Meet 12 Ancient Dog Breeds

Would you be surprised to learn that some of the dogs you see out walking in your neighborhood, like Greyhounds, Pugs and Shih Tzus, are actually members of centuries-old breeds?Some of these dogs have genomes that prove their lineage, and others have a heritage that’s documented by mentions in legal papers and depicted in artwork. But all of them clearly have well-established roots from different parts of the world.

Browse through the gallery below to learn about 12 ancient breeds.


Breeds With a Long History

Greyhound dog breed

Sam Clark, Animal Photography

Greyhound

You’re familiar with the Greyhound for the breed's impressive speed. But you may not know that they’re believed to be among the most ancient dog breeds. Both DNA and references to the dogs in art — and even local laws — show that they’ve existed for millennia. Greyhound-like dogs have resided in many different countries but have changed very little. The Greyhound's relative, the Italian Greyhound, is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in Greece and Turkey.

Chow Chow dog face

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Chow Chow

A blue-black tongue is one of the Chow Chow’s most distinctive traits, and artistic depictions of the dog date back to 150 B.C. The breed is from China and is among the breeds with genetic evidence showing they are truly ancient. The dog likely descends from ancient Tibetan Mastiffs and may be the ancestor of Spitz breeds like the Keeshond, Norwegian Elkhound and Pomeranian.

Afghan Hound lying on a couch

Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography

Afghan Hound

Little is known for certain about the early history of the elegant and often-aloof Afghan Hound. According to the AKC, one theory maintains that the breed originated in the Middle East and found its way into Afghanistan via Persia. Studies of the canine genome indicate that the Afghan descends from one of the oldest types of dogs. A drawing published in a book of letters in 1813 appears to depict the Afghan Hound, and so it’s been around for at least 200 years and likely much longer.

Siberian Husky With Blue Eyes

Leesia Teh, Animal Photography

Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky made his American debut in dramatic fashion in 1925, when a team of the dogs delivered lifesaving diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska. But the origins of the breed can be traced thousands and thousands of years ago to the Chukchi people in Siberia, where the Husky was a working dog who pulled heavy sleds for long distances.

Xoloitzcuintli

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Xoloitzcuintli

The Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo for short, is a hairless breed who has been around for centuries and is often called the first dog of the Americas. Clay and ceramic sculptures of Xolos date back more than 3,000 years and have been found in the tombs of the Toltec, Aztec, Mayan, Zapoteca and Colima Indians, according to the AKC. Although the breed was popular in the U.S. in the 1930s and '40s, the breed's numbers dropped so low that he lost his AKC status. But the exotic-looking dog has made a comeback, as the AKC recently recognized the breed again.

Saluki Dog Breed

Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography

Saluki

The Saluki might appear to be simply an elegant and graceful pet, but the breed also has strong hunting instincts and a long lineage. Analysis of the canine genome proves the breed is among the most ancient hounds. In fact, this royal dog of Egypt may be the oldest known breed of domesticated dog, the AKC says. Some historians believe they date back as far as 329 B.C. The Saluki was considered noble, and his body was often mummified like the bodies of the pharaohs in Egypt.

Mastiff dog breed

Karin Newstrom, Animal Photography

Mastiff

The Mastiff’s ancestors likely originated in Central Asia’s mountains thousands of years ago, and in the early years, the huge dogs were used for hunting and guarding. Mastiffs from Tibet or northern India accompanied traders and nomads on their travels, and that helped them spread to other parts of the world. They were even described by Caesar in his account of invading Britain in 55 B.C.

Sloughi dog breed

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Sloughi

The sleek Sloughi is the sighthound of the Berber people of North Africa, originally found in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria. The dogs arrived in Europe in the 19th century when soldiers stationed in North Africa brought them home. Sloughis first came to the U.S. in 1973, and the breed is competing in the Westminster Dog Show for the first time this year.

Shih Tzu

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Shih Tzu

People often think of Mastiffs and other large breeds when considering the oldest dogs around, but there are also several ancient lap dogs, including the Shih Tzu, which was once prized by Chinese emperors. The breed is thought to have originated in Tibet, bred by Tibetan lamas to look like a little lion, which is why "Shih Tzu" means “little lion” or "lion dog.” Evidence such as documents and paintings that mention or depict the breed date from A.D. 624.

Pug Standing in Grass

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Pug

The wrinkled and lovable Pug has been around since before 400 B.C., according to the AKC. The details about how the Pug came into existence are somewhat murky, but experts agree that the breed has its origins in the Orient and the dog has basic similarities to the Pekingese, another ancient breed. China is the earliest known home for the Pug, where the breed lived in the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. The breed next appeared in Japan and then in Europe, where the dogs became royal favorites.

Maltese

Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

Maltese

The Shih Tzu and Pug aren't alone. Another lap dog, the Maltese, is an ancient dog of Malta, who has been known as an aristocrat of the canine world for more than 28 centuries, according to the AKC. This has been documented in Greeks tombs and in ceramic art dating back to the fifth century.

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