a central irony here, which is that because we love them so much, we’ve completely obliterated their early history and made it more difficult to understand their origins,” he adds.