A study published in the journal BioMed Central found a gene found in small dogs, IGF1, is closely related to one found in Middle Eastern wolves.
Archaeologists have found the remains of small dogs dating back 12,000 years in the region.
In Europe, older remains have been uncovered, dating from 31,000 years ago, but these are from larger dogs.
“Because all small dogs possess this variant of IGF1, it probably arose early in their history,” said Dr Melissa Gray from the University of California, Los Angeles.
The team of researchers took samples from grey wolf populations around the world.
“We have a couple of individuals from North America, from Yellowstone and Alaska, several from the Middle East, Israel, Iran, India, China, Russia, Italy, Spain, Belarus and Belgium,” explained Dr Gray.