Genetic science has allowed humankind to create specific characteristics for canines. Take the Labradoodle, for example. Wally Conron, the original breeder of the half-labrador retriever and half-poodle, purposefully mated two canines to create one hypoallergenic guide dog. It worked, but to his regret. The Australian dog breeder confesses he opened a Pandora’s box with the pet, creating a “Frankenstein monster” that spurred the age of designer dogs in the 1980s.
While the American Kennel Club (AKC) does not acknowledge the labradoodle, it recognizes 193 other breeds. Stacker used the AKC dog breed database to compile a list of 25 breeds with unique origin stories. The breeds are ranked here according to their popularity in 2018. AKC details how “for thousands of years, humans bred dogs toward the physical and mental traits best suited for the work expected of them,” from being a guard dog along a tax collector’s route to being able to work and hunt in the minus-60 degree temperatures of the Siberian tundra. The club also uses a “breed standard” to document characteristics such as temperament and physical traits.
Of the 193 breeds, it awards certain ones at the famous all-breed Westminster Annual Dog Show, held since 1877, most notably at Madison Square Garden. In over a century of competition, some canines consistently prove they remain Best in Show. Two that have stood out are the Kerry Blue Terrier “Mick,” and the Wire Fox Terrier, which has captured 15 Best in Show honors.
Continue reading to find out what these 25 dogs were bred for.
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- 2018 popularity rank: #188
After the fall of the Roman Empire in medieval England, noblemen used hounds, known for their stamina and stride, to hunt deer while lowly groundskeepers stayed back to kill the foxes famous for poaching hen houses, but that changed in the 1600s when traditional British fox hunts began. Aristocrats began breeding the English foxhound, which combines the speed of a greyhound and scent ability of a conventional hound, to guide them on chases in packs. A member of the hound group, the breed’s keen sense of smell and baying, a deep and prolonged howl, were ideal for sniffing out and alerting the presence of fox.
- 2018 popularity rank: #149
Considered a “cautionary tale for dog breeders,” due to its instant popularity followed by near extinction, the field spaniel has a rich history. Initially classified by size and duty in the 1800s to hunt game birds, British spaniels became popular during the birth of dog shows in England, when specific types and breeds were coveted as winners. The field spaniel—a mixture of Sussex, English, springer, and cocker—was an instant hit until health became an issue, which eventually led to just cocker and springer mating.
- 2018 popularity rank: #140
Named after the Ancient Aztec dog-headed god Xolotl, this hairless breed was said to guide its owners into the afterlife, which is why it was killed and buried alongside humans as far back as 3,000 years ago. Surviving time, Xolos are still considered sacred in Mexico as dedicated watchdogs. It was not just the Ancient Aztecs and modern-day Mexicans who adore this dog, but also Christopher Columbus and Spanish missionary Bernadino de Sahagún, who journaled about having Xolos alongside them in their journeys.
- 2018 popularity rank: #129
Though bred to work the farm chasing rodents and herding cattle, the stunning, shiny blue coat of a Kerry blue terrier makes it a winner, with 43 out of 95 winners by 2003 at the 127th Westminster Dog Show Club, when famous canine Mick stole Best in Show. Named after County Kerry in Ireland, the breed was once a country mascot, representing Irish patriots who fought for their freedom. Its Irish roots and mystery surrounding its backstory has given rise to legends involving leprechauns and shipwrecks, among other fantastic tales.
- 2018 popularity rank: #120
Dating back to 7,000 years B.C., Egyptian, Asian, and Middle Eastern kings kept the sleek, tall Saluki at their sides. Present when Alexander the Great invaded India and known to be the hunting companions to Pharaohs, the Saluki was considered so sacred in ancient days some royals had them mummified. Though thousands of years have passed since they originated, Saluki’s almond-shaped eyes, height, colors, and patterns remain.
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- 2018 popularity rank: #113
From the region of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, the Afghan hound’s age, which predates written history, is not only noted by authorities to be the oldest purebred dog, but myth boasts it was present during the Great Flood. Owned by Asian aristocrats, and other royal clans, the majestic-looking canine, which stands as tall as 27 inches with panoramic sight, was registered as a purebred pup by the AKC in 1927. By 1959, Mattel Barbie brought the breed great fame as the plastic doll's pup.
- 2018 popularity rank: #101
The fox terrier had a very specific duty in the 1700s, and that was “go to ground,” which means getting game out of their dens for huntsmen. Once out of the hole, horsemen would track, chase, and kill foxes across the countryside. The breed is almost always all white so it will not be mistaken for a fox during the chase. With 15 Westminster Best in Shows, the Wire Fox Terrier is both attractive and family-friendly, with bouts of energy and personality.
- 2018 popularity rank: #93
The mixed breed of Saint Bernard and Newfoundland, Leonbergers originate from a region in Germany of the same name and were initially bred for kings. While some royal owners—including Napoleon III, King Edward VII, and Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi—have called Leonbergers them their companions, so have more humble men like farmers and fishers, since the breed works well in pastures and on waterfronts.
- 2018 popularity rank: #92
This breed was considered so sacred by the ancient Chinese ruling class that, if a Pekingese was stolen, death was the punishment. Exactly where and when the flat-faced dog originated from is unknown, but fanciful legend has it that Buddha shrunk a lion down to a dog. In reality, the lapdog was bred and owned by Chinese emperors for centuries and are the ancestors to modern-day dogs, including the Peke, Pug, and Shih Tzu. The breed made its way west centuries later when the British Army plundered Beijing in the 1860s.
- 2018 popularity rank: #87
Believe it or not, the Basenji breed does not bark—it yodels. Considered to be possibly the oldest breed by paleontologists and the AKC, Basenjis trace back through the artworks from both Babylonia and Mesopotamia, and tales about traveling the Nile River in Africa to be given as presents for Pharaohs. The ancient-African dog saw its way West by 1895 but was not bred successfully until 1937 in England. Like cats, Basenjis clean their entire body, which could account for their lack of odor.
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- 2018 popularity rank: #73
Italian greyhounds were bred as companion dogs more than 2,000 years ago in the Mediterranean regions of what is now Greece and Turkey. During the Renaissance in Italy, these miniature dogs were considered a status symbol and were owned by royals ranging from Catherine the Great to Anne of Denmark. Lobengula, an African king, once paid 200 head of cattle for a single Italian greyhound.
- 2018 popularity rank: #71
In Tibet, Lhasa Apsos have helped guard Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas for over a century, where they are still called by their original name, Abso Seng Kye, which translates to “Bark Lion Sentinel Dog.” Believed to be the final form taken by priests before reaching human status in the reincarnation process, Lhasas were often given as gifts of respect by multiple Dalai Lama. The first two Lhasas to be registered in America were gifted to C. Suydam Cutting, the first white Christian to set foot in the sacred city of Lhasa in the 1930s.
- 2018 popularity rank: #59
Samoyeds are named after the Samoyede people who, 1,000 years ago, used the dogs for their ability to continue working even in the coldest regions of Siberia (Oymyakon can reach minus-60 degrees), where the semi-nomadic tribe settled. Capable of pulling one-and-a-half times their body weight, the Samoyed was introduced to Europe in the late 18th century by Arctic explorers returning from the expedition. While “Sammies” appear to be always smiling, over time, the corners of their mouths developed that way to keep drool from forming icicles while working in the tundra.
- 2018 popularity rank: #57
The oldest of the Highland terriers, “Scotties” were created to help hunt small game, mostly rats, foxes, and badgers in the rugged Scotland Highlands. England’s King James I was known for giving the dogs as gifts during his reign in the 17th century, while John Naylor first introduced the breed to the United States in 1883. His dog, Whinstone, is thought to be the primary sire of today’s Scottish Terrier’s. Fala is perhaps history’s most famous Scottie, helping the breed expand in the U.S. as the pet to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s. He is buried in the Rose Garden near the White House.
- 2018 popularity rank: #48
Bernard of Menthon established a hospice in 1050 to help pilgrims on their travels through the Swiss Alps to Rome, using dogs to help rescue those trapped by the 40-foot snowdrifts. Over the next several centuries, monks at the hospice evolved the breed into today’s Saint Bernard, including Barry, who is credited with saving 40 lives between 1800 and 1814. Artist Edwin Landseer’s painting “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler” created the famous depiction of Saint Bernard’s today, by painting a cask around the neck of one of the dogs.
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- 2018 popularity rank: #47
Akitas were bred to be powerful hunting dogs capable of wrangling big game, including the Yezo bear, during the 17th century in northern Japan. Developed by an aristocrat during exile on the island of Honshu, ownership was initially limited to the imperial family, while today, the Akita is revered by all in Japan, with the parents of newborns receiving Akita statues as a sign of health. Blind and deaf author Helen Keller is cited as bringing the first Akita into the U.S. in 1937 after learning of Hachiko, an Akita that waited for nine years at a train station for the return of its deceased owner.
- 2018 popularity rank: #44
First brought to the United States in 1954 by a military family, Shiba Inu’s date back to 300 B.C. and were bred for their hunting ability in the mountains of Japan. The breed nearly became extinct during the bombing raids of World War II and the distemper virus that followed but has bounced back to be the top dog in Japan. A famous Japanese movie was made to recount the 2004 story of Mari, a Shiba Inu that rescued her three puppies and helped her owner to safety following an earthquake in the village of Yamakoshi.
- 2018 popularity rank: #41
The Rhodesian ridgeback is the result of breeding native African Khoikhoi dogs with European breeds brought to southern Africa by Dutch colonists. A remarkable dog because of its immunity to bug bites, a Rhodesian ridgeback can keep a running pace with a horse for more than 30 miles. While most dogs enjoy chasing cats, the Rhodesian ridgeback was bred to be a big-game hunter and was previously named the African lion hound for its ability to corral the king of the jungle. Actor Errol Flynn in the 1930s was the first to breed Rhodesian ridgebacks in the United States, although his version is now extinct.
- 2018 popularity rank: #40
Named for the area of Canada in which they originated, Newfoundlands’ webbed feet and waterproof coats made them perfect companions for fishermen in the North Atlantic. Weighing around 120 pounds, Newfoundlands can save a grown man from drowning and are used as rescue dogs around the world, with numerous annual events to certify them. The French Coast Guard found a Newfoundland is capable of towing a rescue raft filled with 20 people two miles with no stress on the dog.
- 2018 popularity rank: #39
The basset hound was mainly bred for its fantastic nose, as its ability to track rabbits and deer during hunts made it a favorite of French aristocrats in the 18th century. Bassets, meaning “Low” in French, are descendants from dogs created in sixth-century France by St. Hubert, the patron saint of the hunt, who wanted a dwarf version of a bloodhound that could be closely followed by a hunter on foot. Basset hounds are highly intelligent and affectionate and use their floppy ears and many wrinkles to help them better pick up scents.
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- 2018 popularity rank: #32
The Cane Corso (KAH-neh KOR-soh), or Italian mastiff, is a working breed that traces its origins to the Canis Pugnax of the Roman Empire, large guard dogs were brought to Italy and bred. Used for herding or hunting large animals, Cane Corsos nearly became extinct until Dr. Paolo Breber began breeding them in the 1970s in southern Italy. Cane Corsos were introduced in the United States in 1988 and received recognition from the American Kennel Club in the Working Dog category in 2010.
- 2018 popularity rank: #17
Louis Doberman, a dog breeder and tax collector in the 19th-century Germany, created the Doberman to protect him in the hostile world of tax collection. Nicknamed “Velcro dogs” for their loyalty to their masters, the Doberman gained reverence among the Marines in World War II, when the “Devil Dogs” helped detect hidden enemies and guard soldiers while they slept during raids in the South Pacific. Those killed in action are commemorated at The War Dog Cemetery on Guam.
- 2018 popularity rank: #4
The French bulldog originated in the English city of Nottingham as a mascot of sorts for the lace makers of the region; the Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s forced many in the lace industry to settle in Northern France with their dogs. French bulldogs declined rapidly in the U.S. after World War I (perhaps due to the rise of the Boston terrier), and by 1940 only 100 were registered with the American Kennel Club. A rejuvenated and younger generation of breeders in the AKC helped that number go from 170 in 1980 to over 5,500 in 2006.
- 2018 popularity rank: #3
Golden retrievers were developed by Dudley Marjoribanks, the first Lord of Tweedmouth, for hunting on the wet, rugged terrain of the Scottish Highlands. Lord Tweedmouth kept meticulous records of his breeding attempts, noting that the final form was found in 1868 by breeding a wavy-coated retriever named Nous with a Tweed water spaniel called Belle who produced four golden puppies. In 2013, hundreds of golden retriever owners visited the Guisachan House—where Marjoribanks created the breed—to commemorate 100 years of Britain’s Golden Retriever Club.
- 2018 popularity rank: #1
Originating from the St. John’s dog, the labrador retriever exploded in popularity after English nobles visiting Newfoundland, Canada, started to bring them back to England. As these dogs were noted for their loyalty and ability to speed fishing and hunting, the Second Earl of Malmesbury coined the name in a letter in 1887 and is credited with creating the first kennel for Labradors in England. It’s unknown whether the name Labrador caught on because of the area of Newfoundland where they were found, or after a similar-looking breed in Portugal in the village of Castro Laboreiro.
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