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Interactive: See how your favourite canine breeds are associated messages



Now known as the perennial family pet, the Labradoodle was invented in the 1990s as a low-allergen guide dog. The breed’s recent origins and Portmanteau name make it pretty obvious that Labradors and Poodles were mixed in the creation of the Labradoodle. But what about the other 400 or so dog breeds – how does a wolf become a Pomeranian?

Modern dogs originated tens of thousands of years ago (anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000) when humans domesticated an ancient relative of today’s wolves. Since then, people have been performing targeted, selective crossbreeding, initially creating dogs that specialize in herding, hunting, and guarding.

Then came the explosion of the Victorian race. In the mid-19th century there was a period of intense innovation and codification in dog breeding that resulted not only in a diversity of breeds but also in the very concept of “breed”. During this boom, different dog lines were purposely crossed to improve beneficial traits or to dilute undesirable ones. The crossbreeding was also carried out with the express aim of creating novel breeds and looking for aesthetic traits.

Many so-called designer breeds are unique. The exception is the Labradoodle, which was bred as a low-allergen guide dog.
Photo: Phil Crowder / Alamy

This created a chaotic, intertwined relationship between different types of dogs, with the details of a breed’s origin sometimes only recorded in oral history.

It wasn’t until a landmark genetic study was published in 2017 that we were able to get a clearer picture of how all of these races are related to one another.

An illustration showing a turnspit dog at work in a wheel near the ceilingA turnspit dog at work in a wheel near the ceiling. Turnspit dogs are now an extinct breed originally created for turning roasts.
Illustration: Henry Wigstead / Wikimedia

Researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute in the United States analyzed DNA from 161 breeds to create a pedigree for dog breeds. The groups of trees are divided into categories according to their common history. These groups, known as clades, reflect the fact that dogs, for much of their domestication history, were only known by the type of service they offered to humanity. The hunting dogs are a family with retrievers and setters, the herding dogs include the shepherds and shepherds.

Dr. Elaine Ostrander is the head of cancer genetics and comparative genomics at the institute and was the lead researcher of the 2017 study as part of the NHGRI’s canine genome project.

“We wanted to know how dog breeds relate to one another.” She said.

“We know that most races have only existed since Victorian times. In Europe there were breeders who wanted to create breeds that had a certain look or ability or personality. “

Many of the relationships make intuitive sense, she said.

“One of the things that matters is geographic location – where the breeds evolved,” she said.

“Function was certainly important too, and there is certainly a relationship between dogs of the same appearance as the Miniature and Standard Schnauzers.

“But there are always surprises, things that we might not expect.”

The study also presented analyzes showing the shadows of crossbreeding that hide in modern “purebred” dogs.

A German Shepherd is sitting on a benchAccording to researchers, the German Shepherd shares DNA with Italian dog breeds, including the sugarcane parator.
Photo: Ganna Aibetova / Alamy

While the genome of all dogs is 100% canine DNA, a small amount of the genome varies between breeds. These parts are responsible for the impressive range of variations in size, shape and behavior in domestic dogs. The researchers sequenced canine genomes at thousands of these variable locations. If blocks of them are identical across two different races, it suggests a historical cross between them.

These new results confirmed documented histories for some breeds. Heidi Parker, the study’s lead researcher and also a geneticist at NHGRI, said the results also showed evidence of crosses that were not documented or otherwise unexpected.

“We found that the German Shepherd was quite Italian,” she said. “I don’t know if we still know what the German Shepherd Dog story actually is other than that it’s one of the breeds that comes up with the most outcrosses to various things.”

Here we used the data from the genetic study to visualize the relationship between a single breed and all other breeds studied (where the relationship was above a certain threshold – see notes below for more details):

How closely is the German Shepherd Dog related to other breeds?

Displaying an index of kinship between races based on “haplotype sharing by ancestry” which measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor

Move the pointer or tap a dog to view more information


In this example, you can see that the German Shepherd Dog shares larger amounts of DNA with the Sugar Cane Paratore, the Berger Picard, and the Chinook. It is important to note that these graphics do not indicate the direction of the cross – just that two races are more or less closely related.

“We don’t know about directionality, it just tells us that there have been mixes and matches between races,” said Ostrander.

In some cases, much older racial histories have been confirmed. A legendary animal, the original Irish Wolfhound, had not been seen in nearly 100 years and was considered extinct. In the 1860s, George Augustus Graham set out to recreate it from existing lines of dogs, ranging from Scottish deer dog populations to a Great Dane for extra size.

How closely is the Irish Wolfhound related to other breeds?

Displaying an index of kinship between races based on “haplotype sharing by ancestry” which measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor

The results for the pug – originally from China – were surprising. Breeders have sprinkled a dash of pug genes into a variety of breeds around the world, presumably to make them smaller.

How closely is the pug related to other breeds?

Displaying an index of kinship between races based on “haplotype sharing by ancestry” which measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor

Here you can select each breed included in the study to see relationships with other races, or try one of the groups to get a bigger picture of racial connections.

How closely related
to other races?

Displaying an index of kinship between races based on “haplotype sharing by ancestry” which measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor. COO or USA indicates whether a dog from the country of origin (COO) or the USA was sampled

Change the dog breed or group

Move the pointer or tap a dog to view more information


* For more information, see the notes at the end of the article

One thing that is missing from this analysis are so-called “designer races” such as Goldendoodle or Groodle, Cavoodle and various other -oodles.

The reason for this, according to Parker, is that most of these dogs are not a continuous breed.

“Most of these breeds, almost all of them, are simply made as one-offs. But they don’t continue, ”she said. “The only group that really does that is the Labradoodles – the Australian Labradoodle Club.”

The NHGRI canine genome team specifically examined the Labradoodle and showed that it is genetically more poodle than Labrador.

Some dogs in the study, such as the dachshund or the gray wolf, had no ties to any other breed. Parker said there are several possible explanations for this.

“The sharing we identified in the paper was about 200 years old or less. Some breeds, like the Dachshund and the Dalmatian, don’t show bonds of sharing at this age, ”she said.

A dachshund dressed as a hot dog.A dachshund dressed as a hot dog.
Photo: Gregor Waschinski / AFP / Getty Images

“This could mean that these races were brought into their current form before that time and no one thought it appropriate to play with that form. It’s also possible that we don’t have the correct breeds in the dataset to see other additions.

“This is one of the reasons we keep adding more breeds, and especially regional breeds, to our tree to fill in the missing parts.”

Regarding the future of the Canine Genome Project, Ostrander says they are doing the same analysis between different breeds, using full genomes for comparison.

“One of the questions we really want to know the answer to is, what are the differences? What do you see that you haven’t seen before with this much higher resolution? “

  • The canine genome project is interested in collecting more samples from interesting or exotic dog breeds. You can email [email protected] to see if your sample could be useful for future research.

Notes and methods

Groups used in the figures are the 23 clades identified according to the analysis by Ostrander et al. Were stated, with cashless races being grouped into “other”.

Colors are mainly used to indicate if two dogs are in different classes rather than to identify the specific classes as it is very difficult to make a categorical color key with 23 colors.

The kinship index simply uses a scale of 1 to 100 based on the smallest base pair size match with the largest base pair size match. As in the original article, it only contains matches greater than 250,000 base pairs.

• This article was amended on October 26, 2020 to clarify that a boom in dog breeding occurred in the 19th century instead of the 18th century.

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