What Happened to the Early North American Dogs? Study Shows How They’ve Died Off


According to a new study conducted by an international team, all that’s left from the first dogs of North America is a type of cancer spread to other dogs throughout the world.

The first dogs in North America disappeared when the Europeans arrived, shows the study which was published on 5 July in the journal Science.

Researchers looked at the genomes of both ancient and modern American dogs. The results show that the first domesticated dogs to arrive in North America arrived with the people from Asia over the Bering land bridge. The dogs thrived until the Europeans arrived.

Geneticist Elinor Karlsson (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester) was not involved in the study. She said that:

“There were millions and millions of dogs all over the continent (that) died out after the Europeans arrived. And the fact that we don’t know anything about it is kind of a big hole.”

Filling the Historical Gaps

Researchers wanted to fill the historical gaps, so they sequenced the genetic material from the boned of 71 dogs – from Siberia, US, and Mexico.

Then, they compared their findings with the genetic makeup of the modern dogs. They found out that the first dogs in North America were similar to Arctic dogs – Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes, and they arrived there with people crossing the land bridge between Russia and Canada.

According to a canine genetics expert from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland), Elaine Ostrander, who was not involved in the study, the findings also show human behavior:

“Where people go, so go their dogs. This study reinforces that idea and takes it back to nearly the beginning of dogdom.”

The study couldn’t find traces of ancient dog DNA in dogs from South America or pre-Columbian breeds. Researchers found that less than 4% of modern American dogs can have traces of the dogs living on American land before Europeans arrived.

Unfortunately, the only legacy indigenous dogs left behind is a rare dog cancer called transmissible venereal tumor, or CTVT. It affected a dog a few thousand years ago, according to the geneticist and co-author of the study, Elizabeth Murchison (University of Cambridge, UK):

“It’s the closest remaining vestige of this lost dog lineage.”


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