While many dog breeds are now extinct, today's domesticated pet dogs have a surprisingly direct connection to those ancient breeds. Scientists have now established that dogs are the most ancient domestic animals on the planet (1), and all American dogs have originated in the Old World (2).
Modern dog breeds share ancestry of ancient dog breeds predominantly from the European continent (3, 4, 5). Other than Europe, further ancient mitochondrial DNA tests also point to the Middle East (6), Central Asia (7) and East Asia (8, 9) as the main centers of dog domestication, going as far back as Upper Paleolithic period 14,700 years ago.
Defining an Ancient Dog Breed
A large majority of popular dog breeds we have today are creations of humans through breeding (10, 11). Today, many use different terminology to define these ancient dog breeds: ancient, extinct, primitive or simply oldest dog breeds.
However, they all mean different things. Science is hard at work to discover and define ancient dogs, and even as recently as this year one of the rarest dog breeds have been found in New Guinea.
But let's first define the three most commonly confused terms for “oldest dogs” – extinct, primitive and ancient dog breeds.
Extinct Dog Breeds
These are canines that by definition do not live among us anymore, even though some online sources incorrectly name existing breeds. Extinct dog breeds like these do not necessarily mean they are “ancient,” however, because some breeds may have been created in the previous centuries and then died off.
Here are the four most known extinct dog breeds:
- The Kuri (Wikipedia)
- The Chiribaya Dog (Wikipedia)
- The Molosser (Wikipedia)
- The Hare Indian Dog (Wikipedia)
Primitive Dog Breeds
Primitive dog breeds are best described as aboriginals that historically lived in a specific area of the world and were never affected by interbreeding and rarely cross paths with other dogs. Some of these breeds may have been extinct while others still live among us. In fact, there's even a whole website dedicated to primitive dog breeds called Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society.
A few of true primitive dog breeds (wild dogs) include:
Ancient Dog Breeds
The ancient dogs (or the oldest dog breeds) are the ones we will cover in this list below. These are the dogs with the longest history of living on the planet in their “original form,” thus many of them are closely related to wolves and even bears. There's a lot of research investigating the history of dogs, and many science papers mention ancient breeds (like this Nature article and this Science article).
However, to this day, scientists still do not agree on many of ancient dogs and which ones deserve to carry this classification (12, 13). Some canine researchers mention only seven breeds while others go up to 20. As such, we'll mention all of them and let you decide. Here are twenty known most ancient dog breeds we have on the planet today.
20 Most Ancient Dog Breeds
Large Ancient Dog Breeds
Originally a hunting dog from Japan, the Akita is built for running down game in snow and rugged terrain in the mountains of Japan. With lots of energy and high endurance, Akita’s are great for the active, outdoors person.
Dogs in this breed are healthy and loyal. They make excellent guard dogs. Courageous and dignified, these canines are popular in the show ring.
This double-coated breed cannot tolerate warmer temperatures. They also shed quite a bit. A temperamental and shy breed, they need to be socialized properly to avoid becoming aggressive. This pooch will need training to curb nuisance barking.
These gentle giants are far removed from their ancestor, the molosser. Known in Asia as far back as 5,000 years ago, molossers are ancient dogs of war. Mastiffs are great in families with kids and other pets.
They are willing to please and take well to training. They have short hair that sheds very little. Courageous and territorial, these canines make great guard dogs.
A dog in this breed will weigh well over 100 pounds, so training needs to start in puppy-hood before they are too big to handle. While wariness of strangers makes them great guard dogs, they need to be socialized properly to avoid aggression.
3. Afghan Hound
These dogs were originally from Afghanistan, and known as the “Tazi.” One theory states that this ancient dog breeds originated in the Persian Empire before being brought to Afghanistan. While these fur-babies may look a little prissy, they actually do great in all types of weather and conditions. They were bred for hunting in harsh conditions, so they are great for an active, outdoors family.
Their long silky hair requires quite a bit of grooming to remain clean and mat free, but they can be kept clipped short. Independent and a little stubborn, they can be hard to train despite their high intelligence.
4. Alaskan Malamute
These dogs hail from the Inuit Mahlemuts Tribe. One of the oldest, largest arctic breeds, these canine’s ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia to Alaska. Pooches in this breed are strong.
They can pull sleds, pack supplies, and cart freight. They are happiest with a busy, outdoors family that will have time to teach and train it to be useful. Friendly and affectionate, these dogs do great with kids.
This breed usually does not like other animals. Double-coated, these fur-babies do not do well in hot temperatures. Malamutes need socialization training to keep from becoming fearful and aggressive. These pups do love to dig, so be prepared!
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Medium Ancient Dog Breeds
Deriving from Sumeria, there are carvings from 5,000 to 6,000 BCE that depict the Saluki. Once known as the “Persian Greyhound”, these sight hounds were also known in ancient Egypt. They certainly fit the qualifications for one of the most ancient dog breeds.
While these canines may appear delicate and fragile, they are actually strong and enduring. This makes them a great companion for the person who loves to hike and spend time in nature.
Very energetic and active, these dogs do not do well in apartments. They need a lot of exercise. Like other sight hounds, they need a tall, sturdy fence. Suspicious of strangers, they need socialization training to avoid becoming aggressive.
6. Chow Chow
This dog has a British name, but its origins are in ancient China and Mongolia. At one time, they were a delicacy and their fur was used for coats.
Independent and serious, these pups do just fine on their own. They don’t need, nor do they want, a lot of affection and attention. Not very energetic, Chow Chows don’t need a lot of exercise.
These canines are aloof. They do not like kids, strangers, or other pets. Stubborn and not very intelligent, they are hard to train. Chow Chows are known to be aggressive and should only live in homes that match their characteristics.
7. Siberian Husky
Chukchi People in Siberia were the first to have these dogs as pets. Ancient Arctic hunters, these double coated beauties are only suited for cold climates.
A friendly, affectionate breed, the Husky does well with kids and other pets. A traditional working dog, this fur-baby is ready to learn tricks, perform tasks, and play sports.
Dogs in this breed are escape artists. They need a strong, secure enclosure. Like other popular breeds, popularity has led to unsafe breeding practices. Make sure your new furry family member comes from a reputable breeder.
This ancient dog breeds comes from Siberia. Named for a nomadic tribe of people, the Samoyed has many characteristics of that tribe. Given the chance, these dogs will roam for miles.
These beautiful pups are friendly and loyal. Dogs of this breed love kids, neighbors, and other animals. Energetic and playful, they make a great dog for a large family.
A true dog, these dynamites love to chase, bark, dig, and chew. They need to stay busy to keep these habits from becoming too destructive and out of control. Made for the cold, these furry animals can get sick in warm, humid climates.
9. Tibetan Terrier
Unlike most ancient dog breeds, this canine was not bred as a hunting dog. It was created around 2,000 years ago to be a companion animal.
Sensitive and clever, the Tibetan Terrier loves to amuse and entertain. These pooches are affectionate and playful, making them great with kids. Like most lap dogs, they don’t often stray, preferring to stay close by their owners.
The long hair on these creatures need regular brushing to keep from becoming matted. They also shed quite a bit. Intelligent and easily bored, they need to have things to learn and play with to keep from becoming destructive.
Hailing from Africa, the Besenji os one of the most ancient of all dog breeds. While the age of the Basenji is unknown, it is documented that they were given as a present to a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt. The givers originated from the Congo Basin.
A barkless dog that sheds little, this breed is easy to own in many ways. They are great for the busy family as they do well with alone time. They are adaptable making them great for apartment living.
The independence of these canines has benefits, but also drawbacks. They are hard to train preferring to do things their own way. They love to chase things and follow their nose, so they need a sturdy fence and leash.
This breed from Japan found its way into America about 60 years ago, but their ancestors were arguably the most ancient Japanese breed. Another independent breed, the Shiba-Inu does well with alone time.
While they do have energy, they are not as hyper and needing of exercise as some other hunting breeds. They have short, easy-to-care-for coats.
Shiba-Inus love to use their mouths to play. They will need training not to bite. These pups need socialization training and obedience classes starting from a young age. They do not do well with kids. An experienced trainer is needed here.
12. Canaan Dog
Coming from ancient Israel, the Canaan is believed to be the dog that the Hebrews used in biblical times to guard camps and herd livestock. If that doesn't qualify them for my list of the most ancient dog breeds, I don't know what would!
These healthy fur-babies are easy to groom and shed very little. Easy to train and intelligent, they enjoy “working”. They don’t have a tendency to wander, preferring to stay around the house.
Territorial and protective, Canaan Dogs do not like kids, strangers, or other animals. The will need socialization training starting from puppyhood. Instead of repetitive play, they like to keep things new and interesting.
The Shar-pei is believed to originate from ancient China during the Han Dynasty. Statues from this era depict the breed.
Calm dogs, dogs in this breed do not need much exercise and they aren’t overly hyper. They don’t mind being alone. These canines also shed very little and are easy to keep clean and groomed.
Stand-offish and independent, these pooches are not very playful or affectionate. They generally do not like kids or people they don’t know. They have a territorial nature, so they don’t like other dogs either.
Mexico/Central American Native Tribes are suspected to be the first to have these ancient dog breeds as pets. They are one of the world’s oldest and rarest breeds. Just call this dog Xolo (Sho-Lo) for short.
Also known as the “Mexican Hairless”, this breed is said to be hypo-allergenic. This pet comes in three sizes so you can get the one that best fits your living situation. Wary of strangers, these dogs make great watch dogs.
A little high-strung, these pups do not do well around children and other animals. Often missing teeth, these dogs often have a gap-toothed smile. These pets can become aggressive and destructive if left alone too much.
This sighthound, coined the “Arabian Greyhound,” is one of the ancient dog breeds used for hunting. They date back to at least the 800 millennium BCE. They were first seen in Northern Africa.
This dog is great for the athletic, or someone looking for a competition dog. The breed sports endurance, agility, and speed. These pups would love to run obstacle courses every day, and they would excel.
Due to their energy levels and ability, they need a large yard with a high fence. Sloughis are independent dogs that usually do not like kids and other animals. They retain a prey drive, so they cannot be out of the house un-leashed.
Small Ancient Dog Breeds
Did you know this popular breed hails from Tibet? Like some ancient breeds, the Pug’s origins are shrouded in mystery. We do know that they were a companion dog in Buddhist monasteries as far back as 400 BCE.
These outgoing dogs are cheerful and curious. They are known to be even-tempered, which makes them predictable and trainable. Pug owners say these clowns bring mirth and entertainment into any situation. They are lovable with everyone.
The facial structures of these dogs make them snort and snore most of the time. Also, care must be taken to keep them from over-heating or becoming too cold. Care must be taken with diet as these little pups can really pack on the pounds.
17. Lhasa Apso
Another of the ancient dog breeds that hails from the monasteries of Tibet, the Lhasa Apso, surprisingly, was a watchdog for palaces and monasteries. These little dogs have a lot going for them. For starters, they are great for apartment living.
Friendly and affectionate, they do great in houses with kids and, usually, other pets. These pets also do well with alone time, not developing unwanted behaviors.
Like other watchdogs, dogs in this breed are wary and mistrustful of strangers. This can lead to aggression if not socialized properly. Like the watch dogs they are, they love to set the alarm – bark. Their long coats need quite a bit of care and grooming.
This ancient breed was considered sacred in China when they first arrived on the scene. Only royals could own them. What was the punishment for stealing one? Death!
Without much energy, these fur-babies are fine with just a little indoor playtime. These tiny dogs are easy to handle and good for first time dog owners. They do well with apartment life.
The ancient breeding of these canines as royal sacred animals led to them having a similar attitude. They do not like kids, strangers, or other pets. Pekingese are stubborn and hard to train. They are also hard to groom, and do not do well in hot weather.
19. Italian Greyhound
These tiny sight hounds have been observed in art of the Mediterranean Basin from around 2,000 years ago. Their origins trace back to Turkey and Greece.
Playful and affectionate, Italian Greyhounds make great family pets. They do well in houses with small yards, and apartments. Their short hair make them quick to bathe and easy to groom.
Like many small dogs, they do not do well in temperature extremes – being healthiest in moderate climates. Although they are now companion dogs, they still will bolt out the door like any sight hound. These ancient dog breeds must always be secured.
20. Shih Tzu
Bones found in China prove that this breed was there as early as 8,000 BCE. It is believed that this dog is another of the ancient dog breeds that hailed from Tibetan Monasteries.
As far we know, the Shih Tzu has always been a house pet, and they excel. They are friendly and entertaining. They are great for apartments and tolerate alone time better than some other lap dog breeds.
Because of facial structure, these fur-babies need regular teeth brushing. Their hair can be clipped short, but otherwise they need almost daily brushing. These ancient dogs do retain some prey drive and will bolt after things to chase
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