The “common dog” is a generic name first used by ancient American dog scholar Grover Allen about 100 years ago, to indicate a a very widespread type of dog that lived in North America before the 16th century and has kept up a presence ever since. They all tend to look more like wolves than any AKC or kennel club breed of dog, because they were never bred away from that general archetype, but they are clearly not wolves or wolf hybrids. They are just ordinary dogs with no specialized type or breeding. They are what any dog population will devolve to, if left to shift for themselves with no human intervention in breeding them. They are more like village dogs or pariah dogs in other areas of the world than any specially bred line of dogs would be. Many tribes had special lines of dogs, but common dogs do not fit that category. They are just the lowest common denominator in dog breeding with no special breeding at all. The native American common dogs always had upright ears, no special bend to the tail, and could come in about any color.
There have been some efforts made to seek out the remnants of the original native dog populations untouched by European dog blood and establish a line directly descended from original native stock, but those dogs are no longer common dogs, if they ever were. They are from plains dog stock, I think. And that stock is not the quite the same as the common dog. Though they have a similar type, the common dog has never been the recent subject of special breeding efforts to restore the type. In fact, the only way to “restore” the common dog type is to make sure that no special lines are bred into it. There is also some native dog breeder who used wolf hybrid stock in an effort to recreate something, but that is not the same as seeking out actual Indian dogs. Only genetic studies will determine if the special lines of native-descended stock have similarities to the NA dog clades first noted by early genetic studies. I hope I am still alive when this work is done, for I am interested in it.
But in the meanwhile, I also see modern mixed-breeds who follow the old type in looks,
but no special claims are made about them.All they ever get is the husky/shepherd label. At first, I took these claims at their word, that they were husky/shepherd crosses, but the sheer numbers of such crosses had me baffled. It is as though a lot of people wanted this cross and bred for it, but that is a really weird coincidence in my mind. They are just so many of the crosses around, why isn’t there a group of breeders advocating for this designer cross if they are breeding for it?
Since I don’t have genetic testing resources to test my questions, I can only go by phenotypes (physical appearance) not genotypes, which would differentiate between modern lookalikes and the old type. The phenotypes say a lot, however. 100 years ago, all there were were phenotypes, hardly anyone knew about genotypes and certainly none of those people were in the dog world.
Perhaps there is something else going on, instead in this common dog process. This blog traces my efforts to check it out. If some of these dogs ID’d as husky/shepherds are really just common dogs whether of original Indian stock or not, I want to find out if I can get a good enough argument together to allow others to entertain my ideas without thinking I am just another crazy old dog lady who is not looking at evidence, but making it up from whole cloth. or worse, claiming to be an authentic breeder of such dogs.
I have had an interest in native American dogs since the 60′s, when I acquired one from my “adopted” mom, Stella Leach, a very well known enrolled Colville/Lakota activist of Alcatraz and other fame, who knew as much about Indian dogs as anyone else I know of. She was my elder/teacher about native dogs and a few other things for many years before Pferd the third, published in 1987. By that publication date, my dogs were old, and I just did not have the resources to become a breeder. So now, I know some of my dog’s descendents who live in my local area, but have not owned or bred myself, since the 1980′s. I am not a breeder and have no vested interest in making the observations I make in this blog. I am just curious and want to learn what I can about the old dogs -and the current ones who look like the old type.
It is my speculation that this unrefined ordinary dog would not have many, if any, recessives changing their looks from the standard original dog model, a domesticated wolf. Get rid of all the doubled recessives in a dog population and you would get this generic dogwolf type, the common dog. Don’t include any semi-dominant mutated traits in this mix, only the throwbacks of such matings would qualify as common dogs.
My evidence is pretty thin, but it has a lot of interrelationships. My biggest evidence is the sheer number of husky/shepherds crosses who don’t really look much like either parental type. Some of these guys really are husky/shepherd crosses, but maybe not all of them show an actual first or second generation breed cross in a genetic test. Once the breed specific traits like the black saddle on a shepherd, the cap of the malamute, or the high curled tail of the husky are gone, what is left is getting more and more generic.
There is an interesting bit of genetic trivia called, “canalisation”. It seems to describe an aspect of this mystery. Canalisation refers to the fact that individuals of a species can have a range of different individual genetic combinations, but they all still look alike. More specifically, differing genotypes, but the same phenotypes. So a shepherd/husky mix can look like a common dog, and a mutt with no recent breed background can look like a common dog.
One of those dog breed genetic testing sites has or had a rotating slide show of tests they had done with photos of the actual dogs. A lot looked like some kind of shep/husky cross, but some of those were actually two other breeds that gave a similar phenotype. I tried to find that site again for a link, but couldn’t. Nevertheless, it seems there are a number of ways to get to what is called the Husky/Shepherd type. Or what I now want to associate with the “common dog” archetype.
One reason I want to do this is, it is already happening on quite a scale, there are a lot of common dogs types though they are much more rare in a pound than the techichi (or deer chihuahua) type. These dogs are very beautiful in their vaguely wolflike way. The ones I have known have been of calm, unflappable temperaments. Sometimes, with actual recent husky, the dog may have a high energy level not suitable for laid back families, but that is easy to tell when you meet the dog. Mostly these devolving generic dogs have gentle and amenable dispositions, which is probably why they don’t end up in pounds very often, but there are hundreds maybe thousands of them in a google search for husky/shepherd images.
I think perhaps, that the US has its own type of village dog in the common dog, except in this country, we do not allow stray dogs to wander the streets and breed freely, so it is hard to call them “village” dogs. We do not allow that ecological niche for dogs in this country, so it is hard to see how many shep/huskies are out there, unless you are very interested in them, as I am and have googled images of them time and again over the years, looking for dogs that look like my former dogs.
I think the dogs of my line have a lot of consistency in their gray coat color with striated bands on the hairs, and masks. The ones that aren’t grey are reddish, but they all start out as dark gray. My dogs’ descendents typically have a mark like outstretched wings, in white, on the chest and that caudal (on the tail) “v” in black. I have had no say or control in the breeding of any of the descendents, but people who bred, found very similar dogs. I think I counted at least 10 generations, and the ones I see, still look like typical common dogs. I don’t think it took much acuity on the part of the family breeders to get that result, if one uses a similar, but unrelated dog. Theoretically one could use a malamute one generation and a malinois in another generation and keep the type, so breeding is not a fancy affair for professionals only. These dogs have straight teeth and good hips, so if they do have some bad recessives, outcrossing will keep those genes buried and lower the statistical chances, that two of the same recessives will meet up.
I have this consistent anecdotal information that constantly teases me with why there are so many of these dogs and breeding for the lowest common denominator seems to naturally produce these common dog. I am not going to try to deal with any claims about their origins until dog genetics are far more convenient and easy to test or there is an actual database growing somewhere.
Even if none of the so-called common dogs types belong to those ancient specific American clades, the actual dogs still present with us look and behave in ways indistinguishable from the common dogs of 125-50 years ago. Even my Indian friends have always thought so and “recognized” them as true native stock. In fact, all this pussy footing I am doing in order to not look like I am making foolish claims, would only get laughs from people like Stella. If all there was to recognize a dog type was phenotypes – as it was before genetics- these dogs would pass as native stock.
I am trying to temper the husky/shepherd label with history and context, so many more people will recognize this wonderful type of dog as being virtually like the old common dogs. When most the breeding programs of the AKC collapse in infamy, which is sure to happen in the next decade or so, I want people to turn away from inbred, purebred dogs to these beautiful and good natured dogs most of whom will never see a vet except for rabies shots until they are pushing 10 or so and big dog geriatrics can kick in.
When an individual common dog of this type has reached a maximum of genetic diversity, an outcross to an akc breed will restore far more genetic diversity in one generation, than an outcross to a very similar breed would. (which is all some cutting edge AKCer’s can conceive of at the moment). And thanks to people who have outcrossed really weird combinations like a boxer and a corgi, can restore the boxer type to show quality in 4 generations. (This particular experiment did not care about restoring the corgi type)
I know I am not the only one who has thought of this and finally, someone of enough importance will say it, then it will get some legs.
Meanwhile, sidestep the entire inbred issue by choosing a dog like the common dog- (or, if you like 10 pound dogs, the techichi, aka the deer Chihuahua). The evidence is a bit stronger for the Techichi at this moment, but I hope to be able to get more evidence in suggesting the common dog of today is virtually the same as it has been for the last 500 years Europeans know of. And, if that is true, then this type goes back to the earliest immigrants to arrive on this continent, so many years ago.