Exactly where man’s best friend came from remains a mystery.
Thousands of years of cross-breeding have made it difficult for scientists to trace the ancient genetic roots of today’s dogs.
Still, British researchers gave it a try. They recently compared genetic data from 1,375 modern-day dogs, from 35 different breeds, to global archeological records of dog remains.
Dogs were the first animals domesticated by man about 15,000 years ago. However, we really didn’t start keeping them as pets until about 2,000 years ago. Even so, until fairly recently, most dogs were kept and used to perform specific jobs.
Although some dog breeds – such as the Akita, Afghan Hound and the Chinese Shar-Pei – have been classified as ancient by canine experts, they’re no closer to the first domesticated dogs than any other modern breeds. This, according to the study, is again due to cross-breeding through the years.
Lead author Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist in Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said, “Ironically, the ubiquity of dogs combined with their deep history has obscured their origins and made it difficult for us to know how dogs became man’s best friend. 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.”
But the researchers say their new study shows the unique genetic signatures in these dogs were not necessarily due to being directly descended from ancient dogs, but merely appeared to be genetically different because they were geographically isolated and were not part of the 19th Century kennel clubs which blended various lineages in order to create most of the breeds we’re familiar with today.