15 Underrated Dog Breeds You Should Know

Borzois on the beach
Borzois on the beach
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We’ve all probably spotted Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, but when was the last time an Otterhound crossed your path? Check out these dog breeds that could use a little more puppy love.

1. BORZOI

For centuries, these Slavic canines were used by Russian noblemen to chase down wolves on expensive, large-scale hunts. The practice—which Leo Tolstoy dramatized in War and Peace—called for small armies of Borzoi and some campaigns featured more than 100 dogs. But with the decline of Russia’s old aristocracy, the breed took a nosedive in popularity. Nonetheless, it still commands a loyal fanbase today.

But the affectionate pups can sing their own praises, sort of. At a 1971 concert, Pink Floyd let a Borzoi provide some vocals. The dog, named Nobs, was coaxed into howling on stage. While she showed off her pipes, band members David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright played a blues tune. Originally known as “Seamus,” this tune was re-named “Mademoiselle Nobs” in her honor.

2. ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD

Anatolian Shepherd dog
Anatolian Shepherds
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The Anatolian Shepherd combines the speed and endurance of a sighthound with a mastiff’s powerful build. It's a combination perfect for guarding livestock from wolves, big cats, and other carnivores. Ironically, conservationists are now using this talent to help save one of the world’s most famous predators: the cheetah. Within the endangered cats’ native range, it’s long been common practice for ranchers to kill them on sight. To combat that, the Cheetah Conservation Fund has been supplying Namibia’s farmers with Anatolian Shepherds and Kangal dogs (another large breed). The fast and intimidating canines can scare off hungry felines in a non-violent manner. According to the CCF, farmers who use their guard dogs are now 80 to 100 percent less likely to shoot trespassing cheetahs.

3. OTTERHOUND

Otterhound
Otterhound dog
Carl Court / Staff / Getty Images

Soon, the Otterhound may join the ranks of the Paisley Terrier and Braque du Puy as an extinct dog breed. Fewer than 1000 of the rough-coated rounds are presently accounted for, making the breed rarer than the Giant Panda.

Their origins can be traced back to Medieval England. During that time, most English families relied on stream-caught fish as a dietary cornerstone. Any decline in the local fish stock could spell disaster for entire communities—so, naturally, carnivorous river otters weren’t too popular. Enter the Otterhound. Bred with webbed feet and powerful tails that could act as rudders, the dogs were great amphibious hunters. Also, their keen sense of smell made them expert otter-trackers. (Other traits are less utilitarian: Many keepers have commented that otterhounds have a habit of sleeping with all four paws in the air.) When the English government banned otter-hunting in 1982, the breed became scarce and its long-term survival is now very uncertain. As owner Betsy Conway put it to The New York Times, “You’re talking about an ancient breed that no longer has a job.”

4. SAKHALIN HUSKY

Although it’s very endangered, the Sakhalin Husky will always be associated with one remarkable story of survival. In 1957, an expedition team from the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research arrived in Antarctica for a year-long stay. The group consisted of 11 researchers and 15 Sakhalin Huskies, who were to serve as sled dogs. They’d been instructed to occupy a newly-built Antarctic base camp, where the squad would remain for 12 months until a replacement team arrived to send the humans home and assume responsibility for the dogs.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Due to a storm, the second team never made it to Antarctica. And when a helicopter arrived to retrieve the first group, there was no room for their canine companions, who were left behind. Seven of the dogs died at the site and six others vanished without a trace. But the remaining two managed to stay alive for an entire year until they were finally rescued by a third expedition. Named Taro and Jiro, these husky survivalists became celebrities in Japan, where multiple statues have been dedicated to them. Their tale also inspired two feature films—most recently Disney’s Eight Below (2006).

5. NORWEGIAN LUNDEHUND

Norwegian Lundehund
A Norwegian Lundehund shows out at the American Kennel Club Offices in New York City in 2011.
Gary Gershoff / Stringer / Getty Images

Grab a Norwegian Lundehund’s paw and you might find yourself doing a double-take. This unusual breed comes with not four, not five, but six toes on each foot. And, for the record, none of these digits are useless anatomical curiosities. Instead, every single toe is jointed and fully-functional. The canines were designed to hunt down puffins (in fact, the name “Lundehund” literally means “puffin dog”). That’s a tough job. Puffins tend to station themselves on slippery rock faces, where it’s difficult for a potential predator to get a grip. Having extra toes, complete with specialized paw pads, enabled Lundehunds to scale these surfaces more easily.

6. TIBETAN MASTIFF

Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiff
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Though the genetic evidence is inconclusive, it’s thought that modern Chow Chows, Boxers, and Saint Bernards may have all been derived—at least in part—from the majestic Tibetan Mastiff. If you want a dog that’s guaranteed to scare off any intruder, this breed fits the bill. Weighing up to 220 pounds and renowned for their booming barks, Tibetan Mastiffs make for impressive guardians.

It should go without saying, though, that they’re not great pets for apartment-dwellers. Apparently, Dwight Eisenhower didn’t think they’d fare well at the White House either. In 1958, Nepal’s government gifted the president with a pair of Tibetan Mastiffs. Unable to accommodate them, the president handed both dogs off to Senator Harry Darby, a fellow Republican who raised the pets on his farm in Edwardsville, Kansas.

7. BERGER PICARD

Berger Picard
A Berger Picard takes the floor at the 2016 Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City.
Stephanie Keith / Stringer / Getty Images

An active, friendly breed, the Berger Picard may be France’s oldest variety of sheepdog. By some accounts, they’ve been living there since the year 400 BCE. Unfortunately, World Wars I and II put the long-term survival of this ancient breed in jeopardy. At the time, Berger Picards were primarily found in northwestern France. Those global conflicts ravaged the region and countless dogs perished in the melee. With the help of mating programs in later decades, the Berger Picard escaped extinction.

Today, the medium-sized breed is synonymous with the 2005 movie Because of Winn-Dixie, which cast three of the sheepdogs to play its title character. According to the Berger Picard Club of America, the film’s producers picked this breed due to its mutt-like appearance. They chose well; most viewers had no idea that the Winn-Dixie dogs were actually purebreds. This was a blessing in disguise. More than a decade before that, 101 Dalmatians (1996) triggered a huge demand for the liver-spotted breed that the classic movie featured. The result was hundreds of abandoned Dalmatians left behind by new owners who’d adopted them impulsively.

8. AUSTRALIAN CATTLE DOG

Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dog
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During the nineteenth century, breeders in Australia worked for decades to create a herding dog that was agile, loyal, and tough enough to survive the continent’s brutal heatwaves. The result was the Australian Cattle Dog, a canine breed whose ancestors include Dalmatians, Kelpies, Smithfields, and even Dingoes. Not only are the canines hard-working, they are also known live for long periods. One specimen, a male named Bluey, had lived for 29 years, five months, and seven days when he passed away in 1939. To date, this is the longest canine lifespan ever recorded.

9. XOLOITZCUINTLI

Mexican Hairless Dog Xoloitzcuintli
A Xoloitzcuintli, also know as a Mexican Hairless Dog
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One of the world's oldest breeds and considered a national treasure in Mexico, the Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-low-etz-queent-lee) originated in ancient Central America. Its name is a combination of the Aztec word for dog, itzcuintli, and Xolotl, the name of a legendary death god who was sometimes said to have the head of a large canine. If you’re still worried about getting tongue-tied, know that many pet-keepers just call these calm canines “Xolos” or “Mexican Hairless Dogs.” The latter nickname refers to this breed’s most striking feature. While some specimens have coats, roughly four out of five display a near-total lack of body hair. Owners should therefore be on guard against acne and other skin conditions.

10. AZAWAKH

Azawakh
A Azawakh take the field at London's Greatest Dog Show in the World in 2004.
JIM WATSON / Staff / Getty Images

Almost deer-like in appearance, Azawakhs—also known as the Tuareg Sloughis—have the long limbs of a racing dog. And yet, although these dogs can hit a top running speed of 40 miles per hour, these sight hounds are primarily used as family guards and livestock protectors in their native West Africa. The breed didn’t arrive in the United States until the late 1980's when the first confirmed American-born litter came into the world.

11. CAROLINA DOG

One hypothesis about the Carolina Dog: While most dog varieties are the result of human-supervised cross-breeding, the Carolina Dog may have attained its current shape with little to no help from mankind. We know from archaeological evidence that some of the continent’s first settlers brought tame or domesticated dogs in tow. Inevitably, a few of the pets must’ve broken away from human society and started living out in the wild, according to the theory.

Could Carolina Dogs be the descendants of those ancient free-roamers? Genetic analyses suggests that this is a distinct possibility. Naturalists usually encounter them in the swamplands of North and South Carolina, where the dogs live in wild packs. Certain attributes—both physical and behavioral—help the canines survive. For example, most specimens have fishhook-shaped tails with vibrant white undersides. The color scheme makes it easier for the dogs to send wagging signals to each other, which makes pack hunts easier. Also, this breed has some habits that are suspiciously wolf-like, such as their tendency to dig pits in the ground with their snouts.

Maybe such traits are the result of natural selection—several millennia’s worth of it. If so, then Carolina Dogs attained their current shape and temperament with little to no help from mankind. However, intriguing as this idea may be, some experts don’t buy it. As geneticist Ben Sacks points out, “the odds that they’ve been able to retain their genetic integrity for the last five to six thousand years while being surrounded by European dogs and haven’t interbred is not impossible, but it would certainly be remarkable.”

12. DANDIE DINMONT TERRIER

Dandie Dinmont Terrier
A Dandie Dinmont Terrier makes the rounds at Westminster Kennel Club's 131st Annual Dog Show in 2007.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / Staff / Getty Images

The name of this breed—which first emerged near the Anglo-Scottish border in the 1700s—was coined a little over two centuries ago. People didn’t start calling them “Dandie Dinmont Terriers” until 1814 when Guy Mannering, a bestselling novel by Sir Walter Scott, was published. The book's main character Dandie Dinmont owned six long-bodied, short-legged dogs. Thanks to the book’s popularity (it sold 2000 copies in a single day), the breed was named in his honor.

13. BASENJI

Basenji dog
A Basenji dog perches on a branch
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Believe it or not, these quiet, small hounds can be used to hunt lions. A breed of central African origin, Basenjis are excellent jumpers with good eyesight and a strong sense of smell. Hunters originally bred them to flush out hidden game or pest animals. And, as the Masai hunters have learned, the tenacious pooches are good at irritating the King of the Jungle. When hunting lions, the Masai use Basenjis to track down the big cats and then goad them out of their dens—all without a woof. The hounds have flat larynxes that render them incapable of barking. This doesn’t mean they’re mute, though, as the canines have a distinctive yodel.

14. PORTUGUESE WATER DOG

Michelle Obama walks dogs Bo and Sunny
First Lady Michelle Obama walked Bo (left) and Sunny Obama at the 2014 Easter Egg Roll at the White House.
NICHOLAS KAMM / Staff / Getty Images

President Barack Obama gave the Portuguese Water Dog his seal of approval when the first family welcomed Bo Obama into their home in April 2009. Named by the first daughters, the puppy gained some canine company in 2013 with the arrival of Sunny, a second Portuguese Water dog. And with their high energy, it's no wonder the pets had their own demanding schedule while in the White House.

Intelligent, athletic, and hard-working, these animals need lots of stimulation—along with plenty of exercise. As its name implies, the Portuguese Water Dog is a talented swimmer. For centuries, European fishermen have been teaching them to retrieve equipment that’s gone overboard. A well-trained Water Dog can also corral wayward fish towards open nets.

15. CATAHOULA LEOPARD DOG

 Catahoula Leopard dog
Catahoula Leopard dog
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Deemed the official state dog of Louisiana since 1979, the Catahoula Leopard Dog has a murky past. Various historians have cited Native American dogs, Spanish “war dogs,” and Red Wolves as some of the Catahoula’s potential ancestors. Regardless, the protective, tracking dogs are beloved by hunters throughout the region. Webbed feet let them traverse Louisiana’s infamous swamps with ease, and many adult members of the breed have spotted fur that acts as camouflage.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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