A combination of DNA and fossil evidence is confirming what scientists have long suspected. Arctic sled dogs have not only been around longer than most dog breeds, they also might be the first known example of our attempts at selective dog breeding.
A new DNA study published in the journal Science examined the preserved DNA of a 9500 year old Siberian sled dog and compared it to the DNA of both modern Greenland sled dogs and a 33,000 year old Siberian wolf.
They found that northern sled dog breeds go back at least 9500 years. Ancient wolves interbred with the ancestors of sled dogs, but this wolf-dog breeding seems to have stopped at the time we began selectively breeding sled dogs.
The ancient sled dog shares many similarities with the modern sled dogs. Some Siberian wolf DNA can be traced through these lines to modern sled dogs. What does this mean for dogs like your pet Husky or Malamute?
An article on the research in the New York Times notes that the modern sled dog’s wolf ancestry is in the very distant past. Early human selective breeders knew that dog-wolf hybrids did not make the best working dogs or sled pullers.
Sled dog breeds have some unique characteristics that make them suited to working in cold climates. They have evolved to tolerate the cold and have strong endurance for long distance runs. This is reflected in the ways their bodies function, such as how they process calcium and oxygen.
They also can handle a diet that’s higher in fat than dog breeds from warmer climates, similar to humans and bears that live in the Arctic.
Today’s northern sled breeds are handsome dogs, but they were originally bred for function and not looks. And while they make look wolf-like, they are definitely more dog than wolf, like all modern dog breeds.
Interested in learning more about the different dog breeds? You can read about the dog breed family tree HERE.