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Borzois on the beach
Borzois on the beach
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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
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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.

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20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins
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To celebrate World Penguin Day (which is today, April 25), here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

emperor penguin
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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

Gentoo Penguin
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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

penguins swimming in the ocean
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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

emperor penguins
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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

penguins swimming in the ocean
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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

molting penguin
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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

king penguins
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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

chinstrap penguins
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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

maegellic penguin nesting
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11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

penguin eggs
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12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

emperor penguins
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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguins nest
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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

penguin chicks
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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

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6 Myths About Animals, Debunked
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It’s easy to think we understand animals: They’re present in every part of our culture, from the movies we watch to the clichés we use. But the way a species functions in the wild is often worlds apart from a stereotype or cartoon. This gulf between misconceptions and reality is the theme of Lucy Cooke’s new book, The Truth About Animals.

"We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own existence, and that trips us up and obscures the truth,” Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, tells Mental Floss. “I think it's time we rebrand the animal kingdom according to facts and not sentimentality.”

As Cooke examines in her book, the real world is one in which pandas are virile lovers and sloths are master survivalists. These are just a few of the myths that were debunked in The Truth About Animals.

1. PANDAS HAVE LOW SEX DRIVES.

Pandas have long been blamed for their own precarious position in the animal kingdom. The species is in danger, some people claim, because pandas are reluctant to or just plain bad at copulating. If only they would get off their furry behinds and get it on, there would be more of them.

In The Truth About Animals, Cooke debunks this modern myth. Pandas have been living in the wild for 18 million years—long before humans swooped in to act as their savior—and that wouldn’t be the case without healthy sex habits. It’s true that pandas are difficult to breed in captivity, and the several failed attempts of zoos to produce a baby panda throughout the 20th century is likely what led to this stereotype. But the bears are much more responsive to members of the opposite sex in the wild. The female chooses who she mates with, moaning from high in a bamboo tree while several males on the ground compete for her attention. Once the bears have paired off, they can have sex over 40 times in one afternoon.

2. SLOTHS ARE LAZY.

Cooke was inspired to write her book by sloths, which she describes to Mental Floss as “highly successful, highly evolved” creatures. Not everyone agrees: More than perhaps any other animal, sloths have become synonymous with laziness and sluggishness, and today they’re held up as an example of evolutionary failure.

The reality is that sloths are much more impressive than their appearance suggests. They’ve been around since 64 million years ago—earlier than wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers—and they have their slow and steady nature to thank for their success. Sloths have a remarkably slow digestive system and a low-calorie diet, so they expend as little energy as possible, not out of laziness, but out of survival instinct. A sloth is awake for more than half the day, and when necessary it can scramble up a tree at speeds approaching 1 mph. It spends most of its day in a still, seemingly trancelike state, but it isn’t wasting its potential: It’s conserving energy so it can maintain its dominant spot in the evolutionary tree.

3. PENGUINS ARE LOYAL LOVERS.

Emperor penguins, the most famous of the bird group, are known for splitting parenting duties between mated pairs, with the father incubating the egg while the mother gathers food for her family. This has led some to praise penguins as the reflection of ideal, moral family dynamics in the animal kingdom, but these people should probably find a different analog. Though the parents of any given chick may raise their offspring together, penguins aren’t monogamous: 85 percent of emperor penguins find a new partner from one breeding season to the next. Penguins are also some of the only animals known to exchange goods for sex. Adélie penguins need rocks to build up their nests during warmer months when meltwater threatens their eggs. With no parenting duties to distract them, bachelor penguins end up collecting more stones than they need, so some females will sometimes trade a one-off sex session for one of their pebbles.

4. VULTURES STALK DYING PREY.

Watch enough survival movies and you’re bound to see a shot of a hungry vulture trailing behind the starving protagonist, waiting for them to lie down and die. The myth that vultures stalk their prey while it’s still alive and have the power to predict death is a persistent one, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The scavengers have no interest in living animals and will only seek out meat from dead and decaying corpses. Rather than reaper-like premonitions of mortality, turkey vultures and greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures use their noses to locate their meals. They join kiwis and kakapos on the small list of birds with highly-developed olfactory glands. Without a strong sense of smell, other New World vultures and all Old World vultures primarily rely on sight to find food. Some New World vultures like black vultures have adopted a different strategy: They'll follow turkey vultures to their prey, taking advantage of their sensitive noses.

5. ALL BATS ARE RABID BLOOD-SUCKERS.

Bats may be the animals most closely associated with the horror genre. They crave blood, so the myth goes, and though a bat latched onto your neck won’t be able to suck you dry, it will likely infect you with a nasty case of rabies.

According to Cooke, there are many problems with the statement above. Bats are poor stand-ins for their fictional vampire counterparts; only three species of bats drink blood—the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat—while most prefer fruit or insects. After climbing onto its prey, the vampire bat locates where the blood is flowing with the heat sensor on its nose, and then, using its sharp front teeth like shears, it cuts away any hair that might be blocking the skin. Rather than biting down and sucking like Dracula, the bat creates a small incision and laps up blood from the open wound. They can recognize an individual animal's breathing patterns and return to feed on it the following night, taking advantage of the reliable blood source.

Bats are rarely rabid, with just .05 percent of them carrying the disease—less than dogs or raccoons. The image of a bat getting tangled in your hair also has no basis in reality: Their sophisticated echolocation system signals them to turn long before they have a chance to collide with your head.

6. FEMALE HYENAS HAVE PENISES.

Hyena genitalia has been baffling scientists for centuries. Member of both sexes appear to have a penis, while in females there’s no external vagina to be found. Scientists originally thought that hyenas must be hermaphrodites, but the true explanation is even more unusual. Though it’s often referred to as a pseudo-penis, female hyena genitalia doesn’t produce sperm, technically making it a nearly 8-inch-long clitoris. This appendage is also saddled with all the same duties as a conventional female organ, including giving birth to hyena pups.

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