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20 Rare Dog Breeds You Probably Don’t Know About

Get ready to fall in love with these unique and adorable pups you won't see at your local dog park—or almost anywhere else.

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Meet your new doggy obsessions

Warning: You’re about to fall in love with these 20 dogs, but don’t get too attached just yet—you might not be able to find one of your own to take home! These breeds are particularly rare, with fewer than 1,000 calling the United States their home. While some have been around for thousands of years, others have come onto the scene a lot more recently. Either way, you might be surprised you never heard of them until now. Rare or not, though, all dogs want these 19 things from you.

Australian Kelpies5iztok/Getty Images

Australian Kelpie

When it comes to herding sheep, the Australian Kelpie is the blue-chip candidate for rounding up the herd, whether the herd consists of sheep, other dogs, or kids. For that reason, the Kelpie isn’t a breed for a first-time dog parent or a family with young children. If the Kelpie is right for you, however, it’s essential that you to provide your pup with plenty of stimulating mental and physical exercise daily, notes the American Kennel Club (AKC). That could even include surfing! A Kelpie named Abbie Girl won the World Dog Surfing Championship in Pacifica, California, two years in a row! Check out the 11 superpowers dogs have…that you don’t.

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Bavarian Mountain Scent Hound

The Bavarian Mountain Scent Hound, which is originally from Germany, has a superior tracking ability and can differentiate between a wounded animal it is hunting and other animals of the same species. You’re not likely to see a BMSH hailing a cab—unless it’s to get out of the city. The BMSH needs lots of space to roam and is not a fan of kennels. “This energetic breed is courageous and determined when hunting,” says Mary Burch, PhD, an animal behaviorist with the AKC Family Dog Program. “They are calm and devoted to their families, but they need an experienced owner.” If you’re a city person, these are the 15 best dogs for apartment living.

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Estrela Mountain Dog

The Estrela Mountain Dog is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal. The Mastiff-type dog has some unique features, including a black mask, a hook at the end of its tail, and small ears. An Estrela is a devoted companion for life. “Much like the Leonberger, this is a big and sturdy dog with a warm personality,” says Mari-Beth O’Neill, Vice President of AKC Sports Services. “You do not see dogs like this every day. If you are looking for a dog that is a protector and a playmate, this is it.” See more big, lovable, and adorable dogs that tip the scales at 100-plus pounds.

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Thai Ridgeback

It would be incredibly rare to see a Thai Ridgeback outside of Thailand. You might mistake a Rhodesian Ridgeback for one, as both have the trademark ridge of hair on their back that grows in the opposite direction of their coat. These days, Thai Ridgebacks are loyal companions, and while they also exhibited loyalty way back when, they did so in a slightly different way: It was their job was to keep cobras away from their humans, and they would kill a cobra, if necessary. “While Thai Ridgebacks can be loyal family pets, they are independent and protective and are not the best choice for the first-time dog owner,” says Burch. On the other hand, these dog breeds are a good fit for first-time pet parents with kids.

Treeing Tennessee Brindlemokee81/Getty Images

Treeing Tennessee Brindle

The Treeing Tennessee Brindle hails from the United States, mainly in and around the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains. TTBs are alert, agile, and super fast. They have an inherent instinct to hunt, and they “tree” their prey by forcing it up into a tree. Once they have the prey isolated, they alert their human by baying. According to the AKC, the old saying “You’re barking up the wrong tree” comes from this type of hunting. For non-hunting humans, TTBs love agility training, going out for walks several times a day, playing games inside (like hide-and-seek), and chasing balls. Here are some other reasons why dogs howl and bay.

Norwegian LundehundCaptureLight/Getty Images

Norwegian Lundehund

This adorable small breed hails from the rocky island of Vaeroy in Norway. Long ago, Islanders depended on the Lundehund to hunt and retrieve puffins from rocky crevices to sustain them through the long winter. And the Lundehund is perfectly equipped for the task. It has six fully functioning toes (not dewclaws) and extra paw pads—for rock hoppin’. Clever and affectionate, the Lundehund’s other distinctive features include an “elastic neck” that stretches back, so its head can touch its spine, and ears that go forward and backward at will or even shut. Regularly check the ears of your dog to avoid a buildup of wax and debris, which can result in infection. Here’s how often you should be cleaning your dog’s ears—and how to make it a more pleasant experience for both of you.

Bergamasco sheepdogBluIz60/Getty Images

Bergamasco Sheepdog

The “flocks” on the Bergamasco Sheepdog always get a second look. How is that hair even natural? Yet it is, and it happens because the strands of hair get woven together, creating flat layers of felted hair that cover the body and legs. The unique coat isn’t just glam-squad worthy—it helped its ancestors stay warm and cozy in the frigid Italian Alps. The Bergamasco’s long upper eyelashes keep the curtain of hair out of its eyes, preventing snowblindness. Surprisingly, the flocks don’t shed and aren’t as hard to maintain as they look, O’Neill says. Fleas aren’t the only source of itching for dogs. Check out the 9 possible reasons your dog is scratching.

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Pyrenean Shepherd

How about a muzzle snuggle from this cute scruffy face? The Pyrenean Shepherd comes in two coat varieties: rough-faced and smooth-faced. Rough or smooth, both types have bright eyes and a perpetual smile. The breed is a great candidate for agility, rally, obedience, dock diving, freestyle work, and almost any fun dog sport. Devoted to their pet parent, the Pyrenean has an intuitive sense about their owner’s desires and does particularly well with clicker training and positive, reward-based methods. Need some help training your new dog? It’s so much easier when you know these secrets from professional dog trainers.

Cesky TerrierMatthew Eisman /Getty Images

Cesky Terrier

You know you’re top dog if your picture is on a postage stamp and you’re the national dog of your country. The contemplative eyes and distinguished beard of the Czech Republic’s Cesky Terrier conveys a stately and dignified vibe. Yet the Cesky is no stuffy politician. “They are a pack breed, which means they would fit well with other dogs, and they love to play and are great companions with their family,” says Jerry Klein, DVM, the AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer. The Cesky isn’t a breed you’ll see every day—there are only about 600 in the United States.

Belgian Laekenois s5iztok/Getty Images

Belgian Laekenois

The Belgian Laekenois (pronounced “Lak-in-wah”) is one of four native dogs that call Belgium home. You’ll be tempted to snuggle up on the couch and run your fingers through its tousled coat, but the Laekenois will probably put some time limits on it. They’re no slackers and won’t be satisfied with sitting around the house or being left alone in the backyard. Laekenois want to be with their human family and require an active lifestyle to be happy. By the way, this is how long it’s OK to leave your dog home alone.

Portuguese PodengoNuno Valadas/Getty Images

Portuguese Podengo

This pint-sized Portuguese Podengo is the smallest of Portugal’s three Podengo breeds; it’s just 8 to 12 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs about 13 pounds. These dogs sport either a wire or smooth coat, both of which require a little grooming. Chasing rabbits is in their genes, so they’re wired to run and play until they drop. Maybe it’s all that exercise that keeps them healthy because they usually live well into their teens. You won’t have to make many visits to the vet with this breed, as it’s known to have few genetic problems. On the other hand, these are the most common health problems in 14 popular dog breeds.

Teddy Roosevelt Terrier sjallenphotography/Getty Images

Teddy Roosevelt Terrier

The Teddy Roosevelt Terrier is a lively, friendly, affectionate dog with his family but often will latch onto one person, in particular. The breed was named in honor of President Teddy Roosevelt, who “appointed” these rat terriers to combat the rat infestation in the White House. Spunky and lovable, these dogs are outgoing and friendly with kids and family pets when raised together. With their love of social life, they don’t do well when they’re in kennels, consistently tied up, or isolated from their people. Here are 14 short-haired dogs that make great family pets.

Biewer TerrierVincent Scherer/Getty Images

Biewer Terrier

Pronounced like “beaver,” the Biewer Terrier is as cute as it is sweet. It is a delightful little lapdog whose sole purpose is to love and be loved. Biewers have that swoon factor—innocent (I didn’t chew your shoe), adorable (I’m as cute as a button), friendly (I see the good in everyone), and a dash of spunk (I love being the star of the show). It’s no wonder this rare dog is seeing a growing amount of interest, says Dr. Klein. According to the AKC, Biewers are also “the first breed to be recognized as a breed of its own (purebred) using advancements in science rather than the traditional process of pedigree documentation.” That said, Biewers aren’t fully recognized by the AKC yet. In case you were wondering, here’s how the American Kennel Club decides new dog breeds.

Peruvian Inca OrchidDevidDO/Getty Images

Peruvian Inca Orchid

If the great outdoors make you feel icky, then the Peruvian Inca Orchid could be the perfect canine BFF for you. Their delicate, hairless bodies don’t bode well outside, so they prefer the indoors. When they do go out for walks, sunscreen is a must for their coat. One big word of warning: PIOs are sighthounds and may see small pets as prey. As a primitive breed, their temperaments can vary from docile to more feral, so they’re not ideal for families with young children.

Dandie Dinmont TerrierCaptureLight/Getty Images

Dandie Dinmont Terrier

The only dog breed named after a literary character, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier was named after a robust and friendly farmer in Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 book Guy Mannering. The book is much easier to find than the dog, though. “There are few breeds in the United States rarer than the Dandie Dinmont Terrier,” says Dr. Klein. “The breed is small but not dainty, lovable and playful but still tough, and amongst the most docile of the terriers. They would make an excellent city dog, but they can be hard to obtain. Should you be lucky enough to find a breeder of DDTs, you will almost certainly find your best friend in this breed.” Teach your best friend one of these 12 easy dog tricks.

Saluki dogsapegin/Getty Images

Saluki

At first glance, you might think the Saluki missed a few meals, but its slim and leggy appearance is naturally adept for swiftness and agility—skills needed thousands of years ago as the favorite hunting hound of Egyptian pharaohs. In fact, they were so highly esteemed that Salukis were often mummified like the bodies of the pharaohs themselves. But the only things the Saluki is hunting for these days are toys and your affection. They’ll be happy just about anywhere you are—in the city or the country and in just about any climate. Just be sure to avoid these 53 mistakes every dog owner makes.

Azawakh dogs animalinfo/Getty Images

Azawakh

At first glance, you might think we showed you the same rare dog breed twice. “Easily confused with a Saluki, the Azawakh (pronounced AH-ZA-WAH) is unique in its own right,” says O’Neill. “Many people find them distant or aloof, but those who own the breed know how loyal and sweet they can be.” This sighthound from Africa used to chase gazelles across the searing sands of the Sahara, but these days the Azawakh favors sidewalks over sand and fancies running with its human. While the Azawakh has been gracefully walking the Earth for thousands of years, it was only recently recognized as an AKC breed in the Hound Group in 2019. Don’t miss these behind-the-scenes secrets from the National Dog Show.

canaan dogf8grapher/Getty Images

Canaan Dog

The Canaan Dog is one of the AKC’s oldest breeds and also the national dog of Israel. You might not need a security system if you have one of these guard dogs. They are vigilant and highly territorial, as well as very protective of their family. Their superior sense of smell and hearing can identify non-family members from a considerable distance. “Canaan Dogs are a sturdy breed. They need an alpha at all times, but they’re great with other animals after a good amount of training and socialization,” says O’Neill. “If you want to hike, run, or play, the Canaan Dog is a great fit, as they can easily keep up.” Here’s how to find the best dog obedience school.

otterhound LourdesPhotography/Getty Images

Otterhound

Looking for a dog breed that’s excited to see you when you get home yet independent enough not to make you its entire world? The rare and wonderful Otterhound could be the perfect match for you—if you can find one. O’Neill says there are only about 600 in the world. “This breed is fun and great with kids! They have a great expression and are very active,” she adds. Activities aren’t limited to dry land when you have an Otterhound. Their waterproof coat and webbed feet come in handy on the trails or in the water. And they have a highly sensitive nose that allows them to follow a scent trail even underwater.

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Bolognese

Nope, we’re not talking about delicious Italian meat-based sauce—although the Bolognese breed was developed in Bologna, Italy. The Bolo, as fans call it, is a 5- to 9-pound lapdog who relishes a low-key and leisurely lifestyle, meaning that pet parents don’t have to worry about providing too much exercise. A walk or low-energy game is all this faithful and affectionate dog needs. Oh, and those waves of fluff don’t shed much at all, but regular grooming is a must for the full-length cut. The “mop head” look achieved with a shorter cut is easier to maintain and equally adorable. Here are another 13 of the world’s smallest dog breeds that are just as cute the Bolo.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.