North America’s 1st dogs

The first dogs in America likely came here around 10,000 years ago with people from Siberia, according to a new study by an international team of researchers.

How these dogs arrived in the Americas and just what happened to them is becoming clearer.

(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)

Q. Welcome back Lawrence, just how did these dogs come to the Americas?

A. We know about humans in Siberia 10-thousand years ago as there are records showing people using dogs to hunt and for personal protection.
A. This new study proves that the wave of people entering the Americas over the land bridge that joined Siberia to Alaska during the mini ice age 10-thousand years ago brought dogs with them.
A. These dogs, like their humans, went on to inhabit all corners of the Americas – north, south and Central.

Q. Just like today, humans like to bring their dogs to every new place they explore. Do we know what these dogs looked like?

A. These ancient dogs may have looked a lot like present-day Australian dingo’s.

Q. So what happened to these dogs, are they still around?

A. Unfortunately not, these earlier pre-contact dogs almost completely disappeared following the arrival of European settlers, leaving almost no trace of their existence in more modern dogs.
A. When we compare ancient dog DNA to all other known dog/wolf DNA, we find that the closest relatives are Siberian Huskies, but we are talking less than 4 per cent.

Q. It is fascinating that such a huge population of dogs could have disappeared so rapidly. Do we know what caused their demise?

A. The study of DNA found in 71 ancient dog remains suggests that these dogs all carried a kind of cancer that still exists in dogs today, but it’s unclear if this cancer was the cause of their demise.
A. Amazingly though, it’s the only DNA connection between these earlier ancient arrivals and current dog species.

Q. Are you saying these ancient dogs passed on cancer to dogs that live today?

A. It’s a cancerous condition spread through the mating of dogs thousands of years ago, and likely started with a single ancient dog.

Q. It is amazing to think that these cancerous cells spread from one dog, and that it now exists in all dogs throughout the world.

A. Like earlier branches of our own family tree, many of the lines of evolution led nowhere.
A. But, in a weird way, the ancient dogs of America live on through these cancerous cells.