5 Ancient Dog Breeds Still Loved Today

Which dog claims the title of oldest breed? Although the answer is fiercely debated by researchers, DNA and archaeological evidence prove five breeds top the list.

Jun 18, 2023By Hunter Dominguez
ancient dog breeds

Dogs have been man's best friend for an incredibly long time. Current research suggests the first canines were domesticated 23,000 years ago in northeast Siberia. Over the last 15,000 years, modern breeds developed as hounds and humans moved out of the Arctic and into the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

We have learned a lot about the domestication of dogs, but researchers continue to discuss which canine holds the title of the oldest breed. Archaeological and DNA evidence confirms that these 5 ancient breeds are among the oldest.

5. Alaskan Malamute

alaskan malamute world war ii

The Alaskan Malamute has a long history dating back to around 3,000 B.C. Known for pulling back-breaking loads in the arctic, this working breed helped humans survive in the harsh conditions of Alaska.

The Malamutes' ancestors traveled out of East Asia and into Northern Alaska 3000 years ago. The Mahlemiuts, an indigenous tribe, noticed the dogs' promise as devoted companions and helpful workers. They bred their powerful canines to hunt seals, provide protection, and haul heavy loads. Malamutes were also considered part of the family and slept beside Mahlemiut children for warmth.

The value of this athletic breed was seen again during the Klondike Gold Rush, arctic explorations, and World War II. The Malamute's strength and endurance allowed the dog to survive in extreme conditions.

Today, the Malamute's long double-coat, distinct pattern, and wolf-like appearance are reminiscent of its ancient arctic ancestry. Its affectionate and loyal nature reminds us of the breed's longstanding relationship with humans.

4. Samoyed

samoyed dog snow

Archeological evidence dates this breed's inception to 5500 B.C. Like the Malamute, this canine migrated out of Asia and into the Arctic.

DNA evidence suggests its arctic ancestors originated in Botai Settlements in Northern Kazakhstan during the Copper Age. The Samoyed's ancestors later moved into the Russian tundra, where the Nenets people developed the breed to pull sleds and herd reindeer. Considered part of the family, the Samoyed also provided companionship and slept in Nenets' homes for additional warmth.

Exploration of the North and South poles in the 1800s exposed this once isolated breed to the world. European explorers encountered the Nenets peoples and purchased Samoyeds. The breed gained global popularity following the arctic expeditions, and the first Samoyed arrived in England in 1889.

Known as a bear of a breed, this gentle giant is an affectionate and friendly dog. At 23 inches tall, the Samoyed is a powerful pup who enjoys exercise. Its signature smile is an evolutionary gift meant to help the Samoyed from forming ice cycles when it drools.

3. Saluki

saluki dog breed

Archaeological findings date the Saluki back 5,000 years. Occasionally called the royal dog of Egypt, the Saluki has been found mummified like Pharaohs in Egyptian tombs. This evidence suggests that Egyptian nobility appreciated the breed as an honored companion.

Depictions of the breed have also been found on mosaic sculptures in the Middle East, indicating Salukis were highly valued. A fast and tireless breed, the Saluki was used for hunting by Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. These gifted sighthounds used their keen eyesight to track prey and their speed to catch it. Tribespeople welcomed the prized hunting dogs into their homes and treated them as family.

Much smaller than the Samoyed, the Saluki weighs 45 pounds. It has floppy ears, a long face, and a short, soft feathered coat. The breed is exceptionally gentle with children and good with other dogs, traits that point to its history as a trusted family companion.

2. Basenji

african basenji dog grass

Once considered the oldest breed, the Basenji's history dates back to at least 6,000 B.C. DNA evidence suggests the breed originated in central Africa, but Libyan cave paintings and Egyptian relics depicting the Basenji have also surfaced.

Although researchers debate where and when the Basenji developed, they agree this breed retains peculiar traits from its ancient ancestors. Known as the "Barkless Dog," the Basenji doesn't bark but instead yodels. This energetic hound is also known for hopping, a skill it developed to navigate Africa's tall grasses as it hunted alongside humans. At 17 inches tall, this "cat-like" canine is charming, curious, and a fastidious groomer. Its short, sleek coat remains well taken care of compared to other breeds.

The breed remained relatively isolated until the late 19th century. Europeans first encountered the species in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1895, and the American Kennel Club recognized the Basenji in 1943. Considered a cult breed, the Basenji is coveted by fanatics in the United States today.

1. Akita Inu

japanese akita inu dogs

The dog that claims the title of the oldest breed is the Akita Inu. Archeologists unearthed the bones of two Akitas at the Kamikuroiwa Rock-Shelter site in the 1960s. Carbon dating suggests the working breed's rich history can be traced back to Japan's Jōmon Period (14,000-300 BC).

The Akita Inu's ancestors originated in the Japanese mountains, where they were first domesticated to hunt wild boar, elk, and other large game. The breed later served as dignified companions to samurai, and in 1931 the Japanese government declared the Akita Inu a "national monument." Six years later, dog lover and disability rights advocate Helen Keller brought the first Akita to the United States after a tour of Japan.

Known for its foxlike appearance, the Akita Inu has small, pointed ears, a dense coat, and a curled tail that rests on its flank. This broad, heavy-boned breed weighs between 100-130 lbs. Akitas thrive on human companionship and are driven to protect those they love, traits reminiscent of their history as protectors.

Check out our list of other animals that were kept as pets during ancient times!

Hunter Dominguez
By Hunter Dominguez

Hunter is a pet owner and public historian with experience writing about domestic animals. Before becoming a historian, she worked at an emergency animal hospital and as a pet sitter. She loves researching and writing about dogs, cats, and small mammals. She also enjoys spending time with Nova, her 7-year-old Alaskan Malamute, and her brown tabby cat.