15 Adorable Asian Dog Breeds With History From Siberia to Japan and Everywhere in Between
The depth of the human-animal bond is endlessly fascinating. In fact, Asian dog breeds have an extensive history with people. Research indicates that humans migrated with dogs from East Asia to the New World more than 15,000 years ago, and some experts suggest that canines have been our boon companions for almost 25,000 years.
A Brief History of Asian Dog Breeds
Aaron Sams, Ph.D., is the director of research and development, scientific product at Embark Veterinary, which provides genetic information for dog breeders and DNA tests for pet parents. He tells Daily Paws that by 11,000 years ago, there were three major lineages of dogs:
- A Western Eurasian lineage, represented today in dogs primarily in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India.
- An East Asian lineage, now represented in the dingo, New Guinea singing dog, as well as several East Asian breeds such as the chow chow, Shar-pei, and Tibetan mastiff.
- An Arctic lineage, represented today in husky breeds, Alaskan malamutes, and a small amount of ancient American dog ancestry found in modern-day North American breeds such as the Chihuahua and xoloitzcuintli.
"Many of today's familiar breeds with Asian and Arctic origins can trace their origins back at least over 1,000 years—some quite a bit further," Sams says. "In contrast, most of the breeds that we know today with European origins were formed in the past 200 years, beginning with the origin of modern dog breeding practices in Victorian Europe." While there's a lot of diversity in European breeds (after all, retrievers don't look like bulldogs!) Sams adds they're still more genetically related to each other than they are to Asian dogs. "The division of European and Asian lineages was one of the earliest and deepest genetic splits."
In a word, cool. We think knowing this history makes choosing the right Asian dog breed for your family all the more interesting! Let's take a closer look at a few of them.
Central Asian Shepherd
The ancient Central Asian shepherd hails from modern-day Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. The breed is believed to have evolved on its own (rather than being bred) for more than 5,000 years. Also known as the Central Asian alabai, alabay, or ovcharka, this large, powerful breed is a diligent flock guardian and a calm, faithful furry doggo who, with the help of early socialization and positive reinforcement training, can adapt to family life.
Dedicated but independent, Sams says the Shiba Inu was nearly extinct after World War II. It regained popularity in 2008, when millions watched a live webcam of Shiba Inu puppies being born. This trusty Japanese dog breed, which originated around 300 BC, is a designated Nihon Ken: one of six indigenous dogs considered national natural monuments. Bright but slightly mischievous, Shiba Inu dogs follow their natural hunting instincts and dash away in a flash, so invest in a quality leash and fencing.
With heritage that dates back to 200 BC, the unique Chinese shar-pei has rolls of wrinkles, a 'hippopotamus' muzzle, and coarse, sandpaper fur (shar-pei means 'sand skin'). Be prepared for double takes on daily walks, especially since this loving but bold breed is rare in the U.S. She's probably not up for a bounce at the dog park, but always eager to play with you, especially when training with treats.
If your heart is set on a toy dog, the Japanese Chin might be your 'indoorsy' pup of choice. Sams says although they're Chinese in origin, these dogs were brought to Japan to serve as the companions of Japanese dignitaries. So they're obviously skilled in Laptime 101 and Advanced Fluffy Dog Bed, and even passed Cat Tolerance Level 2: perfect requirements for mature pet parents who want a sweet, low-maintenance pup.
One of the best Asian dog breeds for individuals with active lifestyles, a people-loving Siberian husky has two speeds: run and cuddle! Famous for his sledding abilities (and his tendency to talk back), breed historians believe his ancestors date back to Siberian Taimyr wolves in Northeastern Siberia.
And tick this box during your next trivia game: Sams says some huskies have distinctive blue eyes due to a genetic mutation that's different than Australian shepherds' merle gene mutation—likely because the Aussie has Eurasian roots.
Are Tibetan spaniels descended from the eponymous dogs of Spain? Nope. As their other name suggests, they're actually from the Himalayas of Tibet, where they guarded Buddhist monasteries more than 2,000 years ago (well, with a little help from their giant mastiff buddies below!) Friendly, smart, and affectionate, urban and apartment living is easy for them. But consult a veterinarian about how best to care for this charming smooshy-faced brachycephalic breed.
One of the biggest Asian dogs on our list (ever try to squeeze one into a car?), a Tibetan mastiff is brilliant, strong-willed, and an unstoppable guardian. According to legend, explorer Marco Polo once encountered a Tibetan mastiff and said it was as "tall as a donkey with a voice like a lion." Sounds about right. We'll take a 3XL dog crate please! Sams says this breed loves to be around the people they care about, and having one recently became a sign of social status in China.
Black Russian Terrier
Sams says Black Russian terriers were one of the first Russian purebreds to be revived after the Russian Revolution and World War II. Highly intelligent, they're prized working dogs in military and police departments. This means their work ethic is much better than ours and as such, they thrive with constant positive reinforcement training and extensive daily exercise. Oh! And they're not really terriers. They have about 17 breeds contributing to their genetic line.
Shih tzus have an intriguing 1,000 year-old Chinese breed backstory: one that includes monks, royal families … and Marco Polo (this dude again?). Whew! Considered one of the most popular Asian dog breeds—and consistently on the top 20 list in the U.S.—shih tzus are snuggly buds to just about every two- and four-legged creature in the house, but especially adore kids.
Fond of grooming fleet-footed pets? Then you'll swoon over an Afghan hound. Not only do these long-haired beauties reportedly predate Christianity, but as incredible sighthounds from Afghanistan, they can sprint up to 40 mph—faster than many racehorses! Reserved yet quite comical with their owners, Afghan hounds are also rather free-spirited with a strong prey drive, so extensive leash training helps both of you, even if you need to be on rollerblades to keep up.
An Akita is a treasured and nimble large breed originating in the mountainous northern regions of Japan. "They have webbed toes to help walk on snow by distributing their weight more evenly. Historically, they keep their front dew claws because they function as ice picks, helping them climb out of icy water," Sams says. Also one of the six distinguished Nihon Ken, Akitas are watchful, intelligent, and loyal working dogs keen on consistent training.
Nicknamed 'cloud dog', the agile and comedic Japanese spitz is one of the few Asian white dogs. But here's the kicker: she's actually an ancient lineage hybrid, as research shows the first of this breed was bred from the white German spitz, brought to Japan by way of Northeastern China sometime around 1920. She's one of the smartest dog breeds who loves to be active, so set the agenda with daily interactive games.
Oh sure, a Chinese crested maybe not the prettiest dog out there, but few pups are as darling and cheerful. They're super-snugglers and good dogs for seniors, too. While famed as small Asian dog breeds, genetics reveal they're likely cousins of the Mexican hairless dog or xoloitzcuintli (we sorta see the resemblance)—who might actually be from Africa. They're delightfully quirky, too. Sams says they're 'cat-like', preferring to sit in high places, and they have sweat glands, which allow them to cool off without panting.
Once known as the Russian wolfhound, an elegant borzoi (from the Russian word borzyi, which means swift) is another speedy pooch on this list—darting off at 35–40 mph. Exceptional sighthound hunters from as far back as the 15th century, they're also quite adept at nose work and dock diving. While they prefer to be active (Cold weather? Sure!) they're really not playful, and a tad aloof. One borzoi breeder described them as "not jump-through-hoop-type dogs", but they're mellow and sweet-tempered.