DORSET dogs have starring roles in a new three-part documentary series giving insight into the ancestry and evolution of man’s best friend.

Dogs: An Amazing Animal Family will air at 9pm every Thursday from July 13-27 on Sky 1. Producers Offspring Films have already explored the family trees of big cats and monkeys.

As part of the series, the crew filmed a sequence of dogs at play at Studland Beach.

“We were filming in the winter when dogs are allowed off their leads on the beach,” director Lara Bickerton explained.

“We had the shoot all planned out for 16 different invited dogs, including an elegant Afghan, a tiny Pomeranian and a gorgeous Great Dane called Gracey.

“But within an hour of starting, local owners and dogs turned up for their usual morning exercise and, of course, our ’star’ dogs found the new arrivals much more interesting than what we were encouraging them to do.

“So, in the end, we just went with it - and some of the best shots we got were of the ‘star’ dogs and their new friends jumping around in the water together. They were having so much fun.”

The series’ presenter is biologist Patrick Aryee who said: “The canine family is made up of 36 extraordinary species – all of which share traits with the dogs in our homes. Viewers, I think, are going to be amazed by the family’s variety and history and I advise: prepare to rethink everything you think you know about dogs.”

The series opens with an episode called Man’s Best Friend and a visit by Patrick to Mongolia. It’s here in Asia where the first bonds between people and the dog family – the canines – are believed to have begun with wild wolves and humans learning to live together.

From there Patrick travels to the Arabian desert, the snow-belt of North America and Montana’s ranch-lands, tracking a timeline of changes which saw dogs evolving into protectors, hunters, livestock herders and, finally, treasured saviours and pets. Along the way he meets adorable Bankhar puppies on the steppes of Asia, discovers the astonishing speed and eyesight of a Bedouin’s prized Saluki hound and gets a face full of snow while learning to master a dog-powered sled.

The two further episodes follow Patrick as he crosses continents to introduce viewers to wild members of the canine clan through close encounters with the smallest, tallest, hardiest, rarest and most unusual species of the dog family tree. Among them are Arctic and red foxes, African hunting dogs, raccoon dogs, jackals, a seldom-glimpsed fruit-eater and the canine to which the world’s 500m pet dogs are 98.8% related: the fearsome grey wolf.