Pariah Dogs: 9 Ancient and Wild Dog Breeds

ancient and wild dog breeds illustration

Treehugger / Alex Dos Diaz

Modern dogs are household pets, farm helpers, service animals, and an integral part of human society. But throughout history, some breeds, known as pariah dogs, have remained feral. Unlike the pets we know and love, pariah dogs evolved without human intervention, and have therefore adapted for survival, rather than appearance or temperament. The number of breeds that qualify as pariahs is contested, and estimates range from 13 to 45. Some of these breeds have since been domesticated, while others remain half-wild living on the outskirts of human civilization. 

Here are nine pariah dog breeds with ancient and wild lineage.  

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Carolina Dog

A tan Carolina dog with a harness sits in the grass

Steve McDonald / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Carolina dog or American dingo was discovered in the 1970s living wild in isolated stretches of the southeast United States. Long mistaken as a stray, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin Jr. first saw it for what it was: a unique breed with its own defining characteristics. With a buff or ginger-colored coat and behaviors much closer to wild dogs than feral dogs, DNA testing eventually showed that the breed is more closely connected to primitive East Asian dogs than European dog breeds. The Carolina dog has since been domesticated and is now recognized as a pure breed by the United Kennel Club.

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Australian Dingo

Two dingos look toward the camera in a desert landscape

 Julie Fletcher / Getty Images

Like most pariah dogs, the Australian dingo's pedigree is a bit confused. Scientists cannot agree whether it is a unique subspecies of wolf, or a domesticated breed that returned to the wild thousands of years ago. Either way, the modern purebred dingo is content to live outside of human influence, hunting kangaroos, possums, and rabbits in packs. There also exist many dingo-dog hybrids as a result of interbreeding with domestic animals. As the number of hybrid animals increase, it's possible that pure dingos are on the decline. 

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A basenji standing on grass in front of a forest

 Maria Itina / Getty Images

The basenji is best known for being a "barkless dog" — it is largely silent, but when it does vocalize, it yodels. It originated in densely forested areas of the Congo Basin in Africa. 

The ancestors of the modern basenji lived with humans for thousands of years as a semiferal hunting dog. Depictions of dogs with basenji characteristics (the pricked ears and tightly curled tails) can be found in Egyptian tombs, revealing the species's ancient origins. 

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Mexican Hairless Dog

A hairless dog with a black coat looks at the camera

Anita Peeples / Getty Images

The Mexican hairless dog's standout feature is, of course, mentioned in its name. Its hairlessness is likely the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation that occurred at some point in its 3,000-year history as a breed. The mutation turned out to be beneficial, given its hot and humid tropical habitat. 

It wasn’t recognized as an official breed until the 1950s, when it became apparent that it would die out if not recognized and protected by breeders. 

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Native American Indian Dog

A Native American Indian dog sits on the grass with its tongue out

Rafal Pyznar / Flickr / CC0 1.0 

The Native American Indian dog has been a companion to the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains for thousands of years. It's a hardworking breed that has been used for many tasks, from guarding and hunting to hauling sleds, but modern domesticated animals are also desired as family pets. It's a medium-sized breed that looks similar to huskies, with large, perked ears, and a sable colored coat that varies from cream to gold and tan to black.

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Indian Pariah Dog

An Indian pariah dog look at the camera with its mouth open.

 Leo John / Getty Images

Perhaps the epitome of pariah dog breeds is the Indian pariah dog, which can be found across the Indian sub-continent. While ubiquitous on the streets of Indian streets, the desi dog, as it is also known, is not just a common stray, but a unique species with its own characteristics and distinct lineage. Thanks to its natural evolution, it's a hardy breed without many of the health issues that can plague poorly-bred pedigreed dogs. When domesticated, they tend to need little grooming and have little body odor. 

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An alopekis dog with two pups lies in the grass

S. Chleiounakis / Wikimedia Commons / GFDL

The alopekis is a small-statured pariah breed with origins in ancient Greece. Its existence is mentioned by classical writers like Aristotle, and images of these dogs can be found in pottery, carvings, and sculpture, including a terra cotta vessel dated to 3000 BCE. 

Unlike many modern breeds, their smaller stature isn’t the result of selective breeding, but instead was a gradual size reduction over its evolutionary history. This is obvious thanks to its normal proportions, and lack of issues such as bowed legs or overly long backs. 

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New Guinea Singing Dog

A pair of singing dogs in a small cabin

 Mark Newman / Getty Images

The New Guinea singing dog is a close relative of the Australian dingo, and little is known about its behavior in the wild. While it's regarded as one of the most primitive and ancient dog breeds, it hasn't been seen roaming the wild since the 1970s, and today only exists as a reintroduced species bred in captivity. It's a small, short-legged breed with an alert nature. It doesn't bark, but instead is known for "chorus howling," similar to coyotes and other wild dogs.

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Canaan Dog

Canaan dog, lying down
Tracy Morgan / Getty Images

The Canaan dog, also known as the Bedouin sheepdog, is a pariah dog that lives in much of the Middle East. According to tradition, it was an ancient companion to the Israelites that was left behind during the Jewish diaspora centuries ago. In the ensuing years, the dogs returned to the wild. Sadly, many of the remaining Canaan dogs were killed by the Israeli government in a fight against rabies in the early 1900s. Today, it is the national dog of Israel, and breeding programs are underway to boost the population. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Spitz and Primitive Types." Federation Cynologique Internationale Breeds Nomenclature.

  2. vonHoldt, Bridgett, et al. "Genome-Wide SNP and Haplotype Analyses Reveal a Rich History Underlying Dog Domestication." Nature, vol. 464, no. 7290, 2010, pp. 898-902., doi:10.1038/nature08837

  3. "Welfare of Dogs in Commercial Breeding Kennels." Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.