Dogs had been domesticated in every part of the Western Hemisphere by the time Columbus arrived. Archaeologist believe that they first came over from Asia by way of the Bering Strait, and that this occurred sometime between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. They also believe that Native Americans domesticated the wolf. In fact, the Malamute dog, which was developed by Native Americans is a very close genetic relative of the wolf.
At the Koster excavation site in Illinois archaeologists have found substantial evidence that proves that domesticated dogs existed in North America by 5,000 B.C. Wyoming petroglyphs (rock art)
from 400 A.D., show a dog on a leash. Every tribe in the Western Hemisphere gave domesticated dogs names except for the tribes in the Great Basin.
Dogs were not just used as companions. They were an important food source, and their fur was used in the making of belts, parkas, coats, and blankets. It is well documented that Hernan Cortes and his men enjoyed eating dog, especially the hairless variety. In fact, they enjoyed it so much that they ate it regularly on their naval vessels. Cortez had so many salted and butchered for his ships that they almost became extinct.
The Spanish Conquistaor Vasco Nunez de Balboa was probably the first person in the New World to utilize enormous mastiff war dogs. These dogs were trained to attack and kill people and known to eat their victims. Balboa's own personal dog was called Leoncito, and Leoncito was said to be as effective in battle as any of the Spanish soldiers. The Spanish mastiff war dogs were said to weigh as much as 300 pounds.
The Aztecs fed their dogs avocados, corn, and meat. They had six basic types of dogs. The most popular of these dogs was a hairless variety called the xoloitzcuintlis. The xoloitzcuintlis is considered to be one of the purest dog breeds in existence today. The word xotol, in Nahuatl means “god of the ball game.” Xoloitzcuintlis statues have been excavated at ancient burial sites on numerous occasions. They date back as far as 200 A.D. The xoloitzcuintlis is sometimes depicted in red statuary as having deformed paws. Another Aztec breed was called xochiocoyotl, which means “wolf.” Eye witness accounts by early Spanish Conquistadors tell us that they also had chihuahuas.
The Inca also breed a similar type of hairless dog. There is no evidence that they ate dogs. However, we do know that other South American cultures did eat dog. Largely, the Inca used dogs as household pets and to guard and heard llamas. Numerous cultures, including the Maya, were know to hunt deer and other animals by using dogs. Still others, used dogs as beasts of burden. In Alaska they pulled sleds, and the Plains Indians had them carry goods. Early Alaskan explorers tell us that the Native Americans used the dogs for a wide variety of purposes.