Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The ‘native’ Patagonian dogs


Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Patagonian natives had their own domestic dogs, which may have derived from a local species of canid. The remains of a rare prehistoric dog Canis (Dusicyon) avus have been found in southern Patagonian Paleo-Indian sites.

Avus is a big and wolf-like animal that shares several features with the warrah to which it was probably related. Maybe it was also connected to the mysterious Andean wolf.

FitzRoy's description. 1833.

The Aonikenk’s (Austral Southern Tehuelche) dogs of Avus origin were fierce; according to FitzRoy they had a “wild wolfish appearance [...] a wild wolf-like look”. They were also quite big, having the size of a large English fox-hound.[1]

Muster's description. 1869-1870.

Coinciding with FitzRoy, English explorer Musters noted during his 1869-1870 trip from Punta Arenas to Carmen de Patagones, that the ancient Aonikenk before they adopted the horse, “formerly hunted on foot, with a large sort of dog, which […] must have resembled a deer hound”.[2]

Scottish Deerhound. From [5]

Deer hounds are a very big Scottish breed similar to a rough-coated Greyhound but larger. They weigh up to 50 kg (110 lb.) and they are up to 80 cm high (32 in). They were used to hunt deer, so they had to be enormous.

Sarmiento de Gamboa's description. 1579.

The first European to come upon them was Sarmiento de Gamboa, during his expedition to explore and settle the Strait of Magellan in 1579.

He described these dogs as having a brindled coat, and bigger than Irish Wolfhounds. These are enormous dogs nearly 1 meter high (40 in.) and 70 kg (154 lb.) in weight. They were bred to hunt and kill wolves.

Notice the similar appearance of deerhound and wolfhound. Shaggy coat and big size.

He was shaken by the first encounter between his savage European war dogs and the local ones; he wrote about it in his journal:

It was noteworthy that our dogs, and those of the natives, flew at each other until the came within four paces, when they turned round without touching, and we could never get them to attack again.[3]

Irish wolfhound
Irish Wolfhound. They are very big dogs. From [4]

This was the first time that dogs separated by tens of thousands of years of separate evolution had bumped into each other. They probably found themselves very alien, totally different, and scary.

Note that the Spanish war dogs were vicious creatures, trained to attack, disembowel and kill natives, it is surprising that they cowed when confronted with the native dogs.

These Patagon dogs disappeared with their masters, the free roaming Tehuelche groups when Chile and Argentina occupied Southern Patagonia in the last decades of the XIXth century. They were replaced by sheep-dogs brought by European settlers who filled the Patagonian steppe with sheep farms soon after it was occupied and its natives assimilated.


[1] Hamilton Smith, J., (1840). The Natural History of dogs: Canidae or Genus Canis. London: W.H. Lizars. v.ii:213.
[2] Musters, C. Op Cit. pp.131.
[3] Sarmiento de Gamboa, P. Op. Cit. pp. 322.
[4] National Army Museum. Wolfhound, a mellow mascot.
[5] Deerhound Club. Official website.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©


  1. Please check out this link. Would this breed have any connection with the native dogs mentioned above?

    1. Well, it is very interesting indeed!The dog in the blog you linked, is the "Barbucho Patagonico", and according to the post "it is believed to have derived from the Irish wolfhound introduced by English traders circa 1700s in Tierra del Fuego and the Patagonian coast."


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