10 Rare and Extraordinary Dog Breeds

They may be uncommon as pets, but each of these unusual dog breeds is special in other ways.

mudi dog leaps from sand to catch orange frisbee in mouth

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Beloved breeds like the golden retriever, labrador, and chihuahua get loads of attention from pet owners and dog admirers alike. However, there are some lesser-known, rare dog breeds from around the world that are just as incredible. Some are skilled hunting helpers, others have exciting histories — some have even received a special love from British royalty.

Whether lean and lanky, strong and short, or sporting a unique coat, these rare dog breeds have a surviving spirit that should be appreciated. Have you heard of these 10 dogs before?

Millions of pets (including many purebreds) are available to be adopted from shelters. We always recommend adoption as a first choice. If you've decided to buy a pet from a breeder, be sure to choose a responsible breeder, and always avoid puppy mills.

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Azawakh (African Sighthound) standing profile amongst columns of an old historic building

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The azawakh is a lean and lanky breed that originated in the Saharan desert of West Africa. Named for the Azawagh Valley, it was originally used as a sighthound, meaning it is a hunting dog that worked primarily using sight and speed. Today, it is known mostly for its companionship — when around people they trust, azawakhs can be gentle and extremely affectionate.

According to Carol Beuchat of The Institute of Canine Biology, there were only an estimated 1,000 of these dogs worldwide in 2020. However, the breed's popularity is rising. It was first acknowledged by the American Kennel Club for competition in the Miscellaneous Group in 2011; in 2019, the azawakh gained full recognition and, with it, the opportunity to compete in all AKC events as part of the Hound Group.

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Skye Terrier

black Skye Terrier with shaggy hair and perky ears sitting in a field looking at the camera

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The skye terrier was bred to hunt badgers, otters, foxes, and other critters that farmers considered pests. However, what makes this rare breed stand out is not its skill, but its looks.

Longer than it is tall, and with a mop of silky hair tumbling over pointed ears and covering its eyes, the skye terrier has an unmistakeable appearance. Perhaps this is why it was a favored breed of the British aristocracy for centuries. When Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, her devoted skye terrier hid under her dress. Centuries later, Queen Victoria's love for the breed brought its popularity to its apex.

Sadly, the breed's popularity has plummeted since. The BBC reported that in 2012, only 42 skye terriers were registered with The Kennel Club in the U.K. One secretary of the Skye Terriers Club said that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 left in the world in 2013.

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Lagotto Romagnolo

white lagotto romagnolo with brown markings stands on hill near woods in autumn

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It may look like a labradoodle, but the lagotto Romagnolo is its own breed hailing from the Romagna sub-region of Italy. It was originally bred for retrieving waterfowl — hence its name stemming from Romagnol can lagòt, or "lake dog from Romagna." However, with many of the marshlands of its native area being drained, the lagotto Romagnolo's keen sense of smell and skill for digging led it to another job: truffle hunting. In fact, it is the only dog that is bred specifically to hunt truffles, giving it the nickname of Truffle Dog.

In the 1970s, the lagotto Romagnolo nearly went extinct due to constant cross-breeding by truffle hunters who prioritized hunting output over breed preservation. Thankfully, enthusiasts for the dog came together to bring the lagotto Romagnolo back from the brink. Its numbers continue to climb thanks to the American Kennel Club's full recognition of the breed in 2015.

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Dandie Dinmont Terrier

profile of gray and white Dandie Dinmont Terrier on green grass lawn

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The Dandie Dinmont terrier was originally bred to be a friend to farmers, used to hunt otters, badgers, skunks, and weasels. But while some dog breeds rose to prominence via appreciation from the nobility or their working abilities, this one gained fame (and its name) through literature. When writing his book "Guy Mannering," Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott was inspired by a neighboring farmer who owned these dogs. Scott's own farmer character named Dandie Dinmont owned the same terriers, and the popularity of the novel saw the dogs taking on that fictional farmer's name in real life.

Dogs of this breed have the same tenacity as other terriers, but their more calm personality and distinct hair poof set them apart. Despite their interesting history and characteristics that make them good pets, they have become quite rare. They are considered a vulnerable native breed by The Kennel Club in the U.K.

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young Stabyhoun dog looking away in front of mossy tree trunks

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The stabyhoun (or stabij) originated in Friesland, an area of the northern Netherlands. From the Dutch, its name translates to "stand by me dog," which reflects the variety of benefits it provides to farmers; this multitalented farm dog could be used for guarding, hunting, retrieving, and companionship.

Though the stabyhoun is a versatile, useful breed that makes a wonderful family dog, they haven't experienced much popularity outside the Netherlands. In 2013, there were only about 6,000 of these dogs worldwide, making the stabyhoun one of the top five rarest breeds at the time. Still, they are considered a Dutch national treasure.

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Thai Ridgeback

sleek black thai ridgeback running through fallen autumn leaves

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The Thai ridgeback is an athletic working dog that originated in eastern Thailand. Just like the Rhodesian ridgeback, this breed has a distinctive ridge of hair along its spine that runs in the opposite direction of the rest of its coat. But while the Rhodesian ridgeback is relatively popular, the Thai ridgeback is rare and only just gaining notice outside of its native Thailand.

Having evolved from Asian pariah dogs, the Thai ridgeback likely existed as far back as the 17th century. They were used as guard dogs and hunting dogs, and they even had the ability to kill cobras. That pariah-inspired survival instinct, plus its worker-dog independent streak, means that a pet Thai ridgeback needs a confident and experienced owner. That doesn't mean they cannot be loving companions, though.

In 2017, there were thought to be just 100 Thai ridgebacks in the United States and only 1,000 in Thailand.

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Glen of Imaal Terrier

pair of gray glen of imaal terriers sitting with tongues hanging out

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Named for an area in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains where the breed was developed in the 17th century, the Glen of Imaal terrier is one of the least-known of the Irish terriers. It was bred as a hunting and farm dog, but it may have also been responsible for an unusual — and controversial — job around the house. With its strong short legs and long body, the Glen of Imaal terrier was perfectly suited for the job of turnspit dog, meaning it would run in a wheel connected to a spit to rotate meat over a fire, helping it cook evenly like a rotisserie.

In 2020, there were between 600 and 700 dogs registered with the Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America. Closer to home, it's labeled a vulnerable native breed with the U.K. Kennel Club.

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black and gray mottled mudi dog stands at attention on agility course

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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. They are impressively versatile, and this is highlighted in their excellence in tracking, search and rescue, and agility.

The breed nearly went extinct as casualties of World War II, but it was revitalized from the survivors. The dog is now recognized by The Federation Cynologique Internationale, the United Kennel Club, and the American Kennel Club. Still, according to the Mudi Club of America, there are between just 1,500 and 1,750 mudis worldwide. While much loved in Hungary, the breed is not popular outside of its native country.

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Curly-Coated Retriever

chocolate curly coated lab stands in woods surrounded by branches and fallen leaves

Mattias Agar / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

This dog may first remind an enthusiast of a labrador, but the curly-coated retriever is its own breed. Affectionately called "curlies," they were bred from a lineage of Old English water dogs, Irish water spaniels, Newfoundlands, and — to establish that signature coat — poodles.

Curly-coated retrievers are as versatile gun dogs; their armor of tight curls protects them from water and bramble, making them effective in hunting for both waterfowl and upland birds. They are thought to be the oldest of all the retriever breeds, but their popularity declined as labradors became the favored hunting dogs. The breed also suffered loss during both world wars.

Numbers for the curly-coated retriever have maintained thanks to enthusiasts who love the breed for its intelligence, energy, and playfulness as pets. In 2020, the curly-coated retriever ranked 162nd out of 192 in registration by the American Kennel Club.

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Sussex Spaniel

dog trainer poses with brown Sussex Spaniel on red carpet at dog show

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This short dog may look somber, but the Sussex spaniel is known to have a jovial, even clownish personality. The breed originated during the 1800s in England as a gun dog, used for both flushing and retrieving birds. As part of its job, the Sussex spaniel developed its own way of communicating with hunters using barks and babbles; that tendency toward vocalization is maintained outside the hunting grounds, making the dog a more talkative pet than other spaniels.

Like other dog types, the number of Sussex spaniels was severely impacted by World War II because breeders stopped their programs. Only seven Sussex spaniels are known to have survived the war at all. They are still not popular pets, but the breed has survived thanks to collaborative breeding efforts.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.