Most people look into their dog’s eyes and don’t think about anything more abstract than “You’ve never thanked me for picking up your poop.” Scientists have long sought answers for more profound thoughts like “Where did our dogs really come from?” And now they might have finally found the answer, kind of.
The origins of dogs are highly debatable, often tested and extremely complex. It was generally thought that dogs were domesticated 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, but studies continue to add data onto the long-running domestication debate.
In 2013, an international team of scientists dated domestication back more than 32,000 years. To carry this out, the team tested three Chinese indigenous dogs (the most primitive form of dog, closest to wild grey wolves), four grey wolves and three modern breeds (German shepherd, Belgium Malinois and Tibetan Mastiff).
The results propose various things. They justify that dogs originated from southeast Asia, due to southeast Asian dogs’ close genetic proximity to grey wolves. The DNA evidence also show dogs’ parallel evolution with humans, showing that the early population of dogs traveled toward northern China with humans, and later interbred before spreading to the Americas. This means we evolved with dogs, it’s in our genes.
More recently, in 2015, two scientists from the same study presented new research in which they studied indigenous dogs from Asia, village dogs from Africa, grey wolves and several modern breeds. This time they demonstrated that the origin of the dogs we know today lies in southeast Asia, 33,000 years ago.
But you can’t please everyone, can you? Many of these studies are up for debate, and some for good reason. According to biologist Gregor Larson, in an interview with The New York Times, the DNA for modern dogs has become too convoluted in the wake of Victorian breeding practices. Because so much modern dog DNA is used to trace the origins of domesticated dogs, Dr. Larson hopes to build a DNA database of ancient and modern dog DNA to get to the bottom of this ages old mystery.
There will be, undoubtedly, more research to come and questions to answer. But for now, at least we know two important things: dogs continue to evolve alongside us, and it’s been a very, very long time.