I have a tiny little gray-black terrier named Joey. It’s a bit of a challenge to describe him: imagine an oversized Yorkie, probably about 10-12 pounds, with a little poodle and/or salt-and-pepper miniature schnauzer mixed in, and a pronounced Napoleonic complex.
Sure, he looks cute when he sits in your lap, but he barks ferociously whenever there’s a squirrel perched on the backyard fence, and he gets utterly indignant when Kirby, our puggle, is the recipient of any human attention that Joey thinks he ought to be getting. On occasion, the feisty little fellow has even attempted to mount Madge, our substantially larger basset hound-pit bull, which inevitably results in a mishap that brings to mind Harold Lloyd’s dangling-from-the-clock gag in “Safety Last.”
When people ask me where Joey is from, I usually explain that he was found wandering the mean streets of Baltimore, and then sprung from the scary city pound by a wonderful group called the Fallston Animal Rescue Movement. (These folks have saved hundreds of pooches over the years and often dip into their own pockets if necessary for veterinary bills.) But as for his origins or ancestry, the best I’ve been able to do is offer some vague explanation that a lot of similar ratdog breeds seem to come from Scotland or thereabouts.
But now, thanks to a just-published article in New Scientist, I can explain to people that Joey’s ancestry probably can be traced back 12,000 years to the Middle East or south Asia. That’s where a mutation in the IGF1 gene, which is shared by 23 different small dog breeds but not by large ones, first emerged.
Scientists say the region on the canine genome where the mutation is found most closely resembles the DNA of grey wolves from Israel, Iran, and India. As the article notes:
The results fit with archaeological finds of the remains of small dogs in Middle Eastern tombs 12,000 years old, they note. Agriculture started in the region at about the same time, and the researchers point out that “small size may have been more desirable in more densely packed agrarian societies”. Indeed, many domestic animals, including cattle and cats, also from the Middle East, are smaller than their wild relatives.
That lineage makes Joey well-suited for our densely-packed, albeit non-agrarian, little society in the Kiger household, where three dogs (sometimes four, when Tippy the pug is visiting) share living space with the humans.