While the majority of dog breeds have only existed for less than 400 years, a handful of canines can bark about more ancient roots, with family trees going back more than 400,000 years. Selected breeds have been discovered through genetic research to be the earliest dogs to break away from their common ancestor, the gray wolf, and domesticate with humans, according to a 2004 study in "Science."
Shar Pei, the wrinkle-faced dog of Asia, was bred in the southern provinces of China as a guard dog for peasants and farmers. Though the Shar Pei does not look much like a wolf, genetic research has revealed the dog shares more genetics with the gray wolf than any other purebred dog. Having almost gone extinct in China in the 20th century during the Chinese Revolution, Shar Peis today are once again a popular breed throughout the east and west.
Nowhere can the connection between dog and wolf be more easily seen than in the features of the Akita. The Akita is an intelligent and graceful breed of dog, first appearing in Japanese literature in A.D. 682 where they are described as hunting dogs. This breed is different from the American Akita, and is often called Akita Inu to differentiate the two.
The chow chow, also known as the puffy lion dog, is a small and sturdy breed that originated in China. According to the American Kennel Club, depictions of chow chow' are seen on pottery and sculptures made more than 2,000 years ago during the Chinese Han Dynasty. With their body structure and lion-like mane of fur, the chow chow closely resembles arctic dogs while having a distinctly "cat-like" personality.
The basenji breed is the first of the non-Asian breeds of dogs to split from the gray wolf. Originating in Africa, the basenji was used as a hunting dog and is skilled at sniffing, pointing and retrieving. Basenji is sometimes called the African barkless dog, as the formation of its larynx prevents it from actually barking as other dogs do.
Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky
The Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute are genetically unique from wolves, but are both descended from a common ancestor that broke away from the gray wolf thousands of years ago. The Alaskan malamute is the official dog of the state of Alaska and an important aid to Inuit tribes of the frozen north. While similar in appearance, the Siberian husky is a unique Russian breed imported to Canada and Alaska in the early 1900's to be used as sled dogs.
Afghan and Saluki
The Afghan and saluki are both ancient breeds originating in the Middle East. Saluki, also known as the royal dogs of Egypt, are depicted in Egyptian and Sumerian tombs from 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. During the 1800's when the breed was introduced to England they were called Persian greyhounds and were used for their incredible speed in hunting. The Afghan originated as a sight hound used by nomadic Egyptian hunting tribes. The amazingly long and thick coat of the Afghan allowed it to survive in high altitudes as well as extreme heat.