The extinction of the Canadian woolly dog

They were small, white and fluffy. For thousands of years they were prized for their unique wool, just like sheep. Then, within decades, they disappeared. What caused the extinction of the Canadian woolly dog?

The coastal woolly dog ​​lived in the Pacific Northwest. It looked a bit like a modern Samoyed. Ancient indigenous nations carefully bred the dog for many generations. They sheared their thick hair and wove it into blankets imbued with cultural and spiritual meaning.

What caused the extinction of the Canadian woolly dog?
What caused the extinction of the Canadian woolly dog?


“Whoever put it on was enveloped by the power of prayer,” says Michael Pavel. He is a keeper of Skokomish/Twana traditional knowledge and one of the co-authors of the study.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, factors combined that harmed its survival. Introduced diseases, forced assimilation and other culturally oppressive colonial policies. And they led to the extinction of the Canadian woolly dog.

«The dog was bred specifically for these blankets. And he became a victim of the colonial era,” says the researcher. Preserved at the Smithsonian is the fleece of Mutton, a shaggy dog ​​bred in the former territories. Evolutionary molecular biologist Audrey Lin set out to analyze the specimen to learn its history.

The results are in the magazine Science. There was speculation that the shaggy dogs came from Japan or another part of the world, the study refutes those claims. Mutton’s DNA indicates that woolly dogs diverged genetically from other canids about 5,000 years ago. Mutton, who lived after the first European settlers arrived in the area, was only 16% European ancestry. The tribes did everything they could to prevent their unique breed of dog from mixing with others. In some communities they were housed in pens.

This blanket was woven from the hair of shaggy dogs.
This blanket was woven from the hair of shaggy dogs.


Mutton’s skin analysis identified 28 genes related to hair and follicle regeneration. It is evident that for a long time the Coast Salish people selectively bred dogs. “Culture really shaped the dog,” the researchers say.

Population decline and efforts to eradicate the Coast Salish culture led to its demise. Smallpox and other diseases sometimes killed up to 90% of a community. Boarding schools in Canada and the United States attempted to erase Indigenous identity and history. In some areas, law enforcement and government agents confiscated or ordered the dogs killed as part of the effort to destroy their culture.

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