Sled dogs are closely related to 9500-year-old ‘ancient dog’

Sledge dogs are much older and have adapted to Arctic conditions much earlier than previously thought, according to Danish researchers.

In a study—published in Science—the team from the University of Copenhagen show that ancestors of modern sledge dogs have worked and lived with humans for over 9500 years.

Dogs play an important role in human life all over the world—whether as a family member or as a working animal. But where the dog comes from and how old various groups of dogs are is still a bit of a mystery—until now.

“We have extracted DNA from a 9500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, which the dog is named after,” Mikkel Sinding said.

“Based on that DNA we have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date, and the results show an extremely early diversification of dogs into types of sledge dogs.”

Until now, it has been the common belief that the 9500-year-old Siberian dog, Zhokhov, was a kind of ancient dog—one of the earliest domesticated dogs and a version of the common origin of all dogs. But according to this study, modern sledge dogs such as the Siberian husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the Greenland sledge dog share the major part of their genome with Zhokhov.

“This means that modern sledge dogs and Zhokhov had the same common origin in Siberia more than 9500 years ago. Until now, we have thought that sledge dogs were only 2-3,000 years old,” added Associate Professor Shyam Gopalakrishnan.