It’s quite hard for us to imagine homes across the world without our furry little friends in them. But dogs have actually only been part of our families for 2,000-3,000 years. It’s thought that the domestication process started some 15,000 years ago and that even the tiniest of dogs all originally came from wolves. Which can be hard to imagine.
But which is the oldest dog breed out of the hundreds of recognized ones we have today?
Shared characteristics of ancient dog breeds
Most of the oldest dog breeds have a couple of common characteristics which helped them to develop so early on and which make them some of our favorite pups today. Generally, they’re strong, fast, and were often used as working dogs. Their appearance can be pretty wolf-like and they usually have a coat that’s brown, black, tan, red, or white.
They’re normally very smart dogs that are happy to be put to work, can hunt, and that have specifically developed to be able to live in harsh environments (such as extreme heat or cold). They make wonderful, loyal dogs but will need to be socialized well as they can be a little wild.
Here’s a list of some of the original dog breeds that have been roaming the earth for thousands of years.
The Basenji is often thought of as the first dog breed ever to exist. Cave paintings of a dog that looks very similar to the Basenji have been found in Libya and these date back to around 6,000 BC. Pictures of these pups have also been found on Egyptian tombs. Canine researchers believe that Basenjis were first used to hunt and track large game in the Savanna– even lions!
Basenjis are famous for being a ‘barkless’ breed of dog, and whilst this isn’t 100% true, they don’t tend to bark in a normal dog way, but rather howl (and this is pretty rare).
They’re highly intelligent and need a lot of exercise to keep them entertained. They can occasionally be a little mischievous and some say they’re quite cat-like in their behavior.
Nearly all Mastiff breeds have been around for thousands of years but the Tibetan breed is thought to be the oldest. These enormous, incredibly fluffy lion dogs have always been used in the hills of Tibet to protect sheep and livestock from wolves, bears, and leopards. Even though their appearance is enough to put off predators (and let’s be honest, some humans too), these large dogs can be incredibly gentle, affectionate, and loving creatures. Tibetan Mastiffs can be aggressive towards strangers, though.
Because of their high guarding instinct, these pups can be a little aloof and a bit headstrong. They need regular training and daily exercise to keep them in shape. You should avoid exercising Tibetan Mastiffs in hot or humid weather as they can easily overheat.
Known for their incredible speed and as a famous race dog, the Greyhound is also an original dog breed. It’s thought that these gentle souls descended from hunting dogs some 8,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. When they came across to Europe they were used by nobility to catch small game and fetch whilst hunting.
They’re caring, sweet, and generally get on well with other pets in the home.
These beautiful and elegant dogs might look like they’ve come straight from the pages of vogue, but they were originally used to hunt in the uneven terrain of the Afghan mountains. They’re a very strong and fast sighthound and it’s thought that they are around 8,000 years old.
Because of their hunting genes, Afghan Hounds can have a very high prey drive which is a problem if you have other small pets in the home. They can also be a little stubborn. But, with the right training, they can be loyal, loving, and often amusing pets. Their glorious locks will need regular grooming too!
Greenland Sled Dog
It’s thought that this breed of dog dates back to 2,500 BC. They were first used by the Paleo Eskimos to help them travel, hunt, and get across the snowy terrain. They were later used by Vikings, explorers, and whalers to help them navigate in the harsh climate.
They’re large dogs that, like all sled dogs, have incredible stamina, are very strong, and excel when being put to work. They have a thick, double coat which helps to keep them warm and cool. It also makes grooming and regular brushing a must with these pups. These dogs need a firm trainer who isn’t afraid of showing them who is head of the pack. They do, however, make wonderful and fun pets.
Also known as the Songshi Quan (puffy lion dog), the Chow Chow is thought to be nearly 3,000 years old and originated in China or Arctic Asia. This distinctive, extremely fluffy pup is easily recognizable by its blue/black tongue and lips (as well as its pompom fur). Their coat is thick and even thicker around the neck – giving them their lion-like appearance.
They were first used as guard dogs and sled dogs. Their strong working nature and protective instinct can make them fairly territorial around property and people. These dogs need a lot of socialization from a very young age to avoid aggression and any unwanted behavior.
These cute, wrinkly pups are one of the oldest dog breeds. Images of dogs similar to them have been found on pottery from 300 BC. The Shar Pei (which translates to mean sand skin in reference to their short and stubbly fur) was originally bred to be used as a guard dog in China. They are also great hunters and herders that were used to catch wild boar.
They can be pretty independent dogs that don’t mind some time exploring the garden alone. They can also be a little aloof, so need early socialization and good training to make them part of the family. A Shar Pei is a great addition for households without any other pets and those with older children.
Some believe that the Saluki is the original dog breed and the Guinness Book of Records even mentions it as the first dog breed ever. Easily recognizable by its unusual head shape and fluffy, floppy ears, the Saluki was first bred for speed and strength to help hunters. They have a large prey drive and are incredibly quick.
They can be a little shy around new people and will need a lot of encouragement from you. Their timid nature makes them very gentle and loving pets, though. They’ll need regular exercise to burn up energy. If not, they have a tendency to become anxious and destructive.
These brilliant, bright white pups make wonderful, playful family dogs. Samoyeds were first bred to help the Samoyedic people in Siberia to pull sleds, herd livestock, and help the hunt. Their appearance is similar to that of a Siberian Husky and they have double coats, fluffy tails similar to a Malamute, and very cute faces.
Despite their wolf-like appearance, these pups are actually very gentle and it’s uncommon that they show signs of aggression – so they don’t make the best guard dogs. They are, however, great with children and other animals. They’re very playful and love to have fun with their families. They need a good amount of exercise and love to go on long hikes and be put to work.
These big, double-coated dogs were made for cold and snowy conditions. Their thick fur helps to keep them warm and their enormous strength and stamina let them run and pull sleds even in extremely cold weather. They’re thought to be over 3,000 years old and originally traveled from Siberia to Alaska where they were used to hunt seals and defend their owners from polar bears!
These dogs are highly intelligent pups that really need to use their brains. Puzzle toys, regular exercise, and giving them things to pull and carry can help to keep them entertained. Alaskan Malamutes are loving and enjoy spending time with their family. They will have to be well trained if there are smaller pets in the house as their prey drive is very high.
Shiba Inus are an adorable ancient breed and the smallest of all spitz breeds native to Japan. Even though they’re small, they were originally bred to hunt boar, deer, and other animals much bigger than them. They’re independent dogs that are highly intelligent and need a lot of obedience training.
Without early socialization and training, they can be a little aggressive and stand-offish. But with it, they can make wonderful family pets that will provide plenty of entertainment!
This ancient breed is one of the oldest out there – some believing that it’s even 10,000 years old. These fluffy, bear-like dogs originated in the Japanese mountains and were slowly domesticated to hunt large game such as bears and boars. Akita Inus are smaller than the American Akita but look fairly similar.
Although not originally bred for it, Akita Inus make great guard dogs and can be pretty aggressive when they need to be. They need early socialization to make them part of a team or family and regular training to stop them from becoming aloof. Their thick fur needs weekly brushing to stop it from becoming matted and to remove any loose hairs.
Siberian Huskies were first bred many thousands of years ago by the Chukchi people in Siberia. They helped them live their nomadic lifestyle by pulling sleds across the snow, protecting their people, and even helping them to hunt. These dogs are really intelligent and love to use their brains (often to form escape plans).
They’re very active dogs and need a lot of daily exercise to keep their energy at bay. Bored and frustrated Huskies can become destructive and love to dig up the yard. They need obedience training to know that you’re their leader but they can be very good with kids and large families. They love to feel part of a pack!
Unlike other ancient dog breeds on this list, the Lhasa Apso is a smaller dog breed (and very cute)! Originally from Tibet, these feisty little dogs were used to watch over temples in the mountains but are now firm family favorites. The first records of them go back to 800 BC, making them a pretty old breed of dog!
These pups are fairly easy to train and love to play with their family members and other furry friends. Their silky coats need a bit of TLC and regular grooming is a must. They do, however, only have moderate exercise needs.
Another little yet original dog breed is the Shih Tzu (which adorably means little lion). This long-haired, topknot-wearing pup is originally from China, and the first records of them date back as far as 800 BC. Although beautiful and a distinctive feature, this pup really needs daily brushing to keep its coat in top condition.
Shit Tzus make amazing pets and get on well with children and other dogs. They’re very affectionate, love spending time with people and love to play! With socialization and training, they make easy and loving pets!
Grey Norwegian Elkhound
AKA the gray wolf (that may not be 100% genetically true, but just look at them)! The first recordings of these dogs date back to 5000 BC and since then they’ve been domesticated to be used to hunt large elk, boars, bears, and wolves. They are also good herders and protectors.
These dogs are very loyal and love being part of a group. They’re courageous, not shy, and are good around new people and kids. Elkhounds really need early socialization as their protective past can make them aggressive towards other dogs.
So, that's 15 of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
I’m Charlotte, a content and copywriter from the North of England and currently living in Berlin. Animals have always been a huge part of my life, so writing about dogs is a total pleasure! I love all kinds of dogs and their cheeky personalities, but I’d have to say Weimaraners are my favourite!