15 Underrated Dog Breeds You Should Know
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.