The oldest known dog remains are from Israel, where dogs have been loved by humans, and buried with them, for over 12,000 years. Middle Eastern village dogs were instrumental in dog evolution. From the Middle East, dogs spread to Africa and Europe, where eventually they were bred to become most of the hundreds of dog breeds we know today. Dogs that remained in the Middle East took on the iconic form of the saluki, sleek and cool under the desert sun.
Illustration courtesy of the Swedish Kennel Club
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While most traditional Muslim societies frown on allowing dogs to enter one’s home, many people in the Middle East love dogs and they are often used as guard dogs, as well as for shepherding.
The Middle East has served as a crossroads of dog civilization, just as it has with humans. From dogs’ original domestication in Central Asia at least 15,000 years ago, they spread quickly to the Middle East. In fact, the Middle East contains the oldest archaeological evidence of dogs: a 12,000-13,000 year old burial site in Israel where an old man has been cradling his puppy for over twelve millennia. It’s clear dogs have been loved in the Middle East for a long time!
Once they arrived in the region, we know from genetic evidence that the dogs there bred with Middle Eastern wolves, injecting new diversity not seen in Asian dogs. It is thought that these wolves added the genes responsible for small body size and dwarf limbs now seen in many smaller breeds.
After interbreeding with wolves, some Middle Eastern village dogs migrated to Africa, giving rise to African village dogs, basenjis, and other African breeds. Middle Eastern dogs also spread to Europe, where they lived for thousands of years before eventually some of them became the originators of most of the current dog breeds found on Earth, like the German Shepherd Dog and Collie.
The village dogs that stayed in the Middle East often took on a lankier form suited to the desert heat in the Arabian Peninsula. These dogs led to the Canaan dog, an ancient race of dogs that still exists, as well as to breeds such as the Saluki and Afghan Hound. Many of their descendants still exist as village dogs throughout the region, living in the shadows of people and their habitations (if for no other reason, than to find some shade!).
Middle Eastern Village Dogs on Embark
Explore some Embark dogs that share Middle Eastern Village Dog ancestry.
Most Related Breed
Salukis are very fast, very ancient dogs. Some believe they were the first domesticated breed. Salukis are sighthounds, but today they are mainly companion dogs. Today, this is a particularly rare breed.