A life-long fascination with dogs continues to find Ben enquiring into these incredibly evolved, adapted, and pack-orientated animals.
Natural Dog Breeds: What Are They?
A natural breed of dog refers to dog species that have developed due to naturally occurring adaptation to their local environment. In other words, they are dogs that have evolved without the purposeful intervention of people.
There are three questions that this article attempts to answer:
- Have all dogs evolved from the wolf?
- What is it that enables the development of a natural dog breed?
- Are there any naturally occurring dog breeds left out there?
The Natural Domesticated Dog Family
- All dogs belong to the Canis familiaris family. Genetic studies show that they are all directly evolved from the now-extinct gray wolf (Canis lupus). The nearest living relative being the modern wolf.
- This should not be confused with the gray wolf seen today. Instead, it was a Late Pleistocene wolf (sometimes referred to as a Megafunal wolf).
Studies show the extent to which genetic material has been transferred from one population to another. Where gene flow is high enough between two populations, the conclusion is that they are a single-effective population.
Dog genetics is an evolving field of investigation. As studies develop and genetic tracing techniques improve, more information is coming to light upon canines' genetics and history.
Today, there are reputed to be more than 500 million dogs worldwide, encompassing over 400 distinct breeds. Yet all domesticated dogs remain 98.8% genetically identical to the Gray Wolf.
Are There Any Natural Dog Breeds Still In Existence?
People and dogs have co-existed for thousands of years. Throughout this time, people have bred dogs to suit their owner's particular needs and requirements—probably more than any other domesticated animal. Breeding activity dramatically picked up pace during the Victorian period and continues just as vigorously today.
A reasonable way to address the above question is to suggest that we start by considering which dog breeds have been the least manipulated or tinkered with by people.
Such has been the impact of human development on our planet that it is difficult to believe that any dog breed exists today that is free of our interference. Perhaps surprisingly, some remote or harsh landscapes continue to push back on our large-scale encroachment. It is predominately from these environments that we might expect to find dogs little unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
What Circumstances Provide the Right Conditions for Dogs to Evolve Naturally?
- Unique or testing environment.
- A landscape not subject to rapid change.
The above prerequisites would most likely enable the natural creation of dog breeds relatively free from human influence.
- The second contributing circumstance in identifying a natural dog breed would be how far back in time these animals can be placed.
- The more historic the breed, the more likely the dog will be free from recent human interference and adaptations.
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Truly Natural Dog Breeds
Dogs that fall into this category are likely to come from one of three types, these being:
- Aboriginal dogs: present in the place of their origins for at least 4,000 years
- Primitive dogs: living in a wild state, not domesticated
- Ancient dogs: At one time, they were described by the American Kennel Club as being dogs originating more than 500 years ago. Today, they are more commonly referred to as dogs with a heritage of 1,000 years plus.
Aboriginal dogs have not been subjected to deliberate and selective breeding. They tend to be distinctive looking, lean, and fiercely independent, appearing more like how we might imagine a wild dog looks.
- Canaan Dog
Aboriginal Dog: The Basenji
Country of origin: Similar-looking dogs exist throughout Central Africa. The Basenji resulted from dogs taken from what was the Belgium Congo.
- The body is short but deep with a broad chest.
- Broad skulled with a short muzzle.
- Eyes are dark.
- Ears are small and pricked.
- The neck is long and powerful.
- Long-legged, the feet are relatively small, and a curled tail.
- The coat is short and smooth to the touch.
- The Basenji originally hunted rats and vermin.
- A dog seldom heard barking.
- Independent and intelligent.
Aboriginal Dog: The Canaan
Country of origin: This animal is the national dog breed of Israel.
The Canaan originated out of Pariah dogs (half-wild dogs common in Africa), developed to withstand the harsh climate and indigenous diseases.
- The body is short, and the chest is deep.
- Broad-headed with a shortish muzzle.
- Eyes are dark, and the ears are short and pricked.
- The coat is of moderate length and straight.
- The tail is plumed, and the legs are well feathered.
- A good watchdog.
- Often responds well to training.
Aboriginal Dogs: The Dingo
Country of origin: Australia.
The Dingo is considered a legendary Australian wild dog. It has been in Australia for around 3,000 years and has remained unchanged for much of that time.
- Medium-sized with a lean body.
- A wedge-shaped head that appears large for its body size.
- The coat is short.
- They possess speed with stamina.
- In the wild, they can roam great distances, often living in packs.
- Dingo's howl.
Primitive dogs are usually linked to a specific location, region, or country. They are ancient animals, sometimes referred to as landraces (have developed independently from human interference).
New Guinea Singing Dog (Papua New Guinea)
They have a strong drive to roam and explore—independent, unpredictable, and intelligent.
As you might expect, very little is known about this dog breed. It lives both in the wild and alongside native people in mountainous regions. This remoteness has kept this animal relatively secret from the outside world until the late 1980s.
Ancient Dog Breeds
Different organizations that form part of the animal and scientific community have varying thoughts on which dog breeds fit within this category. These variances are due to the different methodologies used to determine their applicability.
For this article's purposes, I have sided with the approach that seeks to identify canines having a) the most genetic similarity to the wolf and b) dogs having an ancient heritage.
In investigating these Ancient dog breeds, I have divided them into three groupings:
- European herding dogs
- Working dogs
Breeds Classified As Sighthounds
Of these sighthounds, The Afghan Hound and the Saluki Hound represent the most ancient of these dogs. They have been co-existing with nomadic desert tribes for over 6,000 years.
These nomadic tribes relied on hunting gazelle and hares for food. But these creatures were quick and extremely difficult to catch in the open desert landscape.
Over time and generations of selective breeding, dogs with the longest legs and leaner bodies came to the fore, eventually becoming the finely tuned animal we see in Saluki's today.
Ancient Sighthound: Saluki Hound
The Saluki Hound is an example of an ancient sighthound believed to have existed in its current form for at least 4,000 years. This type of dog (sometimes referred to as gazehounds) uses their sight and speed to hunt down prey, rather than using their sense of smell.
Sighthounds all share a common trait in that they are sleek, thin yet muscular, have a pointed head and long slender legs. They present an air of elegance.
Country of origin:
- Probably originated in Arabia but commonly considered a Persian breed.
- Related to the Afghan Hound, differences occurred due to the terrain and the different ways local tribes utilized them.
- This long-bodied dog has a straight back and a deep chest.
- The neck is long.
- Its head is long and narrow and tapers towards the nose.
- Eyes are large and dark in color.
- The feet are quite long.
- The tail is long.
- The coat is glossy and soft to the touch.
- A breed initially used for hunting.
- The Saluki hunts varied kinds of game, ranging in size from hares, Jackals, and Gazelle.
- Adapted to hunt by sight, their eyes are positioned to the side of the head, giving 270 degrees field of vision.
- Capable of detecting motion over 800 metres away.
- Reaching 60 kph - over 3 kilometres distance, they are the fastest land animal.
European Herding Dogs
Thought to have been first domesticated around 15,000 years ago, genetic research that some herding dogs bear a close relationship with the wolf.
These historic dogs tend to have their origins in Scandinavia. They are mainly long-established, collie-like breeds.
The Swedish Vallund dog is native to Sweden, also known as the "Swedish cow dog." This breed is over 1,000 years old, dating back to the days of Viking settlements of Britain. The dog is corgi-like, quick, and extremely agile.
Ancient Scandinavian Dog Breeds
Greenland Sledge Dog
Karelian Bear Dog
Ancient Working Dogs
Working dogs are defined as "a dog trained to work with livestock." Among the earliest references to working dogs, the Viking culture is prominent. It was common for these dogs to share burial with their masters.
Today, humans have further expanded working dogs' activities to include tracking, detecting illegal items at custom crossings, guiding the visually impaired, hearing and warning for the deaf, and rescue dogs.
Keeshond (Deutscher Grosspitz)
The Keeshond is an example of an ancient European breed that is considered a working dog. Yet its roots were within the Scandinavian breeds.
Country of origin: For a long time, this breed was considered Dutch in origin. However, the FCI now recognizes it as being German. The examples of this dog in the Netherlands probably came from Germany. Historically, a dog used to guard the barges that plied their trade along the Rhine.
This breeds likely origins are from those Arctic strains that contributed to the Norwegian Elkhound and Samoyed dogs. A canine that has been around for centuries.
- A wedge-shaped head that has a broad skull, and a short narrowing muzzle.
- The eyes are dark in color.
- The facial markings are distinctive.
- Legs are strongly-boned, and the feet are small and round.
- Its coat is dense and lengthy with a woolly undercoat.
- The shoulders and chest display a thick frill of fur.
- reputation as a good guard dog.
- Lively and generally faithful to its owner, sometimes wary of strangers.
Ancient Working Dogs
An ancient breed of polar origin. The largest of the Japanese dog breeds. First recorded over 2,000 years ago and used initially for hunting Boar and deer.
An indigenous sleigh-dog from Alaska. Merchants used them.
A dog breed from China. A canine commonly used as guard dogs.
An ancient breed from China. First utilized for hunting and to guard. People have also eaten them.
Originated in the Samoyed area of Russia, nomadic tribes used it to guard large herds of reindeer. A multi-purpose dog that initially pulled sleighs and hunted.
The Chukchi nomads in Siberia historically used this dog to pull sleds.
Nomadic Tibetan tribes train them to herd cattle. The dog is small as the mountainous country was often too difficult for larger dogs to cope with.
Canadian Eskimo Dog (Inuit Dog)
This dog breed bears a striking resemblance to the wolves from which it originated. People harnessed the power of this dog, and their pack inherited behavior to pull sleds.
This cooperation between people and the Eskimo dog enabled the exploration and habitation of the extreme north.
- Big and stocky build.
- The coat has coarse guard hair with a soft downy undercoat.
- Small ears lined with fur (to reduce heat loss).
- They are adapted to cope with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees.
The sled pack can pull over one ton in weight and run at around 30 kilometers per hour.
Did You Know?
The sled was invented 3,000 years before the invention of the wheel
Research Continues Today
The history and origin of the dog continue to be a source of research and learning. Dogs, so entwined within our lives, make it hard to imagine it being any different.
Today, people are still developing new traits and behaviors within dog populations, whether for appearance, stamina, speed, size, herding, guarding, or companionship. This activity and the passage of time are likely to "cloud" our overall historical view of canines even further.
Scientific advances made and those yet to be discovered in genetics are likely to be vital in resolving our understanding of what it is to be a natural dog.
- Pena, Melvin, (2016, December). Extinct, Primitive, or Ancient: Which Are the Oldest Dog Breeds? https://www,dogster.com/lifestyle/extinct-primitive-or-ancient-which-are-the-oldest-dog-breeds
- Evolution of the Dog, PBS Evolution Home. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/l_015_02.html.&text=All%20modern
- Vanacore, C. B. (2021, February 5). Canis Lupus familiaris. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/animal/dog
- Callaway, E. (2020, October 29). Ancient dog DNS reveals 11,000 years of canine evolution. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03053-2
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 06, 2021:
That was very interesting to read about the different type of dogs there are. I love dogs.