30 Awesome Dog Breeds You’ve Never Heard Of—Until Now
Your local dog park plays host to Beagles and Yorkshire Terriers, but have you ever encountered an Icelandic Sheepdog or Cane Corso? Meet 30 unique dog breeds from across the globe.
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Warning: You’re about to fall in love with these 30 dogs, but don’t get too attached just yet—you might not be able to find one of your own to take home! While some have been around for thousands of years, others have come onto the scene a lot more recently. Either way, you might be surprised you never heard of them until now.
Graceful and deer-like, the Ibizan Hound is distinctive. With amber eyes, large ears, and red and white fur, this Spanish breed boasts two varieties: the smooth, or wiry coat. Originally bred to hunt rabbits, this canine is quiet, and good with kids, but requires a home with high fences. An Ibizan can easily sail over barriers of five-feet or more.
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Dating back to 600 AD Italy, the Cane Corso (pronounced Connie Corso) descends from Roman war dogs. Its large, athletic build, and strong work ethic made this canine ideal for herding, hunting, and guarding. Almost extinct in the 1980s, the breed is now making a welcome comeback. Suspicious of strangers yet devoted to its master, the Cane Corso requires an experienced dog owner who can handle its protective instincts.
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Small and energetic, the Schipperke (pronounced Skipper-key) is native to Belgium. Adored for its inquisitive personality and beautiful coat, “the little black devil” was a vermin hunter. Today, they’re regarded as happy, loyal companions. Their sassy demeanour and enthusiasm for mischief requires a dedicated owner who will supervise its adventures. Schipperkes are talented escape artists—a well-fenced yard, and on-leash walks are a must.
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Coton de Tulear
Known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar, the Coton de Tulear (pronounced Cu-toe de Too-lay-are) dates back several centuries. Sharing ancestors with the Maltese, and Bichon Frise, this happy-go-lucky pup historically served as a royal pet. Sociable and smart, the Coton often behaves like a little, furry clown. Their bouncy antics, and tireless energy are endearing, but owners must be careful not to fall completely under their Coton’s spell—this fun-loving breed will take advantage of a lenient master.
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Hailing from China, the Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient breed. An extremely protective, intelligent, and independent dog, he prefers to make his own decisions, and is not easily trained. Walking off-leash, obeying commands, and trusting strangers are challenges with this majestic canine. The Tibetan can be a wonderful pet under the supervision of a knowledgeable, and dedicated owner.
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With its tousled appearance, the Berger Picard—star of the movie Because of Winn-Dixie—is often mistaken for a mutt. Don’t let this dog’s low-maintenance look fool you. This canine boasts a proud French pedigree. Traditionally a sheepdog, the Berger Picard (pronounced Bare zhay Peecar) almost disappeared after World War II. Fortunately, breed fanciers are re-establishing its presence not only in France, but worldwide. Quiet, loyal, and athletic, the Berger craves attention and often displays comical behaviour.
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With its gold eyes, and soft, chocolate-coloured coat, the Boykin Spaniel could easily be discounted as just a pretty household pet—but this breed is no lap dog. Hard-working and spirited, this spaniel is a seasoned hunting companion. Bred for tracking wild turkeys, the Boykin first appeared in the south-eastern United States during the early 20th century. Recognized as the state dog of South Carolina, the Boykin Spaniel has a friendly personality, and adores children.
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Surprise! The Chinese Crested isn’t from China. Experts believe that this small breed originated in Central America. Used as ratters on ships along Mexico’s coast, the dogs were often traded for goods. Chinese boat crews adored these canines. By the 18th century, people mistakenly thought that this elegant breed was Asian. There are two types of Chinese Crested dogs: the hairless, and powderpuff. A single litter of puppies can produce both varieties.
Originating in Germany in the mid-1800s, the Leonberger was a favourite of European royals. Strong and imposing, this household guardian closely resembled a lion. Today, its affectionate manner makes him an excellent therapy dog, or children’s companion. But don’t be mislead by his cuddly disposition—prospective owners must train this pet properly. With many Leonbergers weighing over 120-lbs., they naturally believe that they’re the boss.
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Iceland’s native dog is not only unique, but rare. Rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1950s, the Icelandic Sheepdog is slowly increasing in numbers. A natural herder, the breed is alert, intelligent, and enthusiastic. Friendly with other animals, and gentle with children, the Icelandic forms strong bonds with its master. Occasionally, this attachment can cause separation anxiety, and excess barking. With a gentle touch, a skilled owner can teach their Icelandic Sheepdog to be calm in their absence.
When it comes to herding sheep, the Australian Kelpie is the blue-chip candidate for rounding up the herd, whether the herd consists of sheep, other dogs, or kids. For that reason, the Kelpie isn’t a breed for a first-time dog parent or a family with young children. If the Kelpie is right for you, however, it’s essential that you to provide your pup with plenty of stimulating mental and physical exercise daily, notes the American Kennel Club (AKC). That could even include surfing! A Kelpie named Abbie Girl won the World Dog Surfing Championship in Pacifica, California, two years in a row!
Bavarian Mountain Scent Hound
The Bavarian Mountain Scent Hound, which is originally from Germany, has a superior tracking ability and can differentiate between a wounded animal it is hunting and other animals of the same species. You’re not likely to see a BMSH hailing a cab—unless it’s to get out of the city. The BMSH needs lots of space to roam and is not a fan of kennels. “This energetic breed is courageous and determined when hunting,” says Mary Burch, PhD, an animal behaviourist with the AKC Family Dog Program. “They are calm and devoted to their families, but they need an experienced owner.”
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Estrela Mountain Dog
The Estrela Mountain Dog is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal. The Mastiff-type dog has some unique features, including a black mask, a hook at the end of its tail, and small ears. An Estrela is a devoted companion for life. “Much like the Leonberger, this is a big and sturdy dog with a warm personality,” says Mari-Beth O’Neill, Vice President of AKC Sports Services. “You do not see dogs like this every day. If you are looking for a dog that is a protector and a playmate, this is it.”
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It would be incredibly rare to see a Thai Ridgeback outside of Thailand. You might mistake a Rhodesian Ridgeback for one, as both have the trademark ridge of hair on their back that grows in the opposite direction of their coat. These days, Thai Ridgebacks are loyal companions, and while they also exhibited loyalty way back when, they did so in a slightly different way: It was their job was to keep cobras away from their humans, and they would kill a cobra, if necessary. “While Thai Ridgebacks can be loyal family pets, they are independent and protective and are not the best choice for the first-time dog owner,” says Burch.
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Treeing Tennessee Brindle
The Treeing Tennessee Brindle hails from the United States, mainly in and around the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains. TTBs are alert, agile, and super fast. They have an inherent instinct to hunt, and they “tree” their prey by forcing it up into a tree. Once they have the prey isolated, they alert their human by baying. According to the AKC, the old saying “You’re barking up the wrong tree” comes from this type of hunting. For non-hunting humans, TTBs love agility training, going out for walks several times a day, playing games inside (like hide-and-seek), and chasing balls.
This adorable small breed hails from the rocky island of Vaeroy in Norway. Long ago, Islanders depended on the Lundehund to hunt and retrieve puffins from rocky crevices to sustain them through the long winter. And the Lundehund is perfectly equipped for the task. It has six fully functioning toes (not dewclaws) and extra paw pads—for rock hoppin’. Clever and affectionate, the Lundehund’s other distinctive features include an “elastic neck” that stretches back, so its head can touch its spine, and ears that go forward and backward at will or even shut. Regularly check the ears of your dog to avoid a buildup of wax and debris, which can result in infection.
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The “flocks” on the Bergamasco Sheepdog always get a second look. How is that hair even natural? Yet it is, and it happens because the strands of hair get woven together, creating flat layers of felted hair that cover the body and legs. The unique coat isn’t just glam-squad worthy—it helped its ancestors stay warm and cozy in the frigid Italian Alps. The Bergamasco’s long upper eyelashes keep the curtain of hair out of its eyes, preventing snowblindness. Surprisingly, the flocks don’t shed and aren’t as hard to maintain as they look, O’Neill says. Fleas aren’t the only source of itching for dogs.
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How about a muzzle snuggle from this cute scruffy face? The Pyrenean Shepherd comes in two coat varieties: rough-faced and smooth-faced. Rough or smooth, both types have bright eyes and a perpetual smile. The breed is a great candidate for agility, rally, obedience, dock diving, freestyle work, and almost any fun dog sport. Devoted to their pet parent, the Pyrenean has an intuitive sense about their owner’s desires and does particularly well with clicker training and positive, reward-based methods.
You know you’re top dog if your picture is on a postage stamp and you’re the national dog of your country. The contemplative eyes and distinguished beard of the Czech Republic’s Cesky Terrier conveys a stately and dignified vibe. Yet the Cesky is no stuffy politician. “They are a pack breed, which means they would fit well with other dogs, and they love to play and are great companions with their family,” says Jerry Klein, DVM, the AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer. The Cesky isn’t a breed you’ll see every day—there are only about 600 in the United States.
The Belgian Laekenois (pronounced “Lak-in-wah”) is one of four native dogs that call Belgium home. You’ll be tempted to snuggle up on the couch and run your fingers through its tousled coat, but the Laekenois will probably put some time limits on it. They’re no slackers and won’t be satisfied with sitting around the house or being left alone in the backyard. Laekenois want to be with their human family and require an active lifestyle to be happy.
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This pint-sized Portuguese Podengo is the smallest of Portugal’s three Podengo breeds; it’s just eight to 12 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs about 13 pounds. These dogs sport either a wire or smooth coat, both of which require a little grooming. Chasing rabbits is in their genes, so they’re wired to run and play until they drop. Maybe it’s all that exercise that keeps them healthy because they usually live well into their teens. You won’t have to make many visits to the vet with this breed, as it’s known to have few genetic problems.
Teddy Roosevelt Terrier
The Teddy Roosevelt Terrier is a lively, friendly, affectionate dog with his family but often will latch onto one person, in particular. The breed was named in honour of President Teddy Roosevelt, who “appointed” these rat terriers to combat the rat infestation in the White House. Spunky and lovable, these dogs are outgoing and friendly with kids and family pets when raised together. With their love of social life, they don’t do well when they’re in kennels, consistently tied up, or isolated from their people.
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Pronounced like “beaver,” the Biewer Terrier is as cute as it is sweet. It is a delightful little lapdog whose sole purpose is to love and be loved. Biewers have that swoon factor—innocent (I didn’t chew your shoe), adorable (I’m as cute as a button), friendly (I see the good in everyone), and a dash of spunk (I love being the star of the show). It’s no wonder this rare dog is seeing a growing amount of interest, says Dr. Klein. According to the AKC, Biewers are also “the first breed to be recognized as a breed of its own (purebred) using advancements in science rather than the traditional process of pedigree documentation.” That said, Biewers aren’t fully recognized by the AKC yet.
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Peruvian Inca Orchid
If the great outdoors make you feel icky, then the Peruvian Inca Orchid could be the perfect canine BFF for you. Their delicate, hairless bodies don’t bode well outside, so they prefer the indoors. When they do go out for walks, sunscreen is a must for their coat. One big word of warning: PIOs are sighthounds and may see small pets as prey. As a primitive breed, their temperaments can vary from docile to more feral, so they’re not ideal for families with young children.
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
The only dog breed named after a literary character, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier was named after a robust and friendly farmer in Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 book Guy Mannering. The book is much easier to find than the dog, though. “There are few breeds in the United States rarer than the Dandie Dinmont Terrier,” says Dr. Klein. “The breed is small but not dainty, lovable and playful but still tough, and amongst the most docile of the terriers. They would make an excellent city dog, but they can be hard to obtain. Should you be lucky enough to find a breeder of DDTs, you will almost certainly find your best friend in this breed.”
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At first glance, you might think the Saluki missed a few meals, but its slim and leggy appearance is naturally adept for swiftness and agility—skills needed thousands of years ago as the favorite hunting hound of Egyptian pharaohs. In fact, they were so highly esteemed that Salukis were often mummified like the bodies of the pharaohs themselves. But the only things the Saluki is hunting for these days are toys and your affection. They’ll be happy just about anywhere you are—in the city or the country and in just about any climate.
At first glance, you might think we showed you the same rare dog breed twice. “Easily confused with a Saluki, the Azawakh (pronounced AH-ZA-WAH) is unique in its own right,” says O’Neill. “Many people find them distant or aloof, but those who own the breed know how loyal and sweet they can be.” This sighthound from Africa used to chase gazelles across the searing sands of the Sahara, but these days the Azawakh favors sidewalks over sand and fancies running with its human. While the Azawakh has been gracefully walking the Earth for thousands of years, it was only recently recognized as an AKC breed in the Hound Group in 2019.
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The Canaan Dog is one of the AKC’s oldest breeds and also the national dog of Israel. You might not need a security system if you have one of these guard dogs. They are vigilant and highly territorial, as well as very protective of their family. Their superior sense of smell and hearing can identify non-family members from a considerable distance. “Canaan Dogs are a sturdy breed. They need an alpha at all times, but they’re great with other animals after a good amount of training and socialization,” says O’Neill. “If you want to hike, run, or play, the Canaan Dog is a great fit, as they can easily keep up.”
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Looking for a dog breed that’s excited to see you when you get home yet independent enough not to make you its entire world? The rare and wonderful Otterhound could be the perfect match for you—if you can find one. O’Neill says there are only about 600 in the world. “This breed is fun and great with kids! They have a great expression and are very active,” she adds. Activities aren’t limited to dry land when you have an Otterhound. Their waterproof coat and webbed feet come in handy on the trails or in the water. And they have a highly sensitive nose that allows them to follow a scent trail even underwater.
Nope, we’re not talking about delicious Italian meat-based sauce—although the Bolognese breed was developed in Bologna, Italy. The Bolo, as fans call it, is a five- to 9-pound lapdog who relishes a low-key and leisurely lifestyle, meaning that pet parents don’t have to worry about providing too much exercise. A walk or low-energy game is all this faithful and affectionate dog needs. Oh, and those waves of fluff don’t shed much at all, but regular grooming is a must for the full-length cut. The “mop head” look achieved with a shorter cut is easier to maintain and equally adorable.
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