Dogs have been hanging out with humans for thousands of years. But how did the first dogs come to be? Scientists looking into the origin of the relationship have usually concluded that early humans domesticated gray wolves, which eventually evolved into the many species of dogs we have today. But it turns out it's probably much more complicated than that.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) finds that the history of the domestic dog is so confusing that we'd need to use large-scale genome sequencing to figure out the animal's origins. The reason for the confusion is that most of the breeds that appear "ancient" - that is, they appear to have branched off from the original dog family tree close to the time when the first gray wolves were domesticated - actually aren't ancient at all.
Why is it so difficult to figure out where these dogs came from? Part of the problem is that dogs have been shipped all over the world by travelers and colonists, making the genetic data from a given region unreliable due to interbreeding between indigenous and foreign dogs. Another problem is breeding: a lot of modern dogs have been bred to look more like ancient breeds, even though they're not actually related.
According to the study's authors, the confusion is likely to continue unless someone decides to dedicate some serious DNA sequencing time to unraveling the mystery. Although cheaper DNA sequencing is becoming available, looking into the origins of dog species isn't at the top of most laboratories' to-do lists.
For now, let's just enjoy the fact that, wherever they came from, modern dogs can give us pictures like these ones by photographer Seth Casteel:
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