"The mutation for small body size post-dates the domestication of dogs. However, because all small dogs possess this variant of IGF1, it probably arose early in their history. Our results show that the version of the IGF1 gene found in small dogs is closely related to that found in Middle Eastern wolves and is consistent with an ancient origin in this region of small domestic dogs," said co-author Melissa Gray, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA.
Previous archeological work in the Middle East has unearthed the remains of small domestic dogs dating to 12,000 years ago. Sites in Belgium, Germany and Western Russia contain older remains (13,000-31,000 years ago), but these are of larger dogs. These findings support the hypothesis put forward by Gray and colleagues that small body size evolved in the Middle East.
Reduction in body size is a common feature of domestication and has been seen in other domesticated animals including cattle, pigs and goats. According to Gray, "Small size could have been more desirable in more densely packed agricultural societies, in which dogs may have lived partly indoors or in confined outdoor spaces."
Citation: Gray et al., 'The IGF1 small dog haplotype is derived from Middle Eastern grey wolves', BMC Biology, February 2010 (In Press)