Study shows many native American dog breeds have Asian origin

A new study shows native dog breeds in America primarily originate from East Asian cultures, with an average of less than 30 percent of their DNA coming from European dog breeds. The results of the study have been published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Siberian Husky (above) and American Eskimo dogs originated from a combination of Siberian and European spitz breeds.

While it was initially believed that the arrival of Europeans in the Americas essentially wiped out the population of indigenous dog breeds, this groundbreaking study has shown that several native breeds — some who look quite familiar to us — survived.

Scientists from the KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, collected cheek swabs from 347 purebred dogs in the Americas, then compared their mitochondrial DNA with over 1,800 samples from dogs in Asia and Europe.

According to their DNA analysis, it turns out the only truly American breeds come from our nation’s 49th state — Alaska. These breeds include sled dogs such as the Inuit Sled Dog, the Canadian Eskimo Dog, and the Greenland Dog. These dogs showed no European heritage in their mitochondrial DNA.

“They are all equally American,” study co-author and evolutionary geneticist at the KTH-Royal Institute of Technology, Peter Savolainen, tells Discovery News. “They originate from the indigenous Indian-American and Inuit dog populations, and have only marginally been mixed with European dogs in modern times.”

Modern breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute — thought to be derived from different ancient stock in Siberia, Japan, China and, Indonesia — and the Siberian Husky and American Eskimo Dog, both originating from a combination of Siberian and European spitz breeds, are thought to come from these three native American breeds.

Other breeds, such as the unusual Xoloitzcuintli (otherwise known as the Mexican Hairless Dog), the Peruvian Perro Sín Pelo (Peruvian Hairless Dog), and the Chihuahua, are native to Mexico and South America, the study reports.

But these six indigenous dog breeds, the study finds, can be traced back to their genetic origins in East Asia, traveling with ancient peoples across the Bering Strait to the American continents about 10,000 years ago.

“Our data shows dogs came in several migrations, at least one with the Indian-American ancestors and at least one with the Inuit ancestors,” Savolainen explains.

The descendants of these ancient Asian breeds populated areas in North and South America for entire centuries, the sole domestic canines in the region. That is, until Christopher Columbus and fellow explorers arrived in the 16th century, bringing with them unfamiliar pathogens that killed off thousands of these native American dogs.

“It is known that most of these dogs were eradicated when Europeans arrived in America,” Savolainen explains. Those that survived these foreign diseases would eventually crossbreed with European dogs to create many of the famous breeds we recognize today.

But it seems other breeds — like the Chihuahua — have remained largely intact. Savolainen says he and his colleagues were most excited about finding the genetic link between the modern Chihuahua, currently one of the most popular dog breeds, and its native ancestors.

“We have a straight line back in time,” Savolainen says, explaining that the Chihuahua is without a doubt a descendant of the pre-Columbian canines who roamed ancient Mexico.

“These are [a] remaining part of the indigenous cultures — the Indian and Inuit culture — in America,” Savolainen tells NPR. “And that makes it more important that these populations…are preserved.”

Sources: NPR, Discovery News