10 Rare and Extraordinary Dog Breeds

A Thai ridgeback licking his nose

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Beloved breeds like the golden retriever, Labrador, or Chihuahua get loads of attention from pet owners. Less well known but just as amazing are rare dog breeds from around the world that are appreciated for their skills as hunters, protectors, herders, or loyal companions.

Whether lean, lanky, strong, short, or colorfully coated, these unusual breeds like the Thai ridgeback will surprise and delight anyone with a soft spot for dogs.

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This lean and lanky breed originated in the Saharan desert of western Africa where it was originally used as a sighthound but also took up the job of guard dog.

According to the American Kennel Club, which only recently added the breed to its list of recognized breeds, "The azawakh is also known as the Tuareg sloughi. The breed has been the companion of nomads of the south-Sahara for hundreds of years."

While more popular in its place of origin, the breed is still considered rare and is recognized by the American Rare Breed Association. Because they're bred to thrive in a desert environment, they don't do as well in colder climates. They also love to chase anything that moves, which makes it tough to keep them as pets in low-key households. However, this leggy and regal looking dog is gaining popularity outside its desert home.

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Skye terrier

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Longer than it is tall, with a mop of silky hair tumbling over pointed ears and covering its eyes, the Skye terrier is an unmistakable breed. But don't let that beautiful coat fool you into thinking this is merely a fancy pup. Originally, the Skye terrier was bred to hunt badgers, otters, foxes and other critters farmers viewed as pests.

Tough but also regal, the Skye terrier gained popularity with Queen Victoria and, for a time, was considered one of the most popular terrier breeds. Sadly, that popularity has plummeted in more recent decades.

Only 28 of these dogs were registered with the U.K.'s Kennel Club in 2016, the lowest number of any breed listed on the club's "Vulnerable Breeds Stats" list for the year. The club noted in 2014 that this "is one of the most vulnerable of Britain's native dog breeds... It is estimated that there are less than 400 of the breed left in this country, making it the rarest of Britain's vulnerable native breeds, alongside the Otterhound."

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Lagotto Romagnolo

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At first glance this may look like a labradoodle, but the Lagotto Romagnolo is its own very special breed hailing from the Romagna sub-region of Italy. The breed is also called the truffle dog because it is used to sniff out highly prized truffles.

If that curly coat and stance reminds you of retriever dog breeds, its for good reason. VetStreet notes: "The Lagotto Romagnolo (pronounced la-goh-toe ro-man-yo-lo) descends from Italian water retrievers who were later used to seek out truffles. His thick, curly coat has a woolly texture and covers the entire body, including the face. He doesn’t shed much, but requires regular trimming."

By the 1970s, the breed nearly went extinct due to a lack of demand, but the energetic and intelligent breed gained the hearts of enthusiasts who have kept this rare dog going.

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Dandie Dinmont terrier

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This short-statured dog was originally bred to be a friend to farmers. The terrier was used to hunt otters and badgers, as well as vermin around farms including skunks and weasels. But while it has the typical tenacity of terriers, it generally has a more calm personality than similar breeds. Its domed head and distinctive poof of hair make it unique among terriers.

According to DogTime: "Today the Dandie Dinmont terrier is one of the rarest and most endangered of all purebred dogs. The Kennel Club in England has put it on their list of endangered native breeds and many fear that it will become extinct."

Meanwhile, in the United States, the breed ranks low in popularity with the American Kennel Club, coming in at 167th out of 189 breeds recognized by the organization. So this little "gentleman of terriers" is quite a rare specimen wherever it appears.

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This beautiful black-and-white breed originated in Friesland, an area of the northern Netherlands. The name Stabyhoun translates to "stand by me dog," which is a testament to the all-around benefits the breed provides to farmers. The multi-talented farm dog could be used for guarding, hunting, retrieving and general companionship.

Though they're a versatile and useful breed, and make a wonderful family dog, they haven't experienced much popularity outside the Netherlands.

"Widely considered amongst the world’s top ten rarest dog breeds, the Stabyhoun has a population numbering just 6,000 globally," reports the U.K. Stabyhoun Association.

Despite existing in such low numbers, the breed is considered a Dutch national treasure.

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Thai ridgeback

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If you're familiar with the popular Rhodesian ridgeback then you'll know that this breed gets its name from the distinctive ridge of hair down its spine that runs in the reverse direction ftrom he rest of its coat. But unlike the Rhodesian ridgeback, the Thai ridgeback is a rare breed that is only just gaining any notice outside of Thailand.

The breed has an unusual talent: It can kill cobras. Indeed, it was bred by farmers to be a guard dog and hunting dog — and among its hunting traits is the ability to kill the deadly snakes.

Such skill takes tenacity, and that determined mindset shows up in other aspects of the breed's personality, making the Thai ridgeback not the first choice for the average pet owner. VetStreet points out: "This is a dog who will test your limits to see what he can get away with and will refuse to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He’s a terrific hunter, and small furry animals are ideal prey. It’s a good idea to keep him active and channel his energy and intelligence."

Despite being a handful for a household, the working dog has gained breed recognition in the U.S., though it remains rare.

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Glen of Imaal terrier

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Named for the area in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains where the breed was developed, the Glen of Imaal terrier is one of the least known of the Irish terriers. It was bred as a hunting and farm dog, and it was responsible for a rather unusual job around the house.

According to VetStreet, the breed is "a dog that was not only a good hunter but also performed another kind of work: turning a spit over a fire by running on a wheel that resembled a primitive treadmill."

Thankfully, the breed has moved on from being a slave to the spit to being a companion dog. Even so, it is still quite rare. This little guy ranks 180th out of 189 in popularity among the breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. The Kennel Club of Britain has only 76 registered, and the club considers any breed with fewer than 400 registered individuals in danger of extinction.

If you fear for the future of this breed, have faith. There is a dedicated following of enthusiasts who have worked to keep the dog going while staying true to its origins.

PetMD notes, "Growth of the breed has been slow and careful, and the Glen is considered still to be a relatively rare breed, but it has had the benefit of retaining its original characteristics, often referred to as 'antique' traits."

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This beautiful breed hails from Hungary where it has been bred since the 19th century. The mudi is a talented herding dog — highly intelligent and capable of both driving sheep and cattle as well as guarding the farm. Their versatility is impressive, and this is highlighted in their use in tracking, search and rescue, and agility.

While much loved in Hungary, the breed is rarely seen in other parts of the world. They're very high energy and maintain strong herding instincts, which means they need to live in a household where they can work all day. This makes it tough to keep a mudi as a pet, and probably why their popularity outside Hungary remains low.

According to the Mudi Club of America, "Since the ‘70s, a small number have been exported, especially to Sweden and Finland. There are about 70 Mudis in The Netherlands, and worldwide their number is about 1,500 to 1,750."

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Curly-coated retriever

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The shape, size and personality of this breed will seem familiar for anyone who loves Labradors. But the curly-coated retriever is considered the oldest of the retriever breeds, and it's easy to recognize thanks to that stand-out curly coat. The breed was created from a lineage of Old English water dogs, Irish water spaniels, Newfoundlands and — to help with that signature coat — poodles.

Gun Dog Magazine reports, "Originally bred about 150 years ago in England to hunt upland game birds and waterfowl, the curly-coat — the first breed to be officially recognized as a retriever — is now considered a rare breed popular with the 'show' people but still an excellent all-around hunting dog."

This is considered a rare breed in the U.S., raking 164th out of 189 in popularity with the American Kennel Club. And in the U.K.'s Kennel Club, there were only 83 registered in 2016, putting it on the club's list of breeds vulnerable to extinction in the country. Luckily, curly coated retrievers are a bit more popular in Australia and New Zealand, so there's hope that the dog will continue on as a favorite among hunters.

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Sussex spaniel

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At first glance, this short spaniel breed may look somber but the Sussex spaniel is known to have a joyful, even clownish personality. It was created over 200 years ago in England as a birding dog both for flushing and retrieving. However, the liver-colored spaniel is also great as a family companion as it is good with kids and other pets.

This breed nearly went extinct with only about eight individuals surviving after World War II; it has never been particularly popular. But, thanks to enthusiasts, the dog still persists.

According to Gun Dog Magazine, "At the present time, the Sussex is more popular in the United States than any other country. In 2009 a Sussex spaniel won best in show in the 133rd Westminster Club Dog Show. Despite this notoriety, the Sussex still is a rare breed with only around a hundred registered each year. Most Sussex are family pets with only a small number of breeders developing dogs for hunting."