cynoclub/Getty ImagesAny dog lover will tell you that the world is a better place because of dogs. They’re devout, silly, sweet, and loving, and perhaps best of all, it seems like there’s a special pup out there for each of us. Today, hundreds of dog breeds exist, ranging from teeny-tiny toy poodles to rotund bulldogs to graceful and sleek greyhounds. When you think about the massive variety, it’s incredible to think they all evolved from the same animal—the wolf—in such a short period of time. Here’s how that happened and how many dog breeds exist around the globe today.
How are new breeds created in the first place?
Long story short: New breeds are created via human-expedited evolution. All dog breeds that exist today come from the wolf, and each has been adapted over time for specific traits ranging from appearance to physical ability to personality.
“Dog breeds are really an expression of ourselves. Roughly 200 years ago, there were just a few dog breeds—and I mean a handful. It was only during the Victorian era that it became a status symbol to breed your own special breed of dog,” says Brian Hare, PhD, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology and the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University. “Selecting which breed, and in which direction you selected them, was really just an expression of human preferences. Some people got excited about smaller dogs. Some people got excited about long hair. Some people got excited about short legs. These were all expressions of human preferences that ultimately are rooted in our psychology.”
These are the most popular dog breeds in each state, which might say something about the residents who live there.
How many dog breeds exist today?
The total number of dog breeds in the world is ever-changing, and the number of recognized dog breeds ultimately depends on the organization doing the recognizing. “The AKC recognizes 195 breeds, with 79 additional breeds working toward full recognition,” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary of the American Kennel Club (AKC). “There are breeds that have not met the requirements to become recognized, and others that have chosen not to seek full recognition at this time.”
She adds that the AKC’s number is very apt to change annually as more breeds become recognized, or as new breeds are developed. Interestingly, some of the breeds that do become recognized aren’t actually “new.” Many have existed for years—some for hundreds of years! A perfect example of this is the Barbet, a French water dog that has been around since the 16th century. It was only formally recognized by the AKC in 2020, and it was actually one of the newest breeds to compete at the 2020 Westminster Dog Show. The Dogo Argentino is another example. The big-game hunting dog was first bred in 1928, but it wasn’t formally recognized by the AKC until 2019.
Other organizations, such as Europe’s Continental Kennel Club (CKC), Britain’s Kennel Club (KC), and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), all have different breed-recognition protocols and therefore recognize either fewer or more breeds than the AKC. When not following the strict protocol of these organizations, it is estimated that there are more than 350 different dog breeds in the world, according to PrudentPet.com.
How to become an officially recognized breed
There’s a lot of hoop-jumping to do before a dog breed becomes recognized. Again, every organization is different, but for the AKC, the first step is to record the breed in the Foundation Stock Service (FSS). From there, the recognition process begins with a written request to compete in the “Miscellaneous Class” from the National Breed Club, explains DiNardo. To be eligible for consideration to become an AKC-recognized breed, DiNardo says the following criteria must be met:
- A demonstrated following and interest (a minimum of 100 active household members) in the breed, in the form of a National Breed Club.
- A sufficient population in this country (a minimum of 300 to 400 dogs), with a three-generation pedigree. Dogs in that pedigree must all be of the same breed.
- A geographic distribution of the dogs and people (located in 20 or more states).
- The AKC must review and approve the club’s breed standard, as well as the club’s constitution and bylaws. Breed observations also must be completed by AKC field staff.
The seven primary groups of dogs
The AKC organizes its many recognized breeds by dividing them into seven different groups. Those include Sporting, Working, Toy, Herding, Hound, Terrier, and Non-Sporting. There are technically two additional groups—the FFS and Miscellaneous Class—but both are essentially gateway groups in the process of becoming fully recognized by the AKC, explains DiNardo. She outlines the primary seven below:
- Sporting: Breeds in the Sporting Group were bred to assist hunters in the capture and retrieval of feathered game.
- Hound: All breeds in this group were bred to pursue warm-blooded quarry, including jackrabbits, deer, fish, ducks, and birds.
- Working Group: These breeds were developed to assist humans in some capacity. This ranges from pulling sleds and carts to guarding flocks and homes to protecting their families. Many of these breeds are still used as working dogs today.
- Herding: This group comprises breeds developed for moving livestock, including sheep, cattle, and even reindeer.
- Terrier: The feisty, short-legged breeds in the Terrier Group were first bred to go to ground in pursuit of rodents and other vermin.
- Toy: It may not surprise you to learn that these small dogs were bred to serve as attentive companions and that they’re especially popular with city dwellers. Their size makes them a good fit for smaller yards or apartments. Speaking of small dogs, these 10 pups are born tiny and stay that way.
- Non-Sporting: Breeds in the Non-Sporting Group have job descriptions that defy categorization in the six other groups. They were all developed to interact with people in some capacity.
And there you have it! Of course, just because a breed isn’t officially recognized by the AKC or one of the other major groups, doesn’t mean it won’t make a terrific pet. Check out this official guide to picking the best dog breed for you.