This is your dog's ancestral birthplace

Pack of dogs in 1908
(Image credit: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Whether you own a chihuahua, a German shepherd, an English mastiff, or a Russian wolfhound, one thing is fairly certain — your dog's ancestors are from Central Asia. In one of the largest and most diverse studies of dog DNA ever conducted, researchers at Cornell University worked with a group of international scientists to analyze 4,500 dogs from 161 breeds and 549 scavengers, or "village dogs" (who make up 75 percent of Earth's one billion dogs), from 38 countries. The results indicated that domesticated dogs likely originated in and around Nepal and Mongolia, just as ancient humans originated in East Africa.

It's been at least 15,000 years since "all dogs alive today" diversified and dispersed out of Central Asia, researcher Dr. Adam R. Boyko told The New York Times. However, while the DNA points back to dogs sharing a common ancestor in Central Asia, researchers can't entirely rule out the possibility that an even older canine ancestor was domesticated somewhere else and then traveled to Central Asia, where it diversified into the breeds we know today. Likewise, other dog populations could have been domesticated elsewhere in the world before going extinct.

While gray wolves have long been agreed upon as the ancestors of today's dogs, their modern origin had been previously guessed as the Middle East, Europe, or South China. "They hitched themselves to us, which was a pretty good gamble as it turned out, because there are about a billion dogs in the world today and probably not even 10 million wolves," Boyoko told the BBC.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.