Where most dogs elicit smiles from passersby, rare dog breeds evoke wonder, curiosity, and many a “what kind of dog is that?” If you get one of these 21 awesome and unusual dog breeds, be forewarned—the questions and comments won’t end.
These uncommon dogs often have stand-out traits from corded coats to truffle-hunting skills to distinctive ears. Some look familiar, except for the unexpected color or texture of their coats.
Some are the new canines on the block—aka recent crossbreeds or designer breeds. (Any breed + Poodle are among the most popular these days.) These dogs may have their own clubs, but they are not purebred dogs and the American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn’t recognize them.
We’ve also included a few extinct breeds who contributed their DNA to modern purebreds, and very rare breeds with ancient roots who hail from far-flung locales. In today’s close-knit world, few exceptional dogs are left undiscovered and unloved—at least by someone.
21 Rare, Recent, and Extinct (But Not Forgotten) Dog Breeds
1. Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
This merry breed has abundant energy and a gregarious personality. Originally bred to pack hunt rabbits through the underbrush in France, Petit Basset Griffon Vendéens know how to work and play well with others. PBGVs have long been regulars on the show circuit and they are growing in popularity as family dogs, but they remain rare in the US, where they ranked at 156 on the AKC’s “Most Popular Dogs” list in 2018. The PBGVs cousin, the Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen, is also rare and was just recognized by the AKC in 2018.
2. Coton de Tuléar
The sweet expression of this small dog perfectly matches the breed’s sweet nature. Cotons de Tuléar are named for their cottony coat and for Tuléar, a city on the island of Madagascar where the modern breed developed. Though these spirited and friendly dogs have earned a devoted following, they remain relatively rare—perhaps, in part, because their beautiful, soft coats require routine care.
3. Wirehaired Vizsla
This striking sporting breed with a golden-rust wire coat and bearded muzzle is gentle, jovial, and smart. Wirehaired Vizslas are similar in looks and temperament to their smooth-coated cousins, but aren’t nearly as common; Vizslas rank at 31 on the AKC list of most popular dogs, while Wirehaired Vizslas rank at 167.
This imposing, self-assured dog was bred to protect remote farms in South Africa. Their powerful frames and strong-willed temperament help explain why they remain a rare breed—Boerboels will assert themselves as dominant pack members if allowed. Only experienced dog owners should consider the Boerboel.
This long and lean sighthound hails from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in West Africa, where the breed hunted gazelle and other animals in the Sahara Desert. An ancient breed, Azawakhs (pronounced AH-ZA-WAHKS) are gentle, playful, and affectionate with their families, and make watchful guard dogs.
6. Cirneco dell’Etna
Though small in stature, the Cirneco dell’Etna (Cirneci dell’Etna in plural) has a powerful, lean frame that gives her the speed you’d expect from a coursing hound. With their noble profiles and long, upright ears, Cirnechi are similar to their cousins, Pharaoh Hounds, and have equally ancient roots. Though affectionate, loyal, and gentle, the breed ranks near the bottom of the AKC’s ‘most popular’ list.
7. Lagotti Romangnolo
The curly-coated Lagotto Romangnolo (the singular form of the name) developed in Italy. The breed’s earliest job was retrieving prey for hunters in the marshes of the Emilia-Romagna region, but later their powerful noses were put to work sniffing out truffles—a tradition they continue to this day.
8. Turnspit Dog – Extinct
In the 16th century, this small dog was a common kitchen helper in large kitchens across Britain. These athletic dogs ran in a wheel (similar to a hamster wheel) mounted on the kitchen wall and rigged to a spit over the cooking fire. When it was time to roast meat, the dog ran and turned the spit. Also known as the vernepator cur (Latin for the dog that turns the wheel) and Canis vertigus (dizzy dog in Latin), the turnspit dog went extinct after the invention of a mechanical version.
9. Bergamasco Sheepdog
The unique coat of the Bergamasco Sheepdog looks high maintenance—likely a contributing factor to the breed’s rarity. The thick felted coat is actually easy to care for after the floor-length loose mats form; brushing and cutting the coat aren’t required, and washing is necessary only a few times each year. Bergamascos originated in the Italian Alps, where their coats protected them from cold winds while they herded flocks.
This adorable pooch is a crossbreed of Corgis (Cardigan Welsh or Pembroke Welsh) and Poodles (Standard or Toy). This designer breed is relatively new, and though growing in popularity, remains rare. Because the Corgipoo is a crossbreed, there’s variability among individual dogs; you may get a dog with long or short legs, or with floppy or standing ears. And because there’s Corgi in the mix, Corgipoos are not considered hypoallergenic.
11. Molossian Hound – Extinct
This large hound breed is believed the ancient forbear of many of today’s most popular dog breeds, including Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes, Mastiffs, and St. Bernards. The breed developed among the ancient Molossis people of Epirus (a region of modern Greece and Albania) who used the powerful hound to guard their livestock. Later, Molossian Hounds spread across Europe and were used as war dogs during the Roman Empire.
12. Berger Picard
This rustic herding dog developed in the Picardy region of France, and is an energetic, lively, and loyal breed. Because Berger Picards are stubborn and willful, they do best with owners who know how to socialize and train dogs, and who can give them the exercise and attention they need.
13. St. John’s Water Dog – Extinct
The famed ancestor of the Labrador Retriever, St. John’s Water Dogs worked as fishing dogs along the coast of Newfoundland. The story goes that the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury admired the dogs’ skill retrieving fishing and had some of them sent to England, where they were developed into today’s beloved Lab.
14. English Foxhound
Though affectionate and gentle, this striking hound isn’t a good companion animal because she has a powerful prey drive that makes her tough to manage. English Foxhounds have endless stamina and energy, and are among the most tenacious of the pack hound breeds.
Dalmatians and Dachshunds mix in this new entrant on the designer dog scene. The looks and temperament of Dalmachshunds can vary widely, depending upon which breed parent their genetics favor. But both breeds have a powerful stubborn streak, so training promises to be challenging.
16. American Hairless Terrier
The American Hairless Terrier is an alert, playful bundle of energy with an independent nature; it’s essential their owners possess the time and patience for abundant activity and training. Though often hairless, as the name implies, AHTs may also have a short, smooth coat. Precautions must be taken with the hairless variety to prevent sunburn.
This beyond-cute dog breed has a curious nature and expressive ears that fold over at the top third, which lends Pumik (plural) a distinctive and whimsical appearance. Originating as a herder in Hungary, the lively, energetic, and smart Pumi requires early training and socialization.
The Sloughi is an ancient sighthound bred to hunt game in the deserts of North Africa. Gentle and sensitive, Sloughis need calm owners who train them using positive reinforcement. Of the 193 breeds recognized by the AKC, Sloughis rank at 192 in popularity.
To the Aztecs, the ancient Xoloitzcuintli was a sacred companion who guided the dead on their journey. Xolos are loving and affectionate, as well as independent and high-energy dogs; early socialization and training are musts for this breed. The breed may be smooth-coated or hairless, with the latter requiring protection from the sun’s harsh rays.
20. Nederlandse Kooikerhondje
This beautiful orange- or red-and-white dog from the Netherlands was the subject of paintings by famed Dutch artists of the late Middle Ages. This bright, sporty dog is friendly, eager and hardworking—one of the Kookerhondje’s first jobs was hunting ducks in manmade ponds meant to lure ducks for hunters. The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje doesn’t run out of energy easily and has a strong prey drive, making the cheerful and lively breed a handful.
21. Rescue Dog
Your local animal shelter is a good source of the rarest dogs. A Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Shepherd mix with a sweet nature? A playful, feisty mix of Chihuahua, Fox Terrier, and Coonhound? An amiable, rust-colored dog with unknown ancestry? You never know what you’re going to find when you explore adopting a dog. Whether you know her breed background or not, your rescue dog is surely one-of-a-kind.