Throughout the history of developing specific dog characteristics and types there have been many breeds that have become foundation breeds and used in further enhancing and developing other types of dogs. There have also been very old breeds that have become extinct or virtually extinct, at least in their original lines, due to out breeding or geographic isolation. Other breeds have become less popular because another dog breed became more popular, more effective within the role or simply a more desirable dog. All of these issues are possible reasons for the replacement of the ancient and original breeds with new breeds.
It is also important to consider how human desires and wants have affected the ancient types of breeds and how they have been adjusted over time. Most dogs, regardless of their type, group or characteristics are now kept as pets and companions, as opposed to the hunters, protectors, herders and working animals they were originally bred as. As human demands for dogs changed, some breeds became more obsolete and less desirable in modern settings, resulting in the decline in numbers and the decrease in attention and emphasis on the breed. When the last few devoted breeders stop breeding these dogs, eventually these specific dogs will also be lost.
Thankfully for the many admirers of some of the ancient and oldest breeds, there is increasing interest in developing and maintaining numbers of these types of dogs. One of the reasons is that the original breeds, once that have been kept genetically isolated so they are considered to be "pure" lines, often can be used to correct genetic problems within current breeds. Since many of the purebred lines originally were inbred or bred back within the same line, genetic conditions are very common. Going back to the original stock within the breed can help correct these problems without significantly changing the appearance, temperament or behavioral aspects that make the specific dog type unique.
In a recent genetic study of 85 different breeds of dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club, DNA tests showed that 14 of these breeds have genetic markers very similar to that of the wolf. This information has allowed researchers to identify these 14 breeds as some of the oldest, however it does not mean that they are the only ancient breeds. Some of the true ancient breeds are no longer in existence as they have been inbred with so many other lines. One example of this is the Molosser type of dog. These dogs are now considered to be the foundation stock for most of the Mastiff type breeds, but also factored heavily in the development of the Boxer, Old English Bulldog, Newfoundland as well as the Fila Brasileiro.
Originally the Molosser was used as a fighting, pack and war dog, but also as a protector, hunter and guardian. These dogs literally form the foundation of so many of the common breeds today that their traits are seen in most of the large and giant breeds. Typical Molosser traits include the wide, flat skull, thick, short neck, heavy bones, long pendant ears and relatively short and square muzzle. Other traits include a wide chest, heavy girth and muscular frame. These dogs tend to be calm and mild mannered when not protecting, but fiercely loyal when defending their families and property.
The breeds tested through the AKC registered dogs fell roughly into the northern types of dogs, also known as the spitz type. They are almost all from Siberia, Japan, China as well as Africa and the Middle East. The Alaskan Malamute was an exception to this statement, since it originated in the Arctic. The other identified ancient breeds include the Chow Chow, Akita Inu, Sheba Inu, Pekingese, Afghan Hound, Basenji, Saluki, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Shar-Pei, Tibetan Terrier, Samoyed and the Siberian Husky. Defining characteristics of these breeds include the curled up tail, dense coats and strong ability to interact with humans as companion pets and working dogs. Some, like the Husky and Malamute are still fairly similar in general appearance to the wolf, while the Saluki, Shih Tzu and the Pekingese bear very little physical resemblance to their wild ancestor.
There are many other ancient breeds of dogs however, since the AKC or the other major Kennel Clubs do not recognize all breeds. For example, there is a considerable amount of controversy over the exact origin of the group of small, vermin hunting terriers that sprung up throughout Great Britain. There is little doubt when you compare many of these breeds a common ancestor is obvious, but exactly which one is the foundation stock and which ones are modifications on the original is not completely understood. It is known that there was a Paisley Terrier, also known as a Clydesdale Terrier, which is now fully extinct but was likely used in development of the modern Skye and Yorkshire Terrier lines.
There have been other breeds and types of dogs that have almost been lost due to issues with wars and natural disasters, especially the breeds in Europe during World War l and World War ll. One breed that has made an amazing recovery since almost full extinction in World War l is the magnificent Bouvier des Flanders. These dogs were used to carry messages and supplies to the front lines, and through their service in the War most of the breeding stock was simply lost to injury and death. Breeders in the country of Belgium that were able to save some limited breeding stock from military use managed to keep the numbers up. Amazingly the breed was again decimated in World War ll because of an order by Adolph Hitler to destroy the breed. Apparently one of the Bouvier des Flanders he was examining to use in a military breeding program bit him, resulting in the order to destroy the breed. Only Bouviers outside of Germany, mostly again in Belgium, managed to survive.
One other example of recreating an ancient breed is the wonderful companion pet the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This small breed was actually fully extinct when, in 1920 at the Cruft's Dog Show in England, an American by the name of Roswell Eldridge offered a substantial prize to any breeder that could reproduce a dog like those pictured in the old master's paintings. Within just 20 years a new breed was formed, replicating an old, extinct breed in physical description as well as temperament.
With increased interest in DNA testing and tracing dog lines and breeds, there will be further information to share in the upcoming years about how old or how new the breeds of today actually are.
Other articles under "Rare and Unusual Dog Breeds"