When I look at my dog, who resembles nothing so much as a Build-A-Bear mixed with a lamb, I have a hard time imagining her as part of a noble line of canine ancestors. However, new research on the origins of dogs suggests that I might need to give her a little more credit for her ancient lineage: The study reveals that domesticated dogs came from Central Asia at least 15,000 years ago. Prior to this study, most scientists agreed that the dog as we know it descended from the gray wolf, but they lacked consensus as to its geographical origins. With this large-scale study by Cornell scientists Laura M. Shannon and Adam R. Boyko, in collaboration with others around the world, we may have gained further insight into just where our favorite pooches came from.
Dr. Shannon and Dr. Boyko’s study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, is notable for its scale and the diversity of its canine subjects. The research team took genetic samples from 4,500 dogs from 161 breeds and 549 village dogs (or street dogs) from 38 countries. Analysis of these dog’s DNA allowed the researchers to determine which dogs, geographically, were “closest to ancestral populations genetically,” according to the New York Times. These results led them to Central Asia, including Mongolia and Nepal, and although they couldn’t determine exactly when domestic dogs hit the scene, they know that it was at least 15,000 years ago.
Although this study reveals something significant about the
origins of the dogs we know and love, there is a lot that we don’t know about
how they came to be. Dr. Boyko explained to the New York Times, for example, that although this study identifies a
common ancestor for the modern dog in Central Asia, it’s entirely possible that
there were earlier
populations of dogs in other parts of the world that didn’t survive, or
that the common domesticated ancestor in Central Asia actually originated in
another part of the world before traveling to Asia and giving rise to the
From what Dr. Boyko told the NYT about the study, the process of collecting DNA samples from dogs all over the world sounds pretty fun. He said, “The great thing about working with dogs is that if you show up with food you don’t usually have trouble recruiting subjects. Usually.” He explained, “We showed up in Puerto Rico at a fishing village and the dogs turned up their noses at roast beef sandwiches. They were used to eating fish entrails.”