A new study led by University of California, Davis suggests European and American dog breeds were much more influenced by dogs from Southeast Asia than by ancient Western dogs or by dogs from the Middle East, as was previously thought.
“Our findings suggest that modern European and American dogs are overwhelmingly derived from dogs that were imported from Asia since the silk trade, rather than having descended directly from ancient dogs native to Europe,” says study co-author Ben Sacks, director of the Canid Diversity and Conservation Group in the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Sacks says it was particularly surprising to find that Middle Eastern dogs had almost no influence on Western breeds, even though Europe is geographically closer to the Middle East than to Southeast Asia.
The researchers, which included collaborators in Iran, Taiwan and Israel, analyzed DNA samples from nine wild dogs and 633 domestic dogs. The domestic dogs were mostly from villages in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; they also included Australian dingoes, desert-bred Salukis, which are Middle Eastern sight hounds, and 93 purebred dogs representing 35 other breeds.
The village dogs of Southeast Asia and the Middle East were chosen for the study because they are considered to have developed independent of modern breeds and are likely to reflect the genetics of ancient dogs of their regions, Sacks says. The Australian dingoes and Bali dogs were included because they have been isolated from other canine populations for thousands of years.
“Our findings demonstrate the importance of village dogs as windows into the past, providing a reference against which we can examine ancient DNA samples to shed light on the origins and spread of the domestic dog,” he says.
Findings from the study appear online in the Public Library of Science.