From gifts from Aztec gods to reincarnations of the Dalai Lama, here are 10 of the most
ancient dog breeds that are still with us today!
The Chinese Shar-Pei are thought to have originated in Tai Lin, China, and are easily recognized
by their deep set wrinkles and bluish-black tongue.
They were named in 1978, as one of the world’s rarest dog species by Time magazine, and while
the American Kennel Club only recognized them as their 134th confirmed breed in 1992, they
are thought to be one of the oldest breeds in the world.
The first known records of Shar-Pei have been found among artefacts that date back to the
Han Dynasty Period, about 220 BC, with tomb statues and clay figurines that resemble them
Very little is known about China’s history with the Shar Pei from that time, but a 13th
century Chinese manuscript was recently uncovered which also mentions the Shar-Pei.
They were a popular breed in the region through the 18th century, but their numbers dropped
in the 20th century when people chose more ferocious dogs that were being imported from
the rest of the world.
Nowadays, they are making a comeback, but as is the case with many breeds of dogs they
have been bred to exaggerate their features to make them more appealing.
The extremely wrinkly, wide headed and deep set eye types that you may see today are a
far cry from the lean, small wrinkled Shar-Pei’s that were popular in China.
But it has been a couple of thousand years...
With a name meaning “dog of the bush”, the first mention of Basenjis by European
travellers came in 1895 where they were found being used by locals in the Congo.
They were prized for their intellect, speed, bravery and silence, and even had to wear
bells so their owners knew where they were in the dense jungle.
Otherwise they could just sneak up on you!
Evidence suggests, though, that the breed has existed alongside humans for far longer
than this- with carvings found in Egyptian tombs depicting dogs with very similar features.
Basenjis are very energetic dogs, and are one of the smallest breeds of hounds- weighing
about 24 pounds when fully grown.
They have excellent eyesight and a strong sense of smell, and have large ears that stand
on end when alert.
They are very protective with their family, but not so much towards strangers- and are
often referred to as being cat-like because of their fondness of climbing to high places
Lhasa Apsos originated in Tibet, and are named after Lhasa, the Tibetan capital city and,
unsurprisingly, their word for “bearded”.
They weigh, at most, 14 pounds, and have very distinctive coats that only fully form in
My parents had one and they loved it, although it was very independent!
They are thought to have been domesticated as a pet as long ago as 800 BC, which makes
it one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world- meaning it has strong genetic links
with the ancestral wolf.
They live for a long time, more than 20 years in some cases, and were used in Tibet as companions
for monks in Buddhist monasteries and acted as sentinels that would alert the monks to
Historically it was not possible to purchase a Lhasa Apso, you could only receive one as
a gift, and they were very closely tied with religion.
It was believed that their bodies could be inhabited by the souls of Lamas, the Tibetan
Spiritual Master, while they awaited their rebirth.
The first pair of Lhasa Apsos arrived in the U.S as a gift from Thubten Gyatso, the 13th
Dalai Lama, to an American explorer who was the first Christian to enter the Tibetan Holy
City, in 1933.
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Afghan Hounds come from the cold mountains of Afghanistan, and have developed their signature
thick, flowing coats as a result.
Their isolation in the mountains, and use by humans as shepherding and hunting dogs,
has meant that they have a high breed purity, because there wasn’t much of an opportunity
for them to encounter other types of dog.
It used to be completely prohibited to export the hounds from their home country, where
they have been living with humans for a very long time.
They are depicted in cave paintings in the mountains that have been dated back to more
than 4000 years ago, and they can also be seen in some examples of Egyptian Papyrus.
Afghan Hounds typically grow to weigh up to 64 pounds, and come in a wide range of colors.
They are notoriously slow to train, though, so if you’ve fallen in love with their long
flowing hair, you’ll need to be very patient if you’re going to get one.
Despite their cute appearance, Chow Chow’s have been used as working dogs for a long
It’s known that they existed in China 2000 years ago and they were described as heavily
built dogs with harsh coats, straight hind legs and blue tongues.
Some theories think they arrived in China long before then, along with the Mongols when
they invaded the region 3000 years ago.
They have been found represented in pottery and sculptures of the Han Dynasty, similar
to the Shar-Pei, and were also a popular breed in Tibet.
Long thought of as a hunting dog because of their ability to track larger animals like
wolves and leopards, they were also used to pull sleds, and to guard livestock.
Chow Chow’s were also bred for their fur, and their meat is still considered a delicacy
in some parts of China to this day.
They first made their way over to Europe in the 1800’s on clipper ships, and Queen Victoria
was given one as a gift- reportedly taking it with her wherever she went.
They then made the transition across the Atlantic to America, with the American Kennel Club
registering approximately 10,000 new puppies every year.
The Akita Inu originates from the mountainous regions of Japan.
There are actually two forms of the breed, the Inu that is a Japanese strain, and the
Japanese Akitas only come in a narrow range of colors and have a short double-coat, but
American Akitas come in all varieties.
They are powerful dogs, which is why they have been a popular animal for Japanese people
Early records from about 900 years ago show how they were highly prized as hunting and
fighting dogs, as well as sources of nutrition, often regarded as “good eating”.
There was a time in Japanese history where only a ruler was allowed to own an Akita,
and they would wear a collar that represented their owners’ rank.
Their popularity has risen and fallen over the years, but at the beginning of the 20th
century they became prized around the world as a result of Emperor Taisho’s fondness
Today you’ll find them all over, where they are valued for their loyalty, power, and independence.
The AKC do not recommend this breed for first time owners, as they can be quite temperamental
and very dominant.
Also known as the Mexican Hairless Dog, which is also much easier to say, is one of the
few breeds of hairless dog.
The name is a combination of Xolotl, the Aztec god, and Itzcuintli, the Aztec word for dog.
The fact the Aztecs named this breed gives an idea to quite how old the breed is, with
some estimates suggesting it’s well over 3,500 years old.
It is thought that they were brought over to the Americas from the Asian continents,
and became valued parts of the societies that made the countries their homes until the Europeans
They are extremely easy going and comforting dogs, and those who chose one as their companion
were said to bring upon themselves the favor of the gods.
Their remains have been found in burial chambers from the Aztec times, where they were often
sacrificed alongside their owners to assist them with their travels to the underworld.
They were mentioned in Columbus’ earliest journals of his findings when he set foot
in the Americas, before taking specimens back to Europe with him where he knew people would
be amazed by their hairless appearance.
Today, Xolo’s are still tightly linked with Mexico, and it is the official national dog
of the country.
It’s quite uncommon to see them in the US or Europe, though, so you should feel honored
if you see one!
The Pekingese is another breed of longhaired dog that originated in China, thought to date
back more than 2,000 years.
Their manes and similarities to lions led to them being referred to as Lion Dogs, and
they held royal status with the ancient dynasties- for a long time only members of the Chinese
Imperial Palace were allowed to own them.
Eventually other rich members of society were allowed to have them, and they were a favorite
choice of monks who wanted companionship in the temples.
They were taken to Europe in 1860 during the Second Opium War when 5 of them were stolen
from a palace, and Empress Dowager Cixi gave one to several important American figures,
including Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter.
They were first recognized by the AKC in 1906, but it was only during the economic boom in
the US following the second world war that large numbers were bred and they became increasingly
Of the 178 purebred dogs, according to the AKC, Pekingese are the 80th most popular.
Saluki are also known as the Persian Greyhound, and originally came from around the Nile valley
in an area known as the Cradle of Civilization- where human civilization is thought to have
Having come from such an area, it’s perhaps no surprise that they’re thought to be one
of the oldest dogs still present on earth.
There are pottery specimens decorated with dogs thought to be Saluki, or their ancestors,
from Mesopotamia dated at over 6,000 years old.
They were depicted on Egyptian tombs from the Middle Kingdom onwards, about 2000 BC,
and became increasingly popular in Egyptian art.
Thought of as the Royal Dog of Egypt, mummified remains of Saluki were found in the tombs
of some Pharaohs.
It wasn’t just the Egyptians who revered them for their hunting abilities, with records
from Greece, Persia, and the Middle East depicting their importance.
Their name comes from the long lost Arab city of Seleucia, and today these elegant hounds
are a popular pet, and star attraction at any show they go to.
The Siberian Husky might just be the oldest dog breed in the world.
While they are commonly bred across cold regions, they have been traced back to Zhokhov
Island in Siberia.
Here, evidence of domesticated dogs over 9,000 years old have been found, where they would
have been used as hunting and sled dogs.
This was an important way of survival back then in the harsh weather conditions of the
region, and the dogs would have been an invaluable tool.
The breeds used back then had the same traits as the Siberian Husky, and while it is a modern
day version of what was present back then, it is very closely related to them.
They are thought to have been developed by the Chukchi people of Siberia, who brought
them to Alaska in 1908 for sled-dog racing, which is when the world first became aware
They were known as Chuckchis, but because of their ability at racing they were taking
to the US, where they were renamed as Siberian Huskies.
Nowadays their appealing looks, affection and loyalty have made them an extremely popular
breed, and amazingly they haven’t changed much over the years.
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