Man and dog have been best friends for so long that by the end of the Ice Age there were five different types of dog, new research has found.
After molecular evidence showed all dogs are descended from the gray wolf, the new findings have shed more light on how different lineages of canine went on to develop.
Diversity among dogs first developed while humans were still hunters and gatherers, according to a study conducted by the Francis Crick Institute at the University of Oxford.
Dogs were domesticated around 15,000 years ago and spread across large parts of the world within 4,000 years, according to Dr Anders Bergström, a researcher at the Crick’s ancient genomics laboratory and the lead author of the study.
“We can see in the genomes that by at least 11,000 years ago, they had already started to diversity into distinct lineages and spread across large parts of the world,” he told The Telegraph.
“We don’t really know how dogs were able to spread so quickly across the world, but by the end of the Ice Age dogs were already present throughout much of the northern hemisphere.”
He said it is still “a bit of a mystery” as to how dogs dispersed so rapidly without any large-scale human migrations, but they nonetheless developed different genetic profiles on different continents.
The study also found that dogs have become less genetically diverse throughout Europe, with ancient European beasts having displayed much greater diversity than dogs today, although it is not yet understood how this process happened.
Dr Bergström added that “there is a correlation” between the different histories of dogs and humans, although these occasionally diverged when humans migrated to different parts of the world without their four-legged friends in tow.
“There is a correlation, so dogs would often follow humans as humans moved and migrated and mixed in different parts of the world,” he said.
The findings were published yesterday in the journal Science.