Indigenous Dogs of America
Category_The Wild Times

History of Indigenous Dogs of North America

by Andrew Ehlert

Around 16,000 years ago, humans from Siberia crossed the Bering land bridge to settle North and South America. The domesticated dog didn't arrive on the scene for another 6,000 years, just in time to avoid the Bering land bridge's collapse, but archaeological evidence suggests that humans and domesticated dogs coexisted for thousands of years. The modern day domestic dog was greatly influenced by the American Indigenous people and their special bond with dogs.

The History of Dogs In Native American Communities

Domesticated dogs have been important parts of native communities for thousands of years. Dogs helped humans hunt and transport goods, they were sources of food and warmth through the cold winters. Dogs also played an important role in spiritual ceremonies for many tribes across North America.

Different breeds of dogs were seen among different Native American communities. Genetically, the Indigenous dog is very similar to Siberian huskies which highlights their history with human migration across the Bering land bridge from Siberia and Asia to modern day Alaska. Nowhere was the dog more prevalent than in North America, where it has been found buried alongside its human owners since prehistoric times.

The first signs of domesticated dogs within indigenous peoples of the Americas comes from nearly 10,000 ago in Danger Cave, Utah. A small pup was found buried with a human in the caves which symbolizes how close the relationship between humans and dogs were during this time. The dog had been wrapped in woven fabric and placed under the left arm of the deceased.

The first dogs within North America are thought to come from Siberian lineage but some dated studies believe that some of these dogs came from domesticated North American Gray Wolves. Most modern studies have connected the lineage DNA similarities between the ancient Siberian dog breeds with the domesticated dogs common within indigenous communities. These dogs played a huge role in the survival and success of indigenous peoples during this time period.

Hunter gatherers began to settle down in small communities and began farming, which led these people to trade more frequently with different tribes. With trading came the birth of new breeds of dogs. These tribes would import dogs specifically to fulfill their needs. Some breeds of indigenous dogs were used for hunting, others helped with pulling farm equipment, others were used as companions, and others even had a larger religious significance.

These dogs were significant in the communities of the indigenous Americans, but during the 15th century, many of these breeds began to slowly go extinct because they were being replaced by dogs of European descent when European settlers began colonizing Inidiginous people and their land. But there are a few modern dog breeds that share common DNA with their native ancestors such as the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Greenland Dogs, and a few other modern dog breeds.

Modern Dog Breeds That Derive From Indigenous Communities

There are only a few dog breeds that are direct descendants from the domesticated dogs prevalent thousands of years ago in North America. Unfortunately, many ancient dog breeds went extinct because the Europeans brought their own dog breeds to North America which also brought over diseases that pre-contact domesticated dogs were simply unequipped to fend off. During this period, many Europeans refused to let European dogs mate with the native dogs in order to keep the bloodline of their own dogs clean.

This slowly eradicated many native dog breeds and only left a few breeds behind. Below are a few of the most well known dog breeds that’s lineage survived through this period:

The Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky lineage comes from Northern Asia, most notably Siberia. It is believed that the original ancient Siberian Husky genome migrated to North America over the Bering Strait Land Bridge during the Last Glacial Maximum (between 16,000 and 20,000 years ago). This ancient genome separated from ancient wolves and overtime became domesticated by indigenous communities. The breed shares many characteristic similarities with the ancient Taimyr wolf of North Asia.

The breed was incredibly important to indigenous communities in North America as a reliable and affectionate working dog breed. They were commonly used as sled dogs but also served as guard dogs and helped with agricultural farming.

The Alaskan Malamute

The Alaskan Malamute genetics is thought to come from the Chukotka sled dogs that were native to ancient Siberia. They were bred specifically for their pulling power and capacity to carry heavy weights with relative ease.

Like the Siberian Husky, the Malamute was also used as a working dog that helped with hunting, farming and herding throughout various communities. As the breed became more domesticated, it became more common to see this breed within the Northern parts of North America but also other areas within the continent.

Greenland Dogs

Greenland Dogs were brought to North America by the Thule People who come from different parts of Greenland and Siberia. They were the first known group to have reared this dog breed. These dogs are often used to keep polar bears away from hunting communities because of their power, resilience and aggressiveness.

This dog breed still remains incredibly important to many Inuit communities throughout North America, Siberia, and Greenland because of its ability to adapt to the cold climate.

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