Canine Family Tree Maps the Evolution of 'New World Dog'

An expansive map following the genetic sequences of 161 modern breed dogs provides new evidence that shows canines traveled with humans across the Bering land bridge over 15,000 years ago.

The largest canine family tree ever has been released, mapped by the analyzation of gene sequences of over 160 dog breeds, and it shows what we’ve always known to be true of our faithful friends–they’d follow us to the ends of the earth. The map, a result of a study done by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, represents the relationship between breeds and suggests the types of dogs that people crossbred to create the modern breeds we have today.

The research also suggests that an ancient type of dog, or ‘New World Dog,’ was present in the Americas thousands of years before Columbus ever arrived, and was replaced with ‘Old World Dogs’ from European colonists as they arrived.

Dr. Heidi Parker, a biologist with the NIH and study co-author, says that where most popular United States breeds are of European descent, probably as a result of European colonization, the mapping reveals evidence that breeds from Central and South America may actually be descendants of the ‘New World Dog.’ The ‘New World Dog’ is thought to be an ancient subspecies that came across the Bering Strait with the forefathers of Native Americans thousands of years before the Europeans came. Researchers believe some breeds like the Peruvian Hairless Dog are descendents of that ‘New World Dog.’

Dr. Parker says that the mapping shows there are groups of American dogs that are separate from European breeds, and may have New World Dog data hidden in their genomes.

The research found also found some interesting breed connections. For instance, the mapping shows that dogs who were bred to do similar jobs, such as those in herding and working groups, don’t necessarily have the same genetic origins as one might think. In fact, where you’d think that all working dogs or all herding dogs were related in ancient genes, this new information shows that simply isn’t the case. In hindsight,that makes sense, as different dogs would need different functions to herd different types of animals, and therefore have different crosses bred in ancestrally.

Predictably, though, dogs like retrievers and setters were close on the family tree, as were spaniels, in that for the most part, their European backgrounds were not cross-bred for much more.

Lori Ennis

Lori Ennis is a wife, mama and friend to all animals. A self-confessed “Hot Mess,” she lives wherever the Marine Corps takes her husband. Currently, that’s Maryland with her very spoiled Labrador Retriever-mix rescue pups and a ton of saltwater fish just tanking around. Lori’s family has fostered dogs for years, mostly Golden Retrievers, and knows no home is complete without an animal buddy (or seven)!

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