Family Tree of Dog Breeds: From Old to New Dogs

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Family Tree Of Dog Breeds From Old To New DogsCanines have served as man’s best friends all over America for over 10,000 years after traveling over the Bering land bridge with ancient humans; likely the ancestors of native americans. Thanks to the comprehensive gene map published in the Cell Reports journal, it was found that the DNA of the original New World Dogs can be found in groups of American dogs. Moreover, the same map has identified where the 350+ modern dog breeds came from. 

In this article, we discuss the family tree of dog breeds and explain where today’s dogs originate from. 

Where Do Domestic Dogs Come From? 

So, where exactly do dogs come from? All dogs (also known as Canis lupus familiaris), are the only subspecies of wolves (Canis lupus) that humans put through selective breeding over many generations to perform certain tasks and fulfill certain needs. Modern dogs come in a plethora of sizes, shapes, and talents, now known as standard breeds. 

To construct the genome map, a team of researchers contacted dog breeders and attended dog shows over a 20-year period to get DNA samples of mouth scrapings or blood. These samples were taken using 938 dogs over 127 breeds, along with 9 wild canines. They combined this data with the genotypes found in sources available to the public and then merged them to form one dataset that comprised 1,346 dogs over 161 breeds from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.    

Findings from Cell Reports

Heidi Parker is a Staff Scientist at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Genetics Branch. In a press release, she stated that there was first a selection for a certain type such as pointers and herders, and then an admixture was added for certain physical traits. The group above represents 2 to 16 clusters of closely related but different breeds that come with similar traits, which equate to 78% of all the breeds in this dataset.   

For instance, herding dogs like the Border Collie, Australian Shepherds, and Shelties are categorized into one group while hunting dogs like setters and Golden Retrievers are categorized into another. The way they’ve been grouped indicates that canines were first bred to serve a specific purpose before breeders ever began looking for specific traits commonly linked to the distinct breeds we know today. 

Many of the various breeds highlighted in the Cell Reports study originated around two centuries ago in Asia and Europe, which was evident in their genomic map. However, there were a few that originated from the Americas; remotely related breeds, the Peruvian hairless dog and the Xoloitzcuintle — both of which were hairless — likely descended from the “New World Dog”. These dogs disappeared later and were never seen again, right after both Asian and European dogs arrived. 

While scientists have uncovered archaeological evidence of the existence of these dogs, the study above confirms that the first record of these dogs was found in the DNA of today’s modern dogs. According to Dr. Parker, they have been “Looking for some kind of signature of the New World Dog, and these dogs have New World Dogs hidden in their genome.” She also mentioned that there are no clear distinctions in the gene regions between these hairless dogs so they can’t tell if they’re from Europe or their ancient ancestors. 

Why are New Breeds Made?  

Because dogs are closely related to people, there are critical moments in our history that directly correlate with the introduction of new breeds. According to scientific evidence, every time humans think of something new to contribute to society or to our way of life, a new type of dog or new size or shape pops up. Some examples of these are the Akitas and Chow Chows from Asia, which were bred for traditional ways of hunting and we around long before Victorian Era hunting dogs. 

Other examples include guard dogs like the Great Dane, working dogs like the Belgian Malinois and Alaskan Malamutes, and mountain dogs like the Saint Bernard. While the genetic map has taken samples from 50% of all dog breeds known today, the study reinforced the idea that dogs were crossbred in order to perform particular tasks. In doing so, they would add new characteristics to existing breeds or create completely new dogs to do new jobs. 

Why We Need to Know the Dog Family Tree

Clarifying the relationships and origins between dogs can be useful in identifying breeds that share common and rare traits and can be useful in pinpointing where harmful mutations come from. For instance, the genetic disease, collie eye anomaly (CEA) affects eye development in many herding breeds, such as the Australian shepherd and Shetland sheepdog. Unfortunately, this disease can be found in all herding breeds because of the common ancestor which also had this affliction. 

However, this doesn’t explain why the Nova Scotia duck retriever, a different breed, also has this disease. The genomic map revealed that this sporting breed from Canada comes with an undocumented Shetland sheepdog or Collie ancestor, which is where this mutation comes from. Yet another condition that can be inherited can cause a life-threatening reaction to a wide range of drugs in herding breeds; this has been encountered in as much as 10% of all German Shepherds

The condition is known to come from a mutation found inside the multi-drug resistance 1 (MDR1) gene, which demonstrates how the Australian shepherd contributed to the creation of today’s German Shepherd. Moreover, the Cell Reports indicate that the genes with the MDR1 mutation were also found in the Xoloitzcuintle, which suggests that their descendants also carry it. 

Other Details from the Study  

There were more proactive findings from these studies; the research team found herding breeds to have a wide diversity of dogs with individual breeds originating from different regions around Europe. Dr. Parker confirmed that these European breeds had a lot more diversity, with particular groups hailing from the UK, some from northern Europe, along others from southern Europe. This data shows that herding wasn’t developed recently and that people have been using dogs to work for millennia rather than centuries.

Moreover, different breeds of dog used for herding purposes will use different strategies for their jobs, and the genomic map only confirms what many canine experts had already suspected. Elaine Ostrander, chief of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of NIH, also added, “What that also tells us is that herding dogs were developed not from a singular founder but in several different places and probably different times.”  

Why Learn About the Canine Family Tree?

The genomic map drawn by the Cell Reports can help veterinarians make a genetic analysis to alert dog owners to the possibility of a potential genetic problem. At the same time, it can help researchers determine breeds that could suffer from human diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and epilepsy. Dr. Ostrander also stated in a press release, “Using all this data, you can follow the migration of disease alleles and predict where they are likely to pop up next.”  

The presence of such diseases is so widely varied, so having predictability between breeds can help to narrow down how much time is required to identify the dogs which will provide a better model for studying the same conditions in people.  

Family Tree of Dog Breeds

Throughout different time periods, the role of dogs has changed and their evolution only proves it. This genetic study has created a great model for the family tree of dogs and proves that our canine companions all come from the same ancestor which then split into different clades. While some may have gone through drastic changes as a result of dog breeding, your favourite canine compadre comes from one originator; the wolf.