Geographical Origin of the Domestic Dog


The domestic dog (Canis familiaris) is considered to be the oldest domestic animal in the world. World‐wide mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mtDNA) studies clearly indicate a single origin in time and place in Southeast Asia less than 16 000 years ago including a high number of female foundation wolves resulting in 10 subhaplogroups within three haplogroups. Later hybridisation events in East Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia and possibly North America formed 3–4 small haplogroups. In contrast, the archaeological record, favours other, sometimes multiple, regions for dog domestication (mainly Europe and Middle East), but suffers from a lack of samples from Southeast Asia and is problematic, because of the difficulty of distinguishing between wolf and dog in fossil remains. Future studies including, for example, paternal markers such as the Y‐chromosome, autosomal markers like SNPs, and ancient DNA samples of both wolves and dogs may give new insights into early domestication history and the dog's migration routes.

Key Concepts:

  • The dog is considered to be the oldest domestic animal species and it is widely accepted that its only ancestor is the wolf (Canis lupus).

  • Archaeological records of early potential dog remains are fragmentary and controversial as well as biased in their geographical coverage, focusing mainly on fossils found in Europe and the Middle East.

  • Recent genetic studies based on mtDNA suggest a single origin in Southeast Asia from numerous wolves less than 16 000 years ago as well as later hybridisation events in East Asia, the Middle East, Scandinavia and possibly North America.

  • New World dogs are likely to be descendants of Eurasian domesticated dogs, thereby ruling out North America as a centre of domestication.

  • The dingo is an ancient, originally domesticated, but now feral, dog which arrived to Australia about 5000 years before present (YBP).

  • Future studies may include ancient DNA approaches and additional markers such as Y‐chromosome and genome‐wide markers like SNPs to give additional insight into domestication history and migrations of early domestic dogs.

Keywords: domestic dog; domestication; mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA); control region; Grey wolf; Southeast Asia; dingo; Canis familiaris; ancient DNA (aDNA); archaeology

Figure 1.

The dog's ancestor, the wolf (Canis lupus). Image courtesy of Gary Kramer, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Figure 2.

The domestic dog (Canis familiaris) comes in different shapes and sizes. The (a) Tibetan Mastiff (guarding dog) originates from Central Asia and is a representative of an ancient dog group, the Mastiffs. (b) The Sloughi, a representative of the ancient group of Hounds, originates from (North‐) Africa and is traditionally used for hunting. Representatives of modern breeds are the (c) Fox Terrier (fox hunting), (d) Swedish Vallhund (herding/guarding) and (e) Wirehaired Dachshund (hunting). Other presumably old dog breeds include the (f) Bergamasco Sheepdog (herding) and (g) Naked Peruvian Inca Orchid (unclear role; probably connected to spiritual rituals and food), the latter has no fur except for the head hair. (a) Reproduced from,_CAC.jpg under the wikimedia commons license; (b) and (c) Copyright Dr. Dominique de Caprona, reproduced with permission; (d) reproduced from under the wikimedia creative commons license; (e) reproduced from‐haired_Dachshund_R_01.JPG under the wikimedia creative commons license; (f) reproduced from under the wikimedia creative commons license and (g) reproduced from under the wikimedia creative commons license.

Figure 3.

Genetic relationships between the mtDNA CR sequences (582 bp). (a) Phylogenetic tree for dog (unlabeled), wolf (filled square) and coyote (Coy) haplotypes. The six main phylogenetic haplogroups (A–F) of dog haplotypes, discussed in the text, are indicated. Note the close relation between dog and wolf, compared to coyote (the closest wild relative of wolf), clearly indicating that dogs originate from wolf. (b) Minimum spanning networks showing the relationships between the haplotypes in dog haplogroup A, B and C, and the representation in different geographical regions. The haplotypes are symbolised by circles (coloured or white), and are separated by one mutational step; black dots are hypothetical intermediates. Fourteen virtually universally occurring haplotypes (‘Universal Types’: UTs) are indicated with bold lining. The representation of haplotypes in the geographical regions is shown by the colour and size of the circles. A coloured circle indicates the presence of the haplotype (blue for haplotypes shared with other regions and orange for haplotypes unique to the region); white denotes nonrepresented haplotypes. The size of the circle is proportional to the frequency of the haplotype in the region. Note the difference in representation between the eastern (East Asia) and western (West: Europe, SW Asia and Africa) parts of the Old World, and that River (ASY) is the only subregion with virtually complete representation in all parts across the networks. (c) The 10 principal subhaplogroups in haplogroups A, B and C (six for haplogroup A, two each for B and C), identified by analysis of the entire mtDNA genomes for the samples indicated by colour. Haplogroup A: subclade a1 orange, a2 green, a3 red (upper part of network), a4 red (lower part of network), a5 blue and a6 yellow. B: subclade b1 orange and b2 green. C: subclade c1 green and c2 orange. See geographical representation of the 10 subhaplogroups in Figure , compare also with Figure b. Reproduced from Pang et al. with permission from Oxford University Press.

Figure 4.

Genetic diversity for CR data, among regions across the Old World. (a) Genetic diversity across the Old World. Pie diagrams show the proportion of individuals having haplogroups A (blue), B (red) and C (yellow). Note the similar proportions of A, B and C among regions, which indicates that haplogroups A, B and C (and consequently dogs) originated from a single geographical region. Boxes show (i) UT: the proportion of individuals having one of the 14 ‘universally occurring’ haplotypes of haplogroups A, B and C. (ii) UTd: the proportion having a UT‐derived haplotype, i.e. a haplotype which is either a UT or differs by a single mutation from a UT. Note that 95–100% of the dogs in Europe and SW Asia have a UTd, while ASY has only 47% UTd, a consequence of the difference in representation across the networks in Figure b. (iii) SC: the representation of the 6 nonuniversal (the other 4 are found in all populations) of the totally 10 subhaplogroups of haplogroups A, B and C (see the 10 groups in Figure c). Note that only ASY harbours all 10 subhaplogroups. (Eur N/S cont – Europe North/South continent; N/C China – North/Central China [north of Yellow River/between Yellow and Yangtze River]; ASY – Asia South of Yangtze River). (b) Genetic diversity in Southeastern Asia. Boxes show UT, UTd and SC as defined in Figure a. Sampled regions are indicated by colour. LHS – Liaoning, Hebei and Shanxi; GG – Guanxi and Guangdong. SE Asia – Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Tibet includes samples from Qinghai and Nepal. Reproduced from Pang et al. with permission from Oxford University Press.

Figure 5.

(a) and (b) The dingo, an early domesticated, now feral, dog indigenous to Australia. Image courtesy of Sam Fraser‐Smith.



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Klütsch, Cornelya FC, and Savolainen, Peter(Apr 2011) Geographical Origin of the Domestic Dog. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022867]