Interactive: see how your favourite dog breeds are related to each other | News

Now known as a permanent family pet, the Labradoodle was invented as a low-allergen guide dog in the 1990s. The breed’s recent origin and Portmanteau name make it pretty obvious that Labradors and Poodles were intermingled 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 (somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000) when humans domesticated an ancient relative of today’s wolves. Since then, targeted, selective crossbreeds have been carried out and dogs initially bred that specialized in herding, hunting and guarding.

Then came the Victorian race explosion. There was a period of intense innovation and codification in dog breeding in the mid-19th century that spawned not only a variety of breeds but the concept of the “breed” itself. During this boom, different dog lines were purposely crossed to improve beneficial traits or to dilute undesirable ones. Crossing was also carried out with the express purpose of creating new breeds and selecting them according to aesthetic characteristics.

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

This created a messy, 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 got a clearer picture of how all of these races are related to one another.

An illustration showing a rotisserie dog at work in a wheel near the ceiling

A rotisserie dog at work in a wheel near the ceiling. Rotisserie dogs are now an extinct breed that was originally created to turn fried meat.
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 known only by the kind of service they provided to humanity. The hunting dogs are a family made up of retrievers and setters, the herding dogs include the shepherds and shepherds.

Dr. Elaine Ostrander is head of the Department of Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics at the institute and led the study in 2017 as part of the NHGRI’s dog genome project.

“What we wanted to know was how dog breeds relate to one another?” She said.

“We know that most races have only been around since the Victorian era. There were breeders in Europe who wanted to create breeds that had a special appearance or a special 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 with the same appearance as the Miniature Schnauzer and the Standard Schnauzer.

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

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

A German Shepherd is sitting on a bench

According to researchers, the German Shepherd shares DNA with Italian dog breeds, including the Cane Paratore.
Photo: Ganna Aibetova / Alamy

While the genomes of all dogs are 100% canine DNA, a small portion of the genome varies between breeds. These parts are responsible for the impressive range of variation 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 in 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 crossbreeds that were not documented or otherwise unexpected.

“We found out that the German Shepherd was pretty much Italian,” she said. “I don’t know if we already know what the history of the German Shepherd is, other than that it is one of the breeds that has the most outcrossing in 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 the notes below for more details):

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

Showing a kinship index between two races based on “identical haplotype division” that 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 Cane Paratore, Berger Picard, and Chinook. It is important to note that these graphs do not indicate the direction of the cross – just that two races are more or less closely related.

“We don’t know the alignment, it just tells us that it was racially mixed and matched,” Ostrander said.

In some cases, much older breeding histories could be confirmed. A legendary animal, the original Irish Wolfhound, hadn’t been seen in nearly 100 years and was considered extinct. In the 1860s, George Augustus Graham set out to recreate it from existing dog lines, starting with the Scottish Deerhound population and sprinkling in a Great Dane for extra size.

How closely is the Irish Wolfhound related to other breeds?

Showing a kinship index between two races based on “identical haplotype division” that measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor

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

How closely is the pug related to other breeds?

Showing a kinship index between two races based on “identical haplotype division” that measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor

Here you can select any of the races included in the study to see relationships with other races, or try one of the groups to see a bigger picture of the relationships between the races.

How closely related
to other races?

Shows a kinship index between two races based on “identical haplotype division by ancestry,” which measures identical sections of DNA inherited from a common ancestor. COO or USA indicates whether a dog was taken from the breed’s country of origin (COO) or the United States

Change the breed or group of dogs

Move the pointer or tap a dog to view more information


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

What is missing in this analysis are so-called “designer races” such as the 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 created as one-offs. But they don’t go on, ”she said. “The only group that really does that is the Labradoodles – the Australian Labradoodle Club.”

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

Some dogs in the study, such as the dachshund or gray wolf, had no association with other breeds. Parker said there were several possible explanations for this.

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

A dachshund disguised as a hot dog.

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

“This could mean that these races were established in their current form prior to that time and no one thought it was right to play with this form. It is also possible that we simply do not have the correct breeds in the dataset to see other additions.

“That is one of the reasons why we are adding more breeds and especially regional breeds to our family tree to fill in the missing parts.”

As for 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 answer is: What are the differences? What do you see that you have not yet seen in 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

The groups used in the figures are the 23 clades identified in the analysis by Ostrander et al. where cladeless races are grouped into “other”.

Colors are mainly used to indicate whether there are two dogs in different clades rather than identifying the specific clade as it is very difficult to create 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. Only matches over 250,000 base pairs are included as in the original article.

• This article was amended on October 26, 2020 to clarify that a boom in dog breeding happened in the 19th century, not the 18th century.

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