These Are the Oldest Dog Breeds Still in Existence

When you look at a pug, would you believe people thousands of years ago also held a soft spot for that tiny face? Dogs have come a long way since their canine ancestors joined forces with humans. And some breeds still in existence come from ancient origins. Here are 15 of the oldest dog breeds still alive today.

1. Afghan hound

Although dog experts’ opinions differ, some say the Afghan hound is the oldest breed. In fact, according to the American Kennel Club, a myth suggests Afghans were the canine representatives on Noah’s ark. “Because the breed predates written history by a few thousand years, and because it was developed in some of the world’s most remote locales, its exact time and place of origin within the vast area that is now Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan will never be known,” the AKC says. Still, we know people in the Eastern world used the dog for its hunting prowess and as a status symbol long before it made its way west in the 1800s.

2. Basenji

Basenji dog standing outside

The basenji is also in the running for the oldest breed title. “Paleontologists tell us that the first domesticated dogs looked a lot like Basenjis,” according to the AKC. “They were already well established when they were brought up the Nile from interior Africa as gifts for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.” The breed’s likeness can be seen on ancient Egyptian, Babylonian and Mesopotamian artifacts. And because the breed lived in relatively remote areas of Africa until almost 1900, the dogs we see today are largely unchanged from the ones the pharaohs knew.

3. Canaan dog

Travel back in time 4,000 years, and you might just find a Canaan dog hard at work herding and guarding its flock. These shepherd’s assistants originated in what’s now primarily Israel, Lebanon and parts of surrounding countries, the AKC says. And though its image is depicted on artifacts that are thousands of years old, its known history began in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Residents left, and their dogs escaped to the wild desert, where they lived unchanged until they were domesticated again in the 1900s.

4. Chow chow

Depictions of the chow chow have appeared on Chinese artifacts dating back to 206 B.C. But experts believe the breed predates that and even could be the ancestor of other spitz-type dogs, according to the AKC. So why the name chow chow? One theory says “chow” comes from the Cantonese word for “edible” — appropriate because some people did use the dog as a food source. But another explanation links the breed name with the English expression “chow chow,” which “described the small, miscellaneous items within a ship’s cargo,” according to the AKC. As traders began bringing these dogs back from China, they might have listed them under the “chow chow” category — and the name stuck.

5. Greyhound

Greyhounds were using their unmatched speed even thousands of years ago. As hounds of Egyptian pharaohs — with the first signs of them originating somewhere between 2900 and 2751 B.C. — their duty was “to detect, chase, capture, and dispatch the fleet-footed wildlife of Egypt’s deserts,” according to the AKC. And their elegant beauty helped to make the rulers look even more regal.

6. Ibizan hound

Two Ibizan hounds

The Ibizan hound can trace its roots back to roughly 3400 B.C. in the Balearic Islands off Spain. It likely originated from an ancient Egyptian hunting dog that sailors brought to Ibiza. And that was fortunate for the residents, who used the dogs to help them hunt for the limited island food supply.

7. Lhasa apso

The little Lhasa apso has a long history, originating centuries ago in Tibet. These confident, intelligent canines served as watchdogs for palaces and Buddhist monasteries. And they even have a place in Tibetan folklore: “The country’s protector is the mythical Snow Lion, and Lhasas, the ‘bearded lion dogs,’ are the Snow Lion’s earthly representatives,” according to the AKC.

8. Maltese

Somewhere around 1500 B.C., the Mediterranean island of Malta “was a clearinghouse for precious commodities, such as spices, silks, gemstones, and a certain little white lapdog,” according to the AKC. That dog, of course, was the Maltese. The ancient Greeks appreciated the Maltese’s beauty, with Aristotle even referring to it as “perfectly proportioned.” And Roman aristocrats saw the dog as both a “status symbol and fashion statement,” the AKC says.

9. Pharaoh hound

Pharaoh hound outside

Originating in ancient Egypt, the pharaoh hound was one of the first domesticated dogs on record, according to the AKC. It’s believed Phoenician sailors traded these dogs throughout their travels roughly 2,500 years ago — including on Malta, where they’re now the national hound. And back in Egypt, images of these dogs can be found on ancient tombs.

10. Pug

The pug can trace its roots back to roughly 400 B.C. in ancient China, according to the AKC. Emperors and other people of power favored this little dog and rarely allowed “outsiders” to acquire one. But that all changed in the 1500s, when Dutch traders brought the breed to Europe and beyond. Interestingly, the origin of the name “pug” is a bit of a mystery. According to the AKC, a popular theory “suggests that Pug is based on the Latin word ‘pugnus,’ meaning ‘fist’ — the idea being that the dog’s face resembles a clenched fist.”

11. Saluki

The saluki is yet another ancient breed of domesticated dog favored by rulers. “The breed today is remarkably similar in shape and personality to its ancient ancestors,” according to the AKC. “We can still marvel at the same sleek lines and natural dignity that thrilled royal families of the Middle East, Egypt and Asia since before the Pyramids were built.” These dogs were so revered in Egypt that sometimes their bodies were mummified just like the pharaohs.

12. Shar-pei

Shar-pei on grass

Thanks to China’s closed society in ancient times, it developed quite distinctive dogs. “From the clownish Pug to the dignified Chow Chow, China’s dogs are breeds apart, with their own look and feel,” the AKC says. “Among this ancient canine clan, perhaps none is as uniquely Chinese as the Shar-Pei.” This breed can trace its roots back more than 2,000 years. And this time, it was a dog of the peasants rather than rulers. Farmers used shar-peis for multiple roles, including hunting, herding and protection.

13. Sloughi

The sloughi is another breed developed around the Mediterranean basin, though its exact origin is lost to history. Nobles and rulers favored the sighthound for its hunting prowess. And it’s possible the breed made its way to Europe and beyond during Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in 218 B.C.

14. Tibetan mastiff

No one quite knows when the Tibetan mastiff originated, thanks to ancient Tibet’s isolation, according to the AKC. But it’s believed to be the ancestor of all modern mastiffs, as early visitors to Tibet sometimes received the dogs as gifts. Interestingly, these giant watchdogs traditionally were paired with the little Lhasa apsos, who would alert them to any sign of trouble (while they sat comfortably indoors).

15. Xoloitzcuintli

two Xoloitzcuintli dogs

The Xoloitzcuintli (that’s “show-low-eats-QUEENT-lee” or Xolo for short) dates back more than 3,000 years, according to the AKC. The breed gets its name from the dog-headed god Xolotl of the ancient Aztecs, and it’s still beloved today in Mexico. Xolos are known as the first dog of the Americas, and even explorers, including Christopher Columbus, mentioned these often-hairless canines in their journals.

Main image credit: Photopup/Getty Images

108 comments

Janis K
Janis K4 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Latoya B
Latoya Brookins7 days ago

They are more photogenic than me.

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Maria P
Maria P7 days ago

Thank you or sharing

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Kerri D
Kerri D8 days ago

Interesting

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Leo C
Leo C8 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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La'neSa'an Moonwalker
La'neSa'an M9 days ago

I believe the Tibetan Spaniel is the predecessor of pugs and lhasa apsos. Thank you for furthering my education.
The best breed is the rescue that adopts you.

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Lorrie O
Lorrie O9 days ago

Reach Family Up Assistance. RUFA: Tibet, RUFA the Building. Building, 21 word. Tibet, RUFA The World, order: FEUD. (proNUNciation: "food")

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Leo C
Leo C10 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Fran F
Fran F10 days ago

Fascinating!

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer10 days ago

Hmmmm. Interesting, especially ''“Because the breed predates written history by a few thousand years, ''

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