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The Racing Siberian Husky Online
Late Spring 2004 Web Feature Edition
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14 Breeds Recognized as "Ancient"

New Breakthrough in Dog Genetics

When reading about the new research published in May 2004 on the "genetic fingerprints" of 85 popular purebred dogs, I decided to update the material  that I posted on Sibernet-L on April 5, 2004, responding to a question about whether Siberian Huskies are "closer to wolves" than any other breed of dog.  The article below is important to breeders and fanciers of all 14 breeds listed as "ancient," given the worldwide publicity this new study is receiving.

An important breakthrough in understanding purebred dogs occurred this month with researchers announcing that what are essentially “genetic fingerprints” for 85 pure breeds of dogs have been determined with a high level of accuracy, thus establishing pure breeds of dogs as “distinct genetic units.”

The research, supported in part by the AKC Canine Health Foundation, was done by analyzing various distinctive elements of the nuclear DNA of the dog genome.

This article is of special interest to owners of  these breeds: 
Afghan Hound
Akita
Alaskan
      Malamute
Basenji
Chow Chow
Lhasa Apso
Pekingese
Saluki
Samoyed
Shar-pei
Shiba Inu
Shih Tzu
Siberian Husky
Tibetian Terrier

See our new Guide to
Ancient Breeds

Researchers reported their findings in the article “Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog” in the journal Science, Volume 304, on May 21, 2004.  

The findings are expected to be valuable for further research on both canine and human health, the researchers say, since different breeds of dogs experience many of the same diseases that people do.

One aspect of the study is especially fascinating for those who breed and own any of the 14 breeds determined to be in an "ancient" group.  The so-called genetic fingerprints of these breeds show considerable similarity to those of the wolves included in the study.  These 14 breeds now believed to be very old range from the Pekingese to the Saluki to the Siberian Husky.

On the one hand, this outcome supports the theories of Jennifer Leonard and of Peter Savolainen that the dog was domesticated in East Asia and spread out from there across Eurasia and into Africa and the Americas.

Of the 14 breeds grouped as "ancient" in the new study, 10 have homelands in Asia, including China, for the Chow Chow, for example; in Japan, for the Akita; or in Siberia, for the Samoyed and Siberian Husky.  In addition, the Alaskan Malamute is shown to be very closely related to the Siberian Husky, and its place of origin is far western Alaska, across the Bering Strait from the homeland of the Siberian Husky’s ancestors.  Finally, several breeds in the group of 14 are associated with Africa, namely the Basenji, or with western Asia, namely the Afghan Hound and Saluki.

Seeing these ancestral relations among these breeds provides breakthough insights for those doing breed histories based on scientific as well as traditional historical research, including myself.

The 14 ancient dog breeds with "genetic fingerprints" said to be
similar to those of wolves are:

      Afghan Hound
      Akita
      Alaskan Malamute
      Basenji
      Chow Chow
      Lhasa Apso
      Pekingese



Saluki
Samoyed
Shar-pei
Shiba Inu
Shih Tzu
Siberian Husky
Tibetian Terrier

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On the other hand, breeders and owners of these 14 breeds, especially the natural breeds such as the Akita, Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky, may find themselves getting many more questions about their dogs being “just like wolves.”   In our view, that is not what the researchers are saying, even though the reports in the some of the news media make it seem that way.

While the researchers note the links between the genetic fingerprints for the wolves included in the study and the 14 breeds, they also state in the Science article that “dogs from these breeds may be the best living representatives of the ancestral dog gene pool” [p. 1164].  In other words, they are very clear that these 14 breeds are dogs, representative of the changes that occurred as dogs were tamed, either by humans or by the adaptation of some wolves to living close to human settlements in order to benefit from the good supply of food.

[ Ray and Lorna Coppinger, co-authors of Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, theorize that some wolves partly tamed themselves by living around human villages for the benefit of scavenging for waste food. Those animals least afraid of people and least aggressive got the extra food, reproduced successfully and over time created semidomestic dogs that people later more fully domesticated and then developed into many different breeds. See the WorkingDogWeb interview with Ray and Lorna for more on this idea ].

A remarkable aspect of this research, led by Elaine A. Ostrander at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is having these 14 very old breeds with so many different looks or phenotypes fall into one cluster by their genetic fingerprints.  It demonstrates just how variable the dog’s gene pool is, and how many different body types can be developed from the basic dog genetic blueprints. And that, in fact, development of such variation occurred with the early dogs.

What the results show is that the Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Chow Chow, Samoyed or Siberian Husky -- the medium to large natural breeds --  are just as much “like a wolf” in their genetic fingerprints as are the Pekingese, Lhasa Apso or Shih Tzu -- the small toy breeds in the ancient group.

Or as much “like a wolf” as the short-coated Basenji from Africa or the wrinkle-coated Shar-pei from China.

Or the tall, long-coated sighthounds, the Afghan Hound and the Saluki.

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Especially for owners of  Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Samoyeds and Siberian Huskies -- already more used to questions such as, "Is that a wolf?" or "Is your dog part wolf?" -- the fact that the Pekingese, Saluki and other distinctive breeds carry this same ancient genetic signature as their own may be helpful when answering questions.  One might say something like this:  "All dogs are closely related to wolf, the dog's ancestor, but my dog is no closer to a wolf than a Pekingese or a Saluki is. They are all part of a unique group of ancient dogs."  That helps put it in historically accurate context, and at the same time helps clarify that these new results do not suggest these breeds are wolfish in behavior.

Another aspect of the research that is important to remember is that only 85 breeds were used in the study, of some 152 breeds recognized by the AKC and of some 400 or more breeds known world-wide.  If even half of the known breeds were analyzed in a similar way, the number of breeds falling into the ancient group could be expected to increase, perhaps even double.

Spitz family breeds missing from the study include dogs such as the following -- from Europe, Asia and also North America:
      Canaan Dog of Israel
      Finnish spitz
      Karelian bear dog
      Lapland spitz or lapphund
      Norwegian sheepdog or buhund, and the

      Norwegian spitz or lundehund

      Russian laikas
      Swedish elkhound or jamthund
      Inuit Dog, Eskimo Dog and Greenland Eskimo

      dog of North America

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.

Other less well known breeds from Scandinavia, Japan and Korea, as well as the dingo, New Guinea Singing Dog and the pariah or village dogs of India and Southeast Asia -- listed among the Spitz and Primitive Breeds -- are also missing from the study.  An expanded study including all the breeds that Peter Savolainen used in his research could be enlightening.

The study did have some surprises, especially the suggestion that three breeds -- the Norwegian Elkhound, Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan Hound -- are not as old as typically stated, but rather are more recent recreations of old types.   Also, six pairs of breeds are closely related:  Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky, Belgian Sheepdog and Belgian Turvuren, Collie and Shetland Sheepdog, Greyhound and Whippet, Bernese Mountain Dog and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and finally the Bullmastiff and Mastiff.

Finally, it is worth remembering that as these breeds are designated as “ancient,” that means they have been distinct from wolves for thousands of years, even if there was an occasional recrossing to wolves -- wild or tamed -- over the millenia.  The earliest dating given for dog domestication, based on archaeological discoveries of ancient bones, is about 15,000 years ago.  But some evolutionary biologists say the dog-wolf split goes back much further, because 15,000 years is not enough for the dog genome to have accumulated so many genetic changes or mutations. 
[ See the WorkingDogWeb article on
the early dates for dog origins for more].

Because this new study has received considerable news converage around the world [see links to news stories below], it is imperative that people who care about these 14 breeds learn about the research and its implications.   Those who care about these breeds need to be able to explain to others that these breeds are clearly domestic dogs, with the traits of dogs:  smaller size, smaller jaws and teeth, ability to breed twice a year, and greatly reduced fear and aggression coupled with great friendliness with people, some key traits that make a dog a dog. 

[ For more about the very specific differences between wolves and dogs, see the recent article in RSH Online discussing why Siberians are not more like wolves than other breeds. ]

Given the complex dog legislation that is proposed in different state or provincial legislatures from time to time, it is really important that we give a clear, firm answer about our breeds when people try to say they are "just like wolves."  That's simply not true. And in fact, one more point. The genetic research makes it clear that once domesticated dogs existed, early people typically preferred to breed them to each other rather than starting again with taming wolves or crossbreeding their dogs frequently with wolves. At least that is what the female canine lineages [based on the genetics of mitochondrial DNA] show.

More is certain to be learned about the genetics of the dog and the origins of breeds in the months and years ahead.  It is wise for serious breeders and fanciers to stay abreast of the research and its implications for breeding, dog health and more.

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OTHER breeds in the study, in their specific grouping, adapted from the explanations of the four groups in the article in Science:

Mastiff Breeds:
Mastiff

Bulldog
Boxer
Bullmastiff
French Bulldog
Miniature Bulldog
Perro de Presa Canario
Rottweiler
Newfoundland
Bernese Mountain Dog
German Shepherd Dog
.
Herding Breeds:
Belgian Sheepdog
Belgian Turvuren
Collie
Shetland Sheepdog
Irish Wolfhound
*
Greyhound*
Borzoi*
Saint Bernard*
* Not known as livestock dogs, these four may have been ancestors to the herding dogs.

.
Hunting Breeds:
Basset Hound
Beagle
Cairn Terrier

Cocker Spaniel
Golden Retriver
Irish Setter
Labrador Retriever

Pointer
and other spaniels, terriers, pointers, retrievers, and scent hounds.

2004 Barbara Bradley Petura, WorkingDogWeb.com

To Learn More:    [ Top ]

ORDER THIS BOOK:  Dogs:  A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution by Raymond & Lorna Coppinger

READ: A Review of Ray & Lorna Coppinger's "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origins, Behavior & Evolution" by Barbara Bradley Petura, WorkingDogWeb.com webmaster

READ: An Interview with Ray & Lorna Coppinger with Barbara Bradley Petura, WorkingDogWeb.com webmaster

READ: Humans Brought Domesticated Dogs to New World More Than 12,000 Years Ago, Researchers Report and Dogs Evolved in Asia, by Barbara Bradley Petura, WorkingDogWeb.com webmaster

READ: Dogs May Date Back 100,000 Years by Barbara Bradley Petura, WorkingDogWeb.com webmaster, 1997 article

LINKS: Try the following for more research or journalistic articles:

Dog Genome Holds a Wealth of Information for Human Health
  Official news release from the research team that identified the "genetic
  fingerprints" of 85 breeds of dogs, May 2004

Breeds Apart: Purebred dogs identified by DNA differences
  Science News, with chart of the 4 groups, May 2004

Pooch breeds identified by genes - BBC, May 2004

10 Progenitor Dog Types Suggested by Researcher with the types
  being sight hounds, scent hounds, working/guard dogs, northern breeds,
  flushing spaniels, water spaniels and retrievers, pointers, terriers, herding
  dogs, and toy/companion dogs.

Dogs Evolved to Read Human Cues & More Dog Research
  Summaries with links to more details

CNN:    Origin of Dogs Traced to China
  Date:  November 23, 2002 | By the Associated Press

Nature Science Update:  Stone Age Man Kept a Dog
 
Date:  November 23, 2002 | By Kendall Powell

BBC:  Origins of Dog Traced
  Date:  November 22, 2002 | By Christine McGourty

New York Times:    "From Wolf to Dog - Yes But When?"
  Date: November 22, 2002 | By Nicholas Wade

Three Dog Eves: Canine Diaspora from East Asia to Americas
  November 23, 2002 | Science News Online

UCLA News Release:  Humans Brought Domestic Dogs to New World
  Date:  December 2, 2002  |  Contact:  Stuart Wolpert, UCLA

  Molecular Evolution of the Dog Family, Science

  The Multiple and Ancient Origins of the Domestic Dog, Science

  Relevance of the Canine Genome Project to Dog Health



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