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These Surprising Dog Breeds Are Like Cousins, but They Don't Look Like It

November 17, 2017

Story at-a-glance

  • Despite their drastically varying appearances, it’s thought that all dog breeds share a common ancestor, the gray wolf
  • Different dog breeds came to be as people around the world increasingly bred them to favor different characteristics
  • Many dog breeds are closely related that you might not expect, including miniature schnauzers and black poodles, Lhaso Apso and Tibetan terriers and Great Danes and greyhounds

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Dogs come in so many different shapes and sizes that it's hard to believe they all belong to the same species, but they, in fact, do. It's believed that all dogs share a common ancestor, the gray wolf. It's also thought that there was only one major "domestication event," during which a wolf became friends with humans. All modern-day dogs appear to have come from the same lineage dating back to an ancient wolfdog.1

The burning question then is, how did so many different dog breeds come to be? People probably began breeding dogs with characteristics they preferred, such as a more docile personality or faster speed. However, while dogs have been domesticated for more than 14,000 years (the exact date and location is up for debate), most dog breeds are relatively young, having been developed only in the last few hundred years.

Eventually, as different groups of people preferentially bred dogs with increasingly different characteristics, many different breeds came to be, from the tiny Chihuahua to the giant Great Dane.

Today, the World Canine Organization (also known as the Fédération Cynologique Internationale) recognizes more than 330 different dog breeds.2 You may be surprised by the close ties between dog breeds that appear very different. Vetstreet compiled several such examples of dog breeds that are related.3

These Dog Breeds Are Surprisingly Closely Related

Dogue de Bordeaux, Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff and Tibetan Mastiff

This group of dogs are believed to come from the Tibetan Mastiff, one of the oldest known breeds, which is thought to be the common ancestor of all modern Mastiff breeds.

Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier

These dogs appear similar with their long flowing coats, but the name "terrier" may fool you. Tibetan terriers are not true terriers. Instead, they're closely related to the Lhasa Apso — so closely related, in fact, that they were once considered to be the same breed.

Havanese, Bichon Frise, Maltese, Coton de Tulear and Bolognese

They're small, white and fluffy with straight or wavy fur and they all belong to the Bichon family of dogs. There are, for the record, other small, white fluffy dogs that do not belong to this family.

Keeshond, Chow Chow, Norwegian Elkhound, Finnish Spitz, Pomeranian

The Spitz family of dogs shares a characteristic fluffy coat and curled tail, and they're among one of the older dog breeds, dating back several thousand years.

Miniature Schnauzer, Standard Schnauzer, Affenpinscher and Black Poodle

Miniature schnauzers are the result of breeding a standard schnauzer with the smaller Affenpinscher and black poodle. Reportedly, this was done to create a farm dog that was smaller in size and therefore less expensive to feed and keep.

Komondor and Caucasian Ovcharka

While the Komondor (Hungarian sheepdog) has a striking corded coat that's much different from the Caucasian Ovcharka's fluffy fur, both dogs have long been valued as livestock-guarding dogs. In fact, another name for the Caucasian Ovcharka is the Caucasian shepherd dog.

Leonberger, Saint Bernard, Newfoundland and Great Pyrenees

The Leonberger working dog is part Saint Bernard, part Newfoundland and part Great Pyrenees. These large, muscular dogs were valued as guard dogs and today make loyal family companions.

Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Mastiff and Greyhound

Great Danes are thought to be a mix of the Irish wolfhound, the Mastiff and the greyhound.

Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel and Pug

With their quirky facial expressions and pug nose, you might not be surprised that the Brussels griffon is part pug, but this breed is also believed to be part English toy spaniel and even part German terrier.

Cesky Terrier, Scottish Terrier and Sealyham Terrier

Many terriers are related, although sometimes the family tree isn't entirely clear. This isn't the case with Cesky terriers, which were created in 1949 in the former Czech Republic by breeding a Scottish terrier and Sealyham terrier.

Are You Curious About Your Dog's Lineage?

More than half of U.S. dogs are mutts,4 and if yours is among them you may be curious about which breeds make up your precious pooch. Many veterinarians offer DNA testing and you can also find do-it-yourself kits available over-the-counter at pet food stores. Many owners find these tests yield surprisingly odd results. One survey conducted by Mars Veterinary headquartered in Rockland, Maryland revealed the most common breeds found in U.S. mixed breed dogs included:

  1. German shepherd
  2. Labrador retriever
  3. Chow Chow
  4. Boxer
  5. Rottweiler

Poodles, American Staffordshire terriers, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels and Siberian huskies also made a common appearance. Finding out your dog's genetic background may satisfy your curiosity while at the same providing valuable health and behavioral information about your pet.

If your dog loves to herd, dig or run, it could be because he's part Australian cattle dog, dachshund or greyhound, respectively. If you find out your dog is a good part boxer or giant schnauzer, meanwhile, he may be at increased risk of developing cancer, while dogs with a large part Dalmatian may be at risk of allergies. Cavalier mixes may be more prone to heart murmurs.

Knowing what breeds make up your dog's DNA allows you to customize a lifestyle and nutrition program that takes advantage of nutrigenomics, or down-regulating negative genetic potential through wise dietary choices. Armed with this knowledge, you can talk to your integrative veterinarian about the best foods, supplements and exercise (mental and physical) to help your dog lead a long and healthy life.

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Sources and References

  • 1 Live Science August 5, 2010
  • 2 Psychology Today May 23, 2013
  • 3 VetStreet September 17, 2015
  • 4 Today April 4, 2011
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