The elevated status of dogs in our society means that there is a fair amount of interest in dog-related topics. For instance, research has revealed that sled dogs could be the oldest dog breed that still exists in the present time, seeing as how their predecessors separated from the rest of the species around 9,500 years ago. Having said that, the very nature of the topic means that there is still much that remains unknown.
What Are Sled Dogs?
For starters, some people might be wondering what a sled dog is supposed to be. If so, they should know that sled dogs aren’t a single breed but rather a number of breeds with a shared lineage from Arctic areas. Some examples include but are not limited to Alaskan huskies, Alaskan malamutes, and Greenland dogs.
Based on their name, it should come as no surprise to learn that sled dogs provided an important means of transportation through otherwise inaccessible environments. This was until the 20th century, which was when they were replaced by a combination of trucks, airplanes, and snowmobiles. Other breeds have gone extinct when bereft of their intended purpose, so it is fortunate that sled dogs managed to find a new niche in recreational sledding instead. As such, while modern breeders choose for a different combination of characteristics for different times, sled dogs are still very much sled dogs.
In any case, we know that sled dogs are so ancient because scientists have managed to dig up dog remains that were well-preserved enough for their DNA to be compared with their successors’ DNA. Apparently, they were expecting to find some kind of precursor to dogs. However, they found the earliest known example of diversification among dogs, which is actually much more interesting because of the light that it could shed on the domestication of the dog. Besides that, it is interesting to note that the dog remains showed a number of adaptations that made them better-suited to their environment than otherwise possible. One example was an improved ability to survive on a high-fat diet, which makes sense when one remembers that sled dogs worked with humans who survived by hunting marine mammals with lots and lots of blubber. Another example was an improved ability to regulate their own body temperature, which was useful for surviving the cold as well as cooling off after a period of strenuous exertion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these characteristics can still be found in these animals’ modern counterparts.
How Did Sled Dogs Come into Existence?
Moving on, we know much about the domestication of the dog, but there is even more that remains to be uncovered by interested individuals. In the meantime, scientists have come up with various theories to explain what has been found so far, which is necessary because we have no more than a very limited window into these events. After all, the domestication of the dog happened thousands and thousands of years before the invention of the written word, meaning that interested individuals are reliant on scraps of the distant past that are not just fortunate enough to be preserved but also fortunate enough to be dug up.
For starters, it seems reasonable to say that the dog was domesticated from Eurasian wolves. We haven’t been able to confirm this beyond all doubt, but we have very good reason to believe that this is what happened. Having said that, it doesn’t seem as though dogs were domesticated from the ancestors of one of the Eurasian wolf species that can still be found in the present time, which suggests that particular species died out at some point. Naturally, there is much interest in exactly what dogs were domesticated from, but this can’t be answered until a more fundamental mystery has been solved.
Basically, we don’t know either when or where dogs were domesticated. However, interested individuals have proposed a number of scenarios based on the available evidence. For instance, one scenario says that dogs were domesticated not once but twice, which is an extraordinary claim because domesticated species are domesticated once before being spread outwards by humans. This scenario is reliant on evidence that both modern dogs from the east and modern dogs from the west can trace their origins to an older population of dogs from the east. Since the eastern dogs are more genetically diverse than the western dogs, this suggests that the eastern dogs existed earlier whereas the western dogs are descended from a relatively small number of eastern dogs who crossed the distance between the regions. However, the whole thing is complicated by the fact that the split is believed to have happened sometime between 6,400 and 14,000 years old, which is later than the oldest dog remains found in both the east and the west. Under the circumstances, it seems as though dogs were indepedently domesticated in both the east and the west. However, modern dogs are overwhelmingly descended from the former group rather than the latter group, presumably because members of the former group effectively replaced the latter when they managed to reach the west.
Having said that, this scenario is far from being universally accepted. For one, it doesn’t perfectly explain everything. To name an example, if dogs indeed made their way from the east to the west, there should be evidence of them heading westwards bit by bit over time. So far, there is not enough evidence to support such an occurrence. Indeed, there might not ever be such evidence because such are the complexities of piecing together the past using nothing but incomplete discoveries. Besides this, it should be mentioned that there are other scenarios as well. One such scenario is that dogs were indeed first domesticated in the east. However, this scenario says that there never was an independently domesticated group of dogs in the west. Instead, those dogs were either not dogs or just eastern dogs who managed to make their way west even earlier. Other such scenarios suggest origin points that range from the west to somewhere in Central Asia.
In any case, no matter how dogs were domesticated, they have been the constant companions of humanity ever since. As a result, when humans went to Arctic areas, their dogs went with them. There, those dogs developed into a separate branch thanks to their environment, eventually leading to the sled dogs of today.