The domestic dog (Canis familiaris) is descended from the wolf (Canis lupus), and they have been living in association with people for thousands of years.
Genetic evidence suggests that Native Americans and Europeans domesticated dogs independently, and that North American pre-contact dogs were almost completely replaced by dogs that came over on European ships.
Before Europeans arrived in North America, dogs were used for many purposes:
- they were draft animals in the plains as well as the high Arctic
- they were bred for wool like sheep and their hair was used to make blankets
- there were hairless dogs that were used as living hot-water bottles to ease achy joints
- they were eaten
- they were important in religion
- they were buried in graveyards like people.
Dog remains are often found in Native American archaeological sites. For example, archaeological evidence suggests that the Thule people, who are ancestors of the Inuit, used sled dogs in the North American Arctic some 1000 years ago.
The earliest probable dog remains found in North America are about 8700 to 14 000 years old. These dogs were medium-sized and likely used in hunting. Dogs of this time-period and region are not very common.
- 10 200 year-old remains were found in Colorado, U.S.A., at the Jones Miller site
- 11 000 to 14 000 year-old remains were found in Wyoming, U.S.A., at the Agate Basin site
- 8700 to 9300 year-old remains were found in Wyoming, U.S.A., at the Horner site.