Dogs, as the only domestic mammal in North America, were a part of the life and culture of the people who migrated to the Americas from Eurasia. Originally domesticated from Eurasian wolves, the uses of dogs expanded once the Native American ancestors spread throughout the continents. I investigate the kinds of dogs Native Americans bred over thousands of years and how these dogs impacted native North American culture, through a review of recent genetic, biological, archaeological, oral historical, and historical evidence and research.
Evidence of Native American use of dogs ranges from hunting, to companionship, to using their fur for weaving, and all show the evident symbiosis of the relationship Native North Americans have had with their dogs for millennia. Humans are naturally closer in behavior and level of social interaction with dogs and cats, even though they are not our closest living relatives. Modern studies of dog-human interaction and understanding of social cues, shows that dogs understand human social cues more consistently than the great apes, or their own closest relative, grey wolves. Although domesticated dogs in the Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa) may have been used for many of the same purposes, marked differences in breeds occurred in North America (e.g., small and large dogs for different purposes, long fur for weaving, and compact, strong bodies for pulling and surviving tough North American winters). My argument is that the domestication of dogs in North America has played a significant role in the various cultures and histories of these people. Without dogs, several origin stories, and many defining practices (weaving, dog-sled-pulling, ritual) would not exist. Dogs and people were tied by a push and pull of survival and adaptation to their environment and to each other. Learning to co-exist and reap the mutual benefits changed the very cultures of Native American tribes across the continent. In studying the symbiotic relationship of this specific group of people to their dogs, researchers will be able to further the current understanding of Native North American cultures and deepen the knowledge of the past.