Perfect Pet, Heroic Hound Or Fierce Fighter? The Story Behind Your Favorite Dog Breeds

Perfect Pet, Heroic Hound Or Fierce Fighter? The Story Behind Your Favorite Dog Breeds
oldest dog breed

Modern canines are living the lavish life in dog houses, playing games of fetch and all they can nibble all the kibble. While seen predominantly as pets today, these popular dog breeds were bred with an entirely different purpose in mind. The cutest little pup might have once been a ferocious fighter.

1. The English Foxhound

According to Dog Time, a site that specializes in everything dogs, the English foxhound was bred into history after the Roman Empire was abolished and gave way to medieval England. This particular breed was the country’s solution for the foxes that would regularly steal the chickens belonging to the villagers.

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Before the foxhound came to be, regular hounds were sent after the foxes but they rarely came back with results. They needed a dog with the speed and stamina of a greyhound and the keen sense of smell that came with the traditional hound. At one point, your pet English foxhound was less about walks in the park and way more about hunting in packs.

2. The Field Spaniel

Your cuddly field spaniel may look docile, but this dog was originally bred with hunting in mind. In the 1800s field spaniels were among the most popular dogs when it came to hunting game birds. With time their popularity quickly changed tracks from hunting to dog shows.

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According to MSN, the breeding of the field spaniel soon proved dangerous for the dogs and nearly drove them into extinction. The field spaniel was a mix of a Sussex, English, Springer and cocker spaniel. This resulted in a beautiful little dog that was proportionate but prone to health issues. Today, the field spaniel is actually quite rare to come across and is made up of just a cocker and Springer spaniel.

3. Xoloitzcuintli

While the Xoloitzcuintli isn’t as aww-inspiring as a fluffy golden retriever, this hairless hound is actually the closest thing in the dog family to god-like status. According to National Geographic, the Xoloitzcuintli goes back 3,500 years and was a highly beloved breed by ancient Aztec and Mayan people.

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“Xolotl” meant “god of lightning and death” in the Aztec language and “itzcuintli” meant “dog.” They believed that the Xoloitzcuintli was created by their god to guard the living and guide the souls of the dead through the dangers of the underworld. Even today, these dogs are considered sacred in Mexico and are used as trusted watch dogs.

4. Kerry Blue Terrier

The Kerry blue terrier has a very rich history. According to MSN the dog originally hails from County Kerry in the Irish province of Munster and was named (in case you couldn’t tell) after the county. The Kerry blue terrier was even one of the country’s mascots and represented all the proud Irishmen who fought tooth and nail for their freedom.

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Before its run-in with fame, the dog was originally bred to work on farms to chase rodents and herd cattle. The dog breed continues to be a shining star as Irish America, a magazine covering Irish interest in the United States, wrote a story about Mick, a Kerry blue terrier that won the Best in Show prize at the 127th Westminster Dog Show Club.

5. Saluki

National Purebred Dog Day, a site focusing on purebreds, has reported that for a long time the saluki has a recorded history that went as far back as 329 B.C. when India was invaded by Alexander the Great. However, excavations in Egypt have concluded that the saluki actually goes back to 7,000 B.C.

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Evidence has shown that these graceful dogs were once bred to hunt alongside the Pharaohs. The canines were so beloved by the ancient Egyptians that they used to mummify their saluki companions. After thousands of years, the saluki has maintained the same height, coat colors, pattern and almond-shaped eyes.

6. Afghan Hound

Hailing from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the Afghan hound is another dog with a royal history. According to MSN the Afghan hound is noted for being one of the oldest purebred dogs in the world. Apparently, the elegant canine even predates written history and according to some myths was even present at the great flood that was written about in the Bible.

oldest dog breed

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In ancient times, Afghan hounds were commonly owned by Asian aristocrats and royal clans. Today, the dog is more popular than ever. The American Kennel Club reported that the Afghan hound’s popularity skyrocketed in the west during the 20th century when in 1959, Mattel chose the breed to be Barbie’s dog.

7. Wire Fox Terrier

With their high energy and love for digging and playing, the wire fox terrier makes a wonderful family pet — especially if children are in the picture. However, MSN might have surprised you when they revealed that these dogs were originally bred in the 1700s by hunters.

wire fox terrier

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These little dogs weren’t exactly taking down foxes or anything like that. They were used to scare prey out of their dens. Once the prey were properly scared and skittering away, horsemen would track and capture them. Today, these dogs aren’t hunting as often as they’re taking top spot at competitions. The breed has been crowned Best in Show a total of 15 times at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Shows.

8. Leonberger

Leonberg may be a city in Germany famous for its horse market, but we believe it should get equal attention as the birthplace of the Leonberger dog breed. The Leonberger is what happens when you mix a Saint Bernard with a Newfoundland. According to MSN these majestic dogs were bred for kings and other royal individuals back in the 19th century.

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Some of the notable royal figures that were lucky enough to call a Leonberger their best friends were Napoleon III, King Edward VII and Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi. While originally bred for royalty, Leonbergers have also thrived on farms where they would work the pastures and waterfronts.

9. Pekingese

While Pekingese may be regarded by some as itty-bitty bundles of fluff, they used to be revered as holy in some parts of the world. The American Kennel Club explains that these little dogs used to be seen as sacred in according to Chinese tradition.

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The beloved Pekingese was bred specifically as a companion for the ancient Chinese imperial family. In those days, stealing one of these dogs could have been punishable by execution. According an ancient Chinese legend these dogs are actually tiny lions that were shrunk down by the Buddha. These little lions first found their way to the west in the 1860s when British invaders brought some back to England with them.

10. Basenji

If you’re looking for a clean dog with hardly any body odor, a basenji is your dog. Sources also report that basenjis are one of the few dog breeds out there that don’t bark.  But, don’t think for a moment that this dog is entirely silent, because that bark is actually substituted with a yodel.

popular dog breed that doesn't bark

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These dogs were originally bred for the benefit of hunters. Like the wire fox terrier, they weren’t used to bring down prey, but to startle them out of their dens and caves. The American Kennel Club considers the basenji to be one of the oldest dog breeds. They can be found in ancient artworks ranging from Mesopotamia and Babylonia. They were also reportedly given as gifts to the Pharaohs.

11. Italian Greyhound

When one thinks dog races and intercontinental bus travel, thoughts usually turn towards the greyhound. However, it would appear that Italian greyhounds were first bred 2,000 years ago as companion dogs. While some might assume that they hail from Italy, these dogs first popped up in the Mediterranean region that constitutes contemporary Turkey and Greece.

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They eventually made their way to Italy, and during the Italian Renaissance these dogs were more popular than ever. Italian greyhounds were seen as symbols of status and owned by royalty across the European continent. According to the popular pet website Your Dog Italian greyhounds were so sought after that Lobengula, a king of the Ndebele people in Zimbabwe, once gave two hundred cattle away in exchange for a single dog.

12. Lhasa Apso

When it comes to effective guard dogs, the Lhasa apso looks like the last the canine to fit the role. However, these little fluff balls stood guard over Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas for over a thousand years. According to MSN the original name for dog breed was “Abso Seng Kye” which translates to “Bark Lion Sentinel Dog.”

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The website also elaborated that according to Buddhist beliefs the Lhasa apso was regarded as the final form taken by priests before they reincarnated into humans. Even today they are believed to be sacred, as many Dalai Lamas have given them away as gifts of respect.

13. Samoyed

While most Samoyeds are probably living the high life in cozy homes right now, the story of this breed is a bit different. They aren’t furry just for the sake of making good cuddle companions, these dogs were bred and treasured by Siberians for being able to work despite the region’s ruthless winter weather.

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Samoyed dogs weren’t only resilient against the freezing cold, but they were also able to pull up to one-and-a-half times their body weight. In a post by MSN it was said that the Samoyed breed was brought into Europe in the late 18th century after being discovered by Arctic explorers.

14. Scottish Terrier

According to MSN, the charming Scottish terrier was bred for the sake of hunting small animals like rats, foxes and badgers that used to roam about the Scottish Highlands. These dogs were such national treasures that during the 17th century England’s King James was known to give these dogs away as gifts.


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The breed was first introduced in the United States back in 1883 by John Naylor. The dog was an immediate hit and was even the choice of breed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The pair were so beloved together that you can even find a statue of the two of them side-by-side in Washington D.C.

15. Saint Bernard

While the breed was made famous for appearing in the Beethoven movies back in the ‘90s, Saint Bernards actually have way more accomplishments under their belt. According to MSN, the origins of the Saint Bernard goes back to Switzerland in the 11th century.

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Back in 1050, Bernard of Menthon built a hospice in the Swiss Alps that would house weary pilgrims on the way to Rome. They would use dogs to rescue trapped pilgrims. Over a few centuries monks at the hospice used breeding to create the majestic and massive Saint Bernard. The canines are incredibly impressive. Between 1800 and 1814, one particular Saint Bernard named Barry helped save the lives of over 40 pilgrims.

16. Akita

These fuzzy little dogs may look innocent, but back in the 17th century, Akitas were bred to be Japan’s most fierce hunting dogs. According to studies these dogs were so powerful that they could even hold their own against Yezo bears.

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While today, anybody in Japan can own these wonderful dogs, this wasn’t the case a few hundred years ago. At the height of their popularity only members of the Imperial family were permitted to own an Akita. The American Kennel Club credits Helen Keller, the famous blind and deaf author for bringing the first Akita to America back in 1937.

17. Shiba Inu

Much like the Akitas, Shiba Inus were bred to be powerful hunting dogs. What made the Shiba Inu stand out from another hunting dog was its ability to hunt in brutal mountain ranges. They were first bred onto the scene back in 300 B.C. and have been a popular breed in Japan ever since.

Japanese dog breed

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According to the American Kennel Club, the Shiba Inu almost met extinction during World War II due to American bombing raids. Their number even dwindled more as the war was followed up by a distemper virus. However, in the years that followed numbers of the Shiba Inu spiked up and they soon became one of the country’s most popular dogs.

18. Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian ridgeback may not have the initial intimidation that comes with a Doberman pinscher or a pit bull, but they are fierce. According to Animal Planet their history goes back to South Africa in the 19th century. Dutch colonists in the area bred African Khoikhoi dogs with European breeds resulting in the Rhodesian ridgeback.

Old breeds

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The dogs were bred to be big-game hunters and they don’t disappoint. They have a number of remarkable abilities that you won’t find in other breeds. They have the strength to tangle with a lion and keep up with sprinting horses for up to 30 miles. And if that’s not enough they’re also immune to bug bites.

19. Newfoundland

The mountainous Newfoundland is named after the area it originated in Canada. Perhaps surprisingly, these dogs are remarkably well-equipped for wading in the water. According to MSN their webbed feet and waterproof coats make them especially popular among fishermen in Canada.

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The dog itself is a massive animal that can weigh up to 150 pounds and can lift a human being with ease. For this reason, they are often used as rescue dogs. The Colonial Newfoundland Club has pointed out that they are used to patrol beaches in Italy, France and the UK. The French Coast Guard has demonstrated the Newfoundland’s strength by showcasing that one of the dogs was able to easily pull a 20 person raft for two miles.

20. Basset Hound

According to the Basset Hound Club of America, the Basset Hound was first bred in sixth-century France by St. Hubert. These droopy-faced pups were bred for their impressive sense of smell, their amazing tracking ability and also their very small size. See, St. Hubert wanted a smaller version of the bloodhound that could easily be followed on foot.

hound breed

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By the 18th century basset hounds were one of the most beloved dogs in the country, especially among aristocrats who treasured the dogs for their hunting abilities. Today, these little dogs are loved by dog owners for their intelligent and affectionate natures, which make them perfect puppy companions.

21. Cane Corso

According to the Dog Breed Index, the cane corso can be traced back to the Roman Empire’s canis pugnax. These dogs were bred to be guard gods. While the cane corso may be smaller than the canis pugnax, they are just as adept at keeping watch.

Lady and dog

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Over the past few centuries these dogs have been used as backup during battles, as big-game hunters and herding cattle. While these dogs may look big and slow, they are actually highly energetic. Cane corso owners are recommended to take their dogs on at least one brisk walk a day. And if you really want to spoil your puppy pal, take you cane corso on a run.

22. Doberman Pinscher

Although you might not think it, at one time being a tax collector came with an array of dangers. According to MSN, the doberman pinscher was first bred in 19th century Germany by a tax collector by the name of Louis Doberman for protection. Over the years, doberman pinschers have become praised for the undying loyalty they show to their masters.

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These dogs became extremely popular with U.S. Marines during World War II. They showed great expertise when it came to finding hidden opposition soldiers and guards in the South Pacific. All the doberman pinschers that lost their lives during the war are commemorated at the War Dog Cemetery on Guam.

23. French Bulldog

Despite being named French bulldogs, these adorable dogs actually originated in Nottingham, England. The dogs were bred to be miniature versions of the bulldog and mascots for all the lacemakers living in the region. The lacemakers along with the French bulldogs had to pack up their things and were relocated to the northern regions of France during the Industrial Revolution.

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MSN reports that with the rise of the Boston terrier after World War I, the French bulldog declined in popularity. The American Kennel Club only had 100 registered French bulldogs in 1940 and these numbers didn’t climb much higher for the next fifty years. In 1980, the club only had 170 registered. While things looked a bit bleak for the dog breed, a new generation of breeders have brought the dog back into popularity. The AKC currently has over 6,000 registered French bulldogs.

24. Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are some of the most beloved dogs across the world. These sweet-faced dogs are great for families with young children. However, these happy dogs weren’t always on the sweet side of the spectrum. The breed was first developed in the 19th century by Dudley Marjoribanks, the first Lord of Tweedmouth and apparently he didn’t breed them for companionship.

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The golden retriever was bred especially for the cold and ruthless terrain of the Scottish Highlands. According to MSN Majoribanks recorded all of his breeding attempts and at last was able to create the golden retriever as we know (and love) it today in 1868.

25. Labrador Retriever

The beloved labrador retriever can be traced all the way back to St. John’s dog. Dog Time explains that the labrador retriever was bred as a friendly companion dog and a fisherman’s helper. These loyal dogs used to haul nets, fetch ropes and even retrieve fish from the freezing Atlantic waters.

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The labrador retriever only became a hit in Europe in the 19th century when English nobles went on a trip to Newfoundland, Canada and found themselves enamored with the adorable breed. It was even an Englishman, the Second Earl of Malmesbury that came up with the name for this family favorite pet.

Sources: MSN, Animal Channel, Mental Floss

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