Amidst the familiar barks and wagging tails of the many popular dog breeds, there exists an often overlooked realm of rare canine companions. These breeds, though lesser-known, carry with them rich histories, from unique environments, shaped by distinct challenges and roles they’ve played alongside humans.
Dogs that have been bred for specific working roles or guarding roles. For one reason or another they may not be the most popular, but that doesn’t mean they are not full of good traits and personality.
Let’s take a look at some of the most unique and rare dog breeds, and explore the diversity of our age-old bond with man’s best friend.
Originating from the snowy landscapes of Tibet, the Tibetan Mastiff is a very large breed. Their massive size, complemented by a noble bearing, is accentuated by an impressive double coat. While their appearance might be intimidating, their temperament is a mix of aloofness and watchfulness. This makes them excellent guardian breeds. However, their independent nature means they might not always be eager to engage in activities.
For families considering adopting one, it’s essential to provide consistent training and ensure they have a spacious environment to thrive.
The Swedish Vallhund might look short and stocky, but they are both athletic and versatile. Hailing from Sweden, this Scandinavian dog breed are small yet powerful and fearless. Their varied colours and tail lengths add to their charm.
Historically, they’ve excelled in various activities, from obedience and agility to tracking and herding. Their background as farm dogs makes them excellent companions for families with active lifestyles. They are generally good with kids and also with other pets, but they do need active training and a yard to play in. They are energetic dogs and need the space to run around and be active to prevent frustration and negative bahaviour.
Bedlingtons are playful and cheerful but less rowdy and calmer indoors than many of the terrier breeds. Once outside these terriers change from docile into fun-loving, fast and energetic dogs. These dogs love companionship and games but can be jealous of children and other pets.
The Bedlington barks a lot and makes a good watchdog as it is suspicious of strangers. Early socialization and obedience training will help the Bedlington overcome its timidity. Bedlingtons can be very stubborn and love to dig in the backyard. First-time dog owners who are firm and patient will do very well with this breed.
With a striking resemblance to a fox, the Finnish Spitz captures attention with its erect ears, beautiful dense coat, and bushy tail. These dogs, native to Finland, are known for their intelligence and brisk movements. They have a very friendly demeanour, but they are also known to bark a lot.
An active family that can provide regular adventures would be a perfect match for this breed. With their intelligence, they are an easy breed to train, but they do need to be stimulated mentally and physically to maintain happy, good behaviour. The Finnish Spitz is not really suitable for small homes without a garden or yard.
Their thick coat can also make them a bit uncomfortable in warmer climates during the hotter parts of the day. They are much more comfortable in cooler climates and love to play in the snow.
The Otterhound is a very rare breed, with some very remarkable features. They are considered a vulnerable native breed, with only around 600 dogs estimated to exist around the world.
These dogs were originally bred in the UK to hunt otters – hence the name! With its webbed feet and rough, double coat, they were historically well prepared for this, and remain as adept in water as they are on land.
Beyond their hunting instinct and mastery, they do make delightful pets. Characterized by their inquisitive, boisterous, and amiable nature, with early training and socialisation they are great family companions. For families considering this breed, it’s essential to provide them with ample space to roam and play, given their size and energy. They love a good swim too, so walks that include the sea, or local river are a fun day out for them, but take a towel!
The Norwegian Lundehund is a rare and ancient breed, with evidence of their domestication going back as far as 5000 years! They serve as an example of some unique traits of canine evolution. For starters, this breed has at least six toes and extra pads on each foot! They also have a neck so flexible it can tip its head backward to touch its spine, and ears they can control at will.
These unique features historically aided them in puffin hunting in their native Norway. Their name even comes from the Norwegian word for puffin, ‘Lunde’. When they were used in this capacity, they were a popular breed in Norway. Once fishermen and hunters started using nets to catch puffins though, their numbers started to decline. At one point, they were only found in specific isolated fishing villages, in very small populations.
Despite their hunting background, they are described as ‘easy-to-live-with’ pets, making them suitable for families. However, their high energy levels mean they thrive best in homes where they can be active. If they are not properly stimulated, that excess energy can soon turn to mischief.
Named after the Inuit word for ‘warm winter winds’, the Chinook is a rare breed that shows great resilience against the cold. This breed, which originated in New Hampshire, USA, was developed as a sled-dog racing breed.
Their double coat not only protects them from the cold but makes them a very attractive breed. Combining the power of a freighting dog with the speed of racing sled dogs, the Chinook is both hardworking and friendly, making it a great family companion, especially in colder climates.
These are known to have a calm and composed temperament. They are easy to train, love activity and are really good with children as well as the family as a whole.
Catahoula Leopard Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog – recognised by some authorities as the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, is a rare example of America’s rich canine history. It often has a multi-colored or spotted coat, and is believed to be the first dog crossbred in the United States. Origins are unclear, but it is believed to be from native dogs and European Beauceron dogs brought over by French settlers to create a better working dog.
Named after Catahoula Parish in Louisiana, they were traditionally used to hunt wild boar. Their territorial and loyal nature means they form strong bonds with their families, making them protective companions. However, early training is crucial to ensure they socialize well with strangers. They make good working, guard and family dogs. They will protect your house, but also also show lots of love.
Peruvian Inca Orchid
Dating back to before AD 750, the Peruvian Inca Orchid is a rare dog breed steeped in history. This agile, smart, and swift dog is usually hairless, showcasing skin in a variety of colours. Originally from Peru, they are adept at hunting and lure coursing.
They are recognised as part of Peru’s cultural history, and have a long documented relationship with humans. In Peru, they are often used as healing dogs, their bodies radiating warmth that is often used to provide pain relief or warmth through the night for owners that will cuddle up to their dogs.
While they can become treasured pets, they can also be reserved. It’s essential to give them their space and not overwhelm them with too many new faces and stimulus at once. They have lots of love for their family but are naturally wary of strangers, so early socialisation and training is needed for these dogs.
They are not recommended for first-time or inexperienced owners. They need someone that is wise to behaviour, interpreting movement and very in tune to their dog. They need plenty of mental and physical stimulus, as with great intelligence, they may bore easy and become mischievous if frustrated.
The Thai Ridgeback is a muscular, medium sized breed that wears its uniqueness on its back, quite literally. They have a distinct ridge of hair that grows in the opposite direction of its short, smooth coat, running along its back. Native to Thailand, the Thai Ridgeback was relatively unknown outside its homeland until recently.
Their protective and independent nature makes them loyal companions for families, but they may also prefer their own space rather than engaging in games. They are not a recommended breed for inexperienced owners, and for good reason.
Consistent training and a secure environment are key for this breed. They can jump really high and with their independent nature, without a secure environment and proper training, they may decide to roam.
They also need early socialisation or they can become either too shy or too aggressive.
Hailing from West Africa, the Azawakh is an elegant sighthound. Their slender build is complemented by a short coat that comes in a wide variety of colors and markings. Beyond their beauty, they are fiercely protective companions and guardians. Their intelligence also makes them adept lure coursers.
Families considering an Azawakh should provide them with regular exercise and early socialization to ensure they develop a well-rounded temperament. They are active dogs and need plenty exercise, as well as early socialisation and training.
Without adequate training, their fierce protectiveness can lean toward aggression and this has to be controlled early if you want a suitable family dog.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is often referred to as the ‘truffle dog’ due to its keen sense of smell and exceptional truffle-hunting abilities. This Italian breed of dog, with its distinctive, curly wool-like fur, hails from the Romagna sub-region of Italy. While they were initially used as water retrievers and gun dogs, their primary role today is to sniff out the prized fungi.
Their active and affectionate nature makes them wonderful companions. Families that can provide mental stimulation and regular exercise will find a joyful partner in the Lagotto Romagnolo. They don’t need a huge amount of exercise, but they do love to be outdoors, sniffing everything they can get their nose into. If you love truffles then they are a great companion to take on your foraging too!
The Mudi, is a rare breed from Hungary. It is traditionally a herding dog known for its curly coat and alert demeanour. These dogs are versatile, and very useful in a variety of capacities. They are often used in roles as hunters, rodent exterminators, herding dogs, and flock guardians.
Their active nature means they thrive in environments where they can be mentally and physically stimulated. Families that enjoy outdoor activities will find a loyal companion in the Mudi. But they really come into their own as farm dogs and working dogs, with open space to run and a measure of independence.
Originating from the Friesland region of the Netherlands, the Stabyhoun is a rare breed known for its sleek black and white coat. It is actually one of the rarest dog breeds in the world. It only became a known breed outside of it’s native province in the 1960’s.
Historically used for hunting and as a watchdog, the Stabyhoun is calm yet alert. Their protective nature makes them excellent guard dogs, but they’re also known to be good with families. While they are not commonly used as hunting dogs, they do show good skills, particularly as a gun dog. They are very versatile dogs, and great multitaskers – suited best to farming and working environments.
Regular exercise and early training are essential for this breed, which is happiest when it has something to do. They are considered a national treasure in the Netherlands, and while they are now found outside of their native land, there are only a few thousand of these dogs around the planet.
Karelian Bear Dog
The Karelian Bear Dog is definitely not the pup for everyone, but, when raised in the right family, this breed is loyal, loving and playful. While they do have a naturally aggressive instinct towards other animals thanks to their hunting nature, when they are trained and socialized by their owners they can grow up to be very well-rounded dogs.
Training and socializing takes time though, and you will have to be firm and consistent. You must also dedicate time to exercising the Karelian and keeping them entertained, but as long as they stay engaged and loved they can make a wonderful companion.
The Carolina Dog is a medium-sized powerful dog with a red-ginger or yellow-colored coat, big pointy ears, a fox-like face, and a long fish hook tail.
The Carolina dog is a ‘pariah’ dog, and one of the few purebred dog breeds around today with truly primitive origins. It has survived by the process of natural selection; survival of the fittest of the breed and remains a pure breed.
The Carolina Dog is considered a primitive dog breed meaning it still retains the primitive instincts from its ancestors; a resourceful hunting and survival ability.
New Guinea Singing Dog
One of the rarest dog breeds in the world, the New Guinea Singing Dog is known for its unique and melodious howls and vocalizations. They look similar to the Dingo, but are smaller and are a ‘barkless’ dog.
Native to New Guinea, this breed was once found in both the wild and in domestic situations living with village people. It has since become domesticated in some other countries, such as the USA, and a sought-after companion due to its agility and intelligence. In the USA there are two organisations set up that provide education on the breed, as well as managing breeding and rescue of these dogs.
While they make excellent pets, they retain some of their wild instincts, making early socialization crucial. They are not aggressive dogs, but they are better suited to experienced owners, as they need to be socialized properly, and provided with plenty mental and physical activity.
Because of their relatively recent domestication their is no getting away from their wild side, but in the right homes, these are loving, fun and active companions.
The Catalburun is one of the few breeds with a distinct split nose. They are a very rare breed, with only a few hundred known to exist worldwide. Originating from Turkey, this breed is a skilled hunter with a keen sense of smell. They have a short coat, that can come in a variety of colours, and are believed to share ancestry with the similar Spanish Pachón Navarro. It’s thought these two dogs share ancestry dating back to the 8th Century.
Their alert and curious nature makes them excellent watchdogs. However, their independent streak means they require consistent training and early socialization.
They were originally bred for hunting and this instinct remains strong in these dogs, even with good training. They look very similar to the beagle, and have a very similar temperament too. They need a skilled owner that is aware of their environment, as well as their individual dogs intelligence and likelihood to follow their nose.
Also known as the Brazilian Mastiff, the Fila Brasileiro is a large breed with a powerful build. Native to Brazil, they are known for their tracking abilities and protective nature. They have a distinctively strong frame, with large bones and loose skin around the face and neck, covered with a smooth coat.
They are known for being good working dogs, and are often used for big game hunting. Their strong build and guarding nature were employed regularly during the colonial ear to fend off jaguars and other large predators that would hassle cattle. They were also used to track and return slaves that escaped from plantations.
Today, they are still kept as guard dogs and working dogs, but they are sometimes kept as companion dogs too. While they do form strong bonds with their families, they can be wary of strangers, making early socialization essential. A firm hand in training and a spacious environment are essential for this breed.
The Telomian is a Malaysian breed that, until the 1960’s only existed in isolated villages near the Telom River. It has since been exported to the USA where they are bred. Although all of the Telomian in the USA can be traced back to 4 original dogs.
They are still used and were traditionally used by the Orang Asli indigenous people of Malaysia to catch vermin, and as pets. They are great at catching rats and snakes, and respond well to positive reinforcement when they are successful at this. The Telomian also have an unusual climbing ability, which they used to navigate the stilted homes common in their native region.
Protective yet sweet, the Telomian forms strong bonds with its family. Regular exercise and early training are key for this breed, which is not yet recognised by any major kennel club as a distinctive breed.
The Biewer Terrier, often compared to baby lambs due to their coat, is a toy breed that originated in Germany. Their unique black, tan, and white colouring is a result of the rare piebald gene. Lively and cuddly, they make delightful family dogs and thrive with regular play and affection.
They are great companion dogs, and don’t need a huge amount of exercise. Suitable for most types of home and will love the family they are in. With good training they will socialize well with others too.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, the Cesky Terrier is a small breed known for its silky coat and playful nature. It is longer than it is tall, with a distinctive, muscular but terrier like frame.
It is one of the top 6 rarest dog breeds known to exist. It’s origins can be traced back to the breeding efforts of František Horák in 1948, in an effort to create the perfect hunting dog for the local bohemian forests in communist Czechoslovakia.
Horák bred the Cesky Terrier from a Sealyham Terrier and a Scottish Terrier, and although a rare breed, can be found in many countries including the UK and USA. It is recognised today, by all major kennel clubs.
Originally bred to hunt and to chase vermin, they are now bred for show, as well as rare, cherished family pets. While they love playing games, early socialization is essential as they can be wary of strangers.
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
The Dandie Dinmont Terrier, with its unique ‘top-knot’ of head hair and it’s long body with short legs, is a small breed from Scotland. Independent and confident, they were originally bred for hunting badgers and otters in their native Cumbrian, Northumberland and Scottish Borders. There are currently 3 breeding organisations for these dogs in the UK.
They are classed as a vulnerable native breed, and can suffer back problems due to their long bodies. In terms of temperament, they are known for being strong but friendly when trained well. They may be a bit short tempered or agitated with young, boisterous kids, but they are good with older children. Regular training sessions and a playful environment are ideal for this intelligent breed.
The English Foxhound is a fine, but rare example of Britain’s rich hunting tradition. With a sleek and athletic build, this breed was developed for the specific purpose of fox hunting. They are very attractive dogs and have a social and friendly nature. This makes them excellent companions, but they thrive best when they have a job to do or are engaged in social activities.
Their high energy levels mean they require plenty of exercise and socialization. Families that lead an active lifestyle will find a perfect companion in the English Foxhound. They do need an experienced owner though, that can keep the natural hunter in them at bay.
Estrela Mountain Dog
The Estrela Mountain Dog originates from the Estrela Mountains in Portugal. Also known as the Portuguese Shepherd and Cao da Serra da Estrela, these large dogs are courageous and loyal, making a wonderful family pet that will protect their humans at all times. Although these dogs are not normally found outside of their native Portugal, you may get lucky at your local shelter!
The Estrela Mountain Dog comes from Portugal and, while these dogs are still primarily used as herding dogs in Portugal, they are also know favored as companion dogs in other parts of the world. They are not very common outside of the country, but it is still possible to add one of these wonderful pups to your household when you live in the United States. Certain breed organizations and breed specific rescues will be able to help.
The Estrela Mountain Dog has a breed standard that must be adhered to by breeders. That being said, there are variations within the Estrela Mountain Dog, particularly relating to their size and coat.
The Hovawart is a very attractive German breed that displays equal measures of elegance and strength. While historically very popular in their native Germany, they almost dissapeared as a species until efforts were made to save the breed around the turn of the 20th Century.
With a silky soft coat and a regal appearance, they were historically used as guard dogs for estates. Their protective nature is balanced with affection, making them excellent family pets. That being said, they can be very wary of strangers, particularly if they are kept for their exceptional guarding traits.
Despite their notoriety as a guarding breed, they’ve also been recognized for their roles as therapy dogs. Early training and regular exercise are key to ensuring they remain well-rounded and happy.
Without adequate stimulation they, like most intelligent or active breeds, can become bored and from there destructive or frustrated.
The Kai Ken, also known as the Tiger Dog, is a rare Japanese breed known for its brindle colouring. It is very rare even in it’s native country and is one of the six native Japanese dog breeds protected by the NIPPO organization.
Historically, they were used for hunting in the mountainous regions of Japan. They are known for being both intelligent and brave, and with their wary nature toward strangers, they make really good guard dogs.
Active and alert, they form strong bonds with their families. However, they can be reserved around people they don’t know, making early socialization crucial for those that are wanted as companion dogs. Families that can provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation will find a loyal partner in the Kai Ken.
Originating from the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, the Pyrenean Shepherd is a herding dog through and through. They are most commonly found in the French Pyrenees, as working dogs, with a great herding instinct. They come in two varieties: smooth-faced and rough-faced. Their active and playful nature is complemented by their intelligence. They make excellent family companions as well as herding dogs.
Given their skill and history of herding, they need active families that can offer regular play and stimulus. They are naturally intelligent and good with people, but to maintain good behaviour and responsiveness, engagement and exercise are essential for this breed to thrive.
The Sloughi, often referred to as the ‘Arabian Greyhound’, is a rare breed that illustrates the elegance of sighthounds. Native to North Africa, they have a sleek build similar to greyhounds. Their temperament is a blend of shyness and gentleness. Historically, they were bred as hunters, and their keen sight and speed are a testament to this.
While they can be reserved, they are gentle by nature. A calm environment and gentle training approach are ideal for the Sloughi. They are natural hunters however, and this should never be forgotten. Suited mostly to individuals or families with older children, and experience with owning hunting dogs.
A Xoloitzcuintli dog is a unique hairless breed of dog. While the appearance of this pup isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, the Xolo is a loving and affectionate breed that devotes themselves to their owners. Protective and loyal, the Xoloitzcuintli can make a great companion dog and just wants to be around their family at all times.
With relatively low exercise needs and good trainability, this dog is not too much of a handful and the three sizes they come in means you can certainly find a Xoloitzcuintli to fit into your home. Do you think this doggie is the right pup for you