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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.