Defining Primitive Dogs

The nomenclature surrounding our canine companions is overwhelming. Names, histories, adjectives, and categories become labels at every turn. A single breed could have 6-7 different names or group associations based on different factors. In the scientific literature, it isn’t much better. Authors can put their own unique spin on names, terminology, or categories as they see fit as long as they can back it up with evidence. Sometimes this propels information forward, but still leaves the uninformed populations using older terminology.

The term “primitive dogs” is a prime example of this. Depending on the literature you are reading, a dog labeled “primitive dog” may be also called any of a dozen other names including ancient, pariah, aboriginal, indigenous, land race, rare, local, village, spitz, sighthound, guardian, hunting, edible, etc. This doesn’t even include cultural names for these dogs. 

Definitions are helpful for the purpose of clarity. Therefore to provide said clarity and a foundation of understanding, we describe dog breeds maintaining ancient genes, primitive appearance and retention of wild traits as “primitive dogs” (Beregovoy & Porter, 2007; Dwyer & Minnegal, 2016; Janice Koler-Matznick, 2002; Larson et al., 2012; Mehrkam & Wynne, 2014; Parker, 2004; vonHoldt et al., 2010). 

The populations of breeds that fall into this category are far from small. 1000 different breeds of dog exist around the world, yet only 20% are recognized by any specific kennel club (Mehrkam & Wynne, 2014; Morris, 2002). Many of the remaining 80% fall into the realm of “primitive dogs”. This is due to the fact that most early or ancient dog breeds were originally land races or village dogs, and some still exist in that state today. While others still maintain many of the behaviors of their ancestors today, even after post-Victorian selective breeding (Beregovoy & Porter, 2007; Coppinger & Coppinger, 2001; Tonoike et al., 2015). 

Finding information about primitive dogs can be challenging. The purpose of Couch Wolves is to try and establish a place where applicable information can be found easily with just a simple Google search. However evidence-backed information is lacking. Specific information regarding primitive breeds of dog are unrepresented in the scientific literature, leaving gaps in our understanding of their behavior (Mehrkam & Wynne, 2014). To better understand the behaviors of primitive dogs more studies need to be conducted, and that is finally starting to happen. In the meantime, the handful of studies (2-3 including 10 or so primitive dog breeds) that have done behavioral analysis on primitive breeds have shown them to be less trainable, more fearful of strangers, and less attached than more modern breeds (Scott & Fuller, 20; Smith, Browne, & Serpell, 2017; Svartberg, 2006; Svartberg & Forkman, 2002; Tonoike et al., 2015). If these traits are accurate, we need to learn why and if that impacts our relationship with them. Papers on dog ownership suggest that most of these characteristics are defined as less desirable to dog owners and may affect attachment (King, Marston, & Bennett, 2009; Smith et al., 2017). Yet on the contrary to this assessment, owner’s choices in dog breeds seem to have little to do with these factors (Ghirlanda, Acerbi, Herzog, & Serpell, 2013; Rehn & Keeling, 2016). It will be valuable to learn more about how primitive dog owners feel about their dogs. But from our anecdotal community, we are convinced that owner attachment is strong. 
How owners create attachment to dogs can be influenced by behavioral expectations based on factors such as breed. Interestingly owners’ “ideal” concept of behavior has no relation to their level of attachment while moderate expectations based on individual behaviors carries more weight (Serpell, 1996). It is worthwhile to determine if “less trainable” qualities of these dogs are a factor of culture, training methods, or owner expectation and experience level.  It is certainly the experience of Couch Wolves members that primitive dogs are highly trainable when given the best motivators and training methods. 

So what do we include under the umbrella of “primitive dogs”?

Both “cultured” and “uncultured” breeds that still maintain ancient genes, primitive appearance and retention of wild traits. Previous exclusive literature has not benefited primitive breeds and their enthusiasts in the past. Therefore we choose to be inclusive about who fits under this umbrella and we offer a long and exhaustive list of what dog breeds fit. However, if your dog is not included and still shows many of the traits of other primitive dogs, in our opinion you are just as welcome.

Jobs: Guarding, Herding, Hunting, Companion, Edible,
Land race: A localized breed selected for environmental pressures more so than human preferences.
Some breeds may be extremely rare or extinct.


Aboriginal / land race Laika
Aboriginal Greyhound type land race dogs
Afghan Hound
Alaskan Malamute
Anatolian Shepherd land race dogs
Andalusian Podenco
Arubian Cunucu Dog
Australian Dingo
Bangara Mastiff
Banjara Hound
Bantu Dog
Bhutia Sheepdog
Black Norwegian Elkhound
Bushmen Dog
Cambodian Ridgeback
Canaan Dog
Canadian Eskimo Dog
Canary Island Podenco
Carolina Dog
Central Asian Shepherd
Cheju Dog
Chinese Foo Dog
Chiribaya Dog
Chow Chow
Chukotka Sled Laika
Cirneco Dell’etna
Clallam-Indian Dog
Common India Dog
Corpse Dog
Czechoslovakian Vlcak
Dalbo Dog
East Siberian Laika
Finnish Lapphund
Finnish Spitz
Fuegian Dog
Greenland Dog
Hare-Indian Dog
Hottentot Dog
Ibizan Hound
Iceland Dog
Inca Dog
India Pariah Dogs
India Spitz
Karakachan Dog
Karelian Bear Dog
Karelo-Finnish Laika
Kintamani Dog
Klamath Indian Dog
Korean Jindo


Lapponian Herder
Longhaired Inca Dog
Longhaired Pueblo Dog
Naga Dog
New Guinea Singing Dog
Norbotten Spitz
Norwegian Buhund
Norwegian Elkhound
Pariah Dog
Patagonian Dog
Peruvian Hairless
Peruvian Orchid
Peruvian Pugnosed Dog
Pharaoh Hound
Philippines Native Dog
Phu Quoc Dog
Phu Quoc Dogs
Plains-Indian Dog
Poongsan Dog
Portuguese Podengo
Pyrenean Mastiff
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Russia Ovcharka
Russoeuropean Laika
Saarloos Wolfdog
Sanshu Dog
Santhal Hound
Shiba Inu
Shikari Dog
Kai Ken
Shortlegged Indian Dog
Shortnosed Indian Dog
Siberian Husky
Sindh Hound
Sinhala Hound
Sioux Dog
Sudanese Greyhound
Swedish Elkhound
Swedish Lapphund
Tahltan Bear Dog
Tahltan Dog
Tengger Dog
Thai Ridgeback
Tibetan Mastiff
Tuamotuan Dog
Vaghari Dog
Village Dog
West Siberian Laika
Zulu Dog


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Brisbin, I. L., & Risch, T. S. (1997). Primitive dogs, their ecology and  behavior: Unique oppurtunties to study the early development of the human-canine bond. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 210(8), 1122–1126.

Coppinger, R., & Coppinger, L. (2001). Dogs: a startling new understanding of canine origin, behavior, and evolution. New York: Scribner.

Dwyer, P. D., & Minnegal, M. (2016). Wild dogs and village dogs in New Guinea: were they different? Australian Mammalogy, 38(1), 1.

Eken Asp, H., Fikse, W. F., Nilsson, K., & Strandberg, E. (2015). Breed differences in everyday behaviour of dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 169, 69–77.

Grigg, E. K., Nibblett, B. M., Sacks, B. N., Hack, R., Serpell, J. A., & Hart, L. (2016). Genetic and behavioral characteristics of the St. Kitts ‘island dog.’ Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 178, 88–95.

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