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Research suggests that dogs were first domesticated tens of thousands of years ago and descended from the gray wolf.1 So it's no wonder that many of the oldest and ancient dog breeds are still around today. While there are many extinct ancient dog breeds, many of the dogs you know and love today are descended from them.
From all around the world, we've gathered the most ancient dog breeds still around today, and some of their origin stories may shock you. So what are the 14 ancient dog breeds? Keep reading to find out.
- 1. Basenji
- 2. Saluki
- 3. Afghan
- 4. Tibetan Terrier
- 5. Lhasa Apso
- 6. Chow Chow
- 7. Pekingese
- 8. Shar-Pei
- 9. Shih Tzu
- 10. Akita
- 11. Shiba Inu
- 12. Alaskan Malamute
- 13. Siberian Husky
- 14. Samoyed
- Final Notes
The Basenji is an ancient hound dog native to Africa.2 One of the oldest ancient dog breeds from Egypt, the Basenji can be found on cave paintings from 6000 BC, with relics dating back to at least 3000 BC.3 This breed hunted in Africa, giving it independence that allowed it to collect food for its owners.
As natural hunters, Basenjis are unique and intelligent. Weighing just 22-24 pounds, they're independent dogs that are often neither independent nor overly affectionate with their family. Because they're hounds, they tend to have fairly high energy levels and require mental stimulation to be happy and healthy. While often intelligent, they're not as eager to please as some other dogs, so they'll require lots of training.4
The Saluki's origins are primarily unknown. However, we do know that it came from the Middle East at least 5,000 years ago.5 Images of Salukis have been found on paintings and household objects at archaeological sites, so researchers are led to believe that they were valued companions of nobility.5
The Saluki is a hound used to hunt gazelles. It's known for its grace and slender physique, similar to the modern-day Greyhound.6 You can recognize a Saluki by its long ears, silky short coat, and long legs.
Salukis typically have high exercise requirements, so they should have a fenced yard or access to a play area where they can run off-leash. Salukis are often excellent jumpers who can easily escape yards with low fences.7 Since this breed lived alongside humans, they're gentle and loyal pets that are affectionate with their families.8
Salukis are considered medium-to-large dogs and can weigh up to 65 pounds, but they have a life expectancy of 10-17 years.8
The Afgan is another ancient hound, but the folklore surrounding this breed is much different from archaeological discoveries. Legend says that Noah saved the Afghan Hound from the Great Flood in the Bible.9 Of course, there's no actual evidence of this, but it does indicate that this is one of the most ancient breeds still around today.
The Afghan breed originally came from Afghanistan and was thought to have originated thousands of years ago. What we know is that this breed was eventually imported to Great Britain from the Middle East in the early 1900s.9
The Afghan stands at 25-27 inches and can weigh up to 60 pounds.10 Another typically independent breed with a high energy level, these hounds require mental stimulation and lots of daily exercise. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to train, so starting early is crucial.10
4. Tibetan Terrier
Tibetan Terriers are ancient dogs from Tibet.11 These dogs were bred in monasteries for over 2,000 years and were valued companions to monks and families.12 Like today's modern pet dogs, they were treated like children. However, they had the important job of caring for their family's property and farm animals.12
The Tibetan Terrier is a small to medium breed standing between 14 and 17 inches and weighing between 18 and 30 pounds.13 They grew up alongside their human companions, resulting in a breed that's often highly affectionate with family and playful. Like many of the other ancient dog breeds on this list, they typically have a high energy level and require lots of mental stimulation.13
5. Lhasa Apso
Small in stature, the Lhasa Apso is an ancient breed that lived thousands of years ago as companions and watchdogs at Tibetan monasteries.14 When the spiritual master — also known as the Lama — passed away, monks believed these dogs would house the souls of the deceased as they waited for reincarnation.14
Most Lhasas served as watchdogs in monasteries and barked if there was an intruder.14 Today, these dogs are often still watchful and protective.
The Lhasa Apso is known for its long, straight fur and protective nature. They're typically fairly easy to train, and they don't have as high of an energy level as hounds and working breeds.
These dogs weigh anywhere from 12-18 pounds and only grow up to 11 inches in height,15 making them ideal apartment dogs. However, these dogs are highly intelligent and can sometimes be difficult to train.15
6. Chow Chow
The Chow Chow is one of the most recognized ancient dog breeds today, known for its fluffy fur and black tongue. This breed comes from ancient China around the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago.16 Chows were originally companions to Chinese nobles, guards, hunters, and haulers.17
Chow Chows are a large breed that can weigh up to 70 pounds and stand 20 inches tall.17 As non-sporting dogs, they aren't usually as energetic as some other ancient breeds. However, they have a protective nature, so they're often not open to strangers. 17
The Pekingese is another ancient Chinese dog breed that goes back to the Han Dynasty two thousand years ago.18 What sets the Pekingese apart from other ancient dog breeds is its appearance. These were palace dogs called "lion dogs" because they resembled small lions.18
The Pekingese stands 6-9 inches tall and weighs up to 14 pounds, making it one of the smallest ancient dog breeds still around today.19 Since these dogs didn't work or hunt, they spent most of their time among their family members living in the palace. As such, they're affectionate with family.
Their small size, low barking level, and adaptability make these dogs ideal apartment dogs, but they can be happy in almost any environment.19
The Shar-Pei is another ancient Chinese dog breed that became popular in the 20th century.20 However, they existed long before that, with evidence of their existence over 2,000 years ago as hunting and watchdogs21
The Shar-Pei is a large breed, known for its body and facial wrinkles and snort snout, standing up to 20 inches and weighing up to 60 pounds.22 As a natural protector, they're often not as affectionate with family as other dogs on this list. However, they have a protective nature that makes them great guardian dogs.22
9. Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu is an ancient dog breed from Tibet that's more than 1,000 years old.23 Many people speculate that the Shih Tzu is a cross between the Lhasa Apso and Pekingese because their features are similar. For most of their time in ancient Tibet, they were pampered by noble families and given as gifts.24 This breed almost became extinct during the Communist Revolution and the death of Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, who had a breeding program for Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and Pugs.23
Luckily, using their small population, breeders prevented their extinction, and today, the Shih Tzu is one of the most popular dog breeds around the world. These little dogs weigh up to just 16 pounds and stand at 9-10.5 inches.24
Shih Tzus spent thousands of years being pampered by their human companions, which has turned them into one of the most affectionate breeds. Not only do they love their families, but they're often good with children and other dogs.24 They're also highly trainable, making them one of the best breeds for first-time owners.
The Akita is one of many ancient and popular Japanese dog breeds. A working breed, it became a natural monument of Japan and was used for hunting and fighting. Now, they're used as police and guard dogs, similar to German Shepherds.25
Akitas go back over 1,000 years and were prized for their tracking skills.26 They were also loyal to their human companions. Eventually, these dogs were bred to be larger to serve as guardians and protectors. Akitas were crossbred throughout their history, leading to Akitas with different appearances, and eventually, they became two distinct breeds: The American Akita and the Akita Inu.27
These dogs are large, standing at 24 to 28 inches and weighing up to 130 pounds.25 They're known for their muscular physiques, broad head, and erect ears with large, fluffy curled tails. Even though they're a working breed, Akitas have a medium activity level, so they don't usually need as much exercise as other working breeds, but they should still get at least an hour a day of vigorous play or a jog. These dogs tend to be alert, fearless, and protective.25
11. Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu dates back to nearly 7000 BC.28 Bred to hunt small game and wild boar, they're one of the most recognized Japanese dog breeds in the world, and there are more Shiba Inus in Japan than any other breed.28
Shiba Inus are a small breed, weighing up to 23 pounds and standing at just 26.5 inches.29 They're most known for their fluffy, short, stiff coat that's reddish or ginger in color with upright ears and a fluffy erect tail. Shina Inus are bred for winter and require mental stimulation. However, they have a medium activity level with a protective nature.
These dogs are incredibly affectionate with their family, but they're not often open to strangers, and they can be difficult to train, but they're often not hyper and will often be happy with a long morning walk.30
12. Alaskan Malamute
The Alaskan Malamute is an ancient sled dog from the Arctic. They're believed to be direct descendants of wolf-dogs, the first domesticated dogs that worked and lived alongside humans around 4,000 years ago.31 The breed is named after the Inuit people of northwestern Alaska and developed as a sled dog to work in packs and haul loads over long distances.31
Alaskan Malamutes weigh up to 85 pounds and range between 23 to 25 inches in height.31 As a working breed, they're highly trainable with lots of energy. These dogs are often loyal and playful with a medium-length double coat any arctic sled dog needs.
13. Siberian Husky
The Siberian Husky is similar to the Alaskan Malamute, but they're the faster, smaller version from Siberia. Like the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky's lineage can be traced back to 4,000 years ago, when they lived among the Churchi tribe as working dogs.32
These dogs lived, worked, and played among their human companions, which is why they're affectionate, good with children and other pets, and all-around great family pets. That said, they're not watchdogs. Instead, they're typically friendly with everyone, even strangers.33
They also have high energy levels and are one of the most vocal dog breeds in the world. Many Husky pet parents love how communicative their dogs are, but it may not be ideal for all pet parents.
The Samoyed is one of the most ancient dog breeds, dating back to more than 3,000 years ago when they lived in Siberia with Huskies.34 Named for the Samoyed tribesmen, this breed was loved by their human companions and treated as a valuable member of the family.
Today, they remain fiercely loyal protectors to adults and children. Samoyeds are a large working breed weighing up to 65 pounds and standing up to 23.5 inches.35 They're most known for their thick, white double coats, upright ears, and tail that curls around their backs. They're often one of the friendliest breeds you'll ever meet. Additionally, since they've lived with humans for thousands of years, they're highly adaptable and eager to please, making training fairly easy.
However, these dogs tend to have high energy levels and need mental stimulation, so they'll need lots of training. Additionally, just like Huskies, they can be incredibly vocal, so they're not the right option for every pet parent.35
While there are many extinct ancient dog breeds, the breeds in this list are still around today and have become some of the most popular around the world. Before choosing a breed, you should weigh the pros and cons. Purebred dogs are typically more costly to adopt or buy from a breeder, so you should always calculate the costs of owning a pet before becoming a pet parent. Additionally, some breeds are predisposed to certain health conditions.
Whether you choose an ancient breed or a mixed breed, Dutch is here for you. We're experts in pet care, offering telemedicine for pets with an online pet pharmacy to ensure your dog gets the quality care they need when they need it most and from the comfort of home. Try Dutch today.
“Evolution: Library: Evolution of the Dog.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/l_015_02.html.
Origin and History of the Basenji. https://www.basenji.org/BasenjiU/Owner/Handbook/HandPDF/IntroductionOG.pdf.
“Basenji.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/animal/basenji.
Latimer, Matt. “Basenji Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/basenji/.
“About Salukis.” Saluki Club of America, https://salukiclub.org/about-salukis.html.
“Saluki.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Apr. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/animal/saluki.
Stephanie Gibeault, MSc. “10 Facts about the Saluki-an Ancient Sighthound of Grace and Beauty.” American Kennel Club, 9 Apr. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/10-facts-about-the-salukia-sighthound-of-ancient-beauty/.
Young, Sean. “Saluki Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/saluki/.
Flaim, Denise. “Afghan Hound History: The Ancient Breed of Afghanistan.” American Kennel Club, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/afghan-hound-history-ancient-breed-afghanistan/.
Rothman, Robin. “Afghan Hound - Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/afghan-hound/.
Janeš, Mateja, et al. “Population Structure and Genetic History of Tibetan Terriers - Genetics Selection Evolution.” BioMed Central, 27 Dec. 2019, https://gsejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12711-019-0520-4.
“History.” TTCA, 3 Apr. 2022, https://ttca-online.org/ol-history/.
Kriss, Randa. “Tibetan Terrier Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/tibetan-terrier/.
“Lhasa Apso History: Tiny Tibetan Watchdogs.” American Kennel Club, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/lhasa-apso-history-tibetan-watchdogs/.
Young, Sean. “Lhasa Apso Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/lhasa-apso/.