Scientists have begun to think that the relationship between dogs and humans may actually go back much further than they originally believed. Early humans domesticated dogs because they needed help herding animals as well as hunting them. They also provided an excellent alarm system and could be used as a food source in a pinch. Dogs enjoyed staying with humans because of the shelter and food that early man provided. Early dogs were still very much pack animals and enjoyed the companionship that early humans also provided.
In the past, scientists believed that humans and dogs paired up approximately 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. They used clues found in archaeological records in order to make this estimation. This was the time just before the practice of agriculture became a part of the lives of early humans. In the beginning, dogs were tamed wolves that were then interbred for specific characteristics. Some of the earliest dog fossils show this transition from wolf to dog. Examples of bones which show this change include those found at Chauvet Cave in France and Mezhirich in the Ukraine.
Now there is some proof that wolf bones that were found with human bones may have been dogs in their earliest stages. Because they were not bred for specific characteristics until much later it is possible that the wolf bones could have been those of domesticated dogs as the DNA would not have changed overly much in early days. Scientists now believe that dogs may have been domesticated in some form as far back as 100,000 years ago.
Scientists have been able to pinpoint what some of the earliest dog breeds are as well. The genetic structure of these dogs shows the least amount of change from wolf genes although some of the breeds are surprising. Fourteen ancient dog breeds have been identified. They are: the Basenji, the Shar Pei, the Shiba Inu, the Chow Chow, the Akita Inu, the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, the Afghan Hound and the Saluki. The Saluki, in particular, is one of the oldest breeds. There are images of dogs which resemble salukis in Egyptian tombs dating as far back as 2134 BCE. They also appear on Sumerian carvings which hdate from between 7000 and 6000 BCE. Salukis are also connected to the Bible and to ancient China as well.
Scientists have also been able to determine that some dog breeds that were previously believed to be very old are actually more modern. These included the Pharaoh Hound, the Norwegian Elkhound and the Ibizan Hound. It is thought that these breeds were created in an attempt to recreate much older breeds that existed at one time.
It is believed that early dogs travelled to North America via the land bridge and likely accompanied early humans as domesticated creatures. Some of these became wild dogs that have traits that are remarkably similar to dingos and other ancient canines. These traits include a medium build, a face that is vaguely foxlike, ears that are large and upright and a tail that is crooked.