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24 Rare Dog Breeds You Probably Don’t Know About

Want a rare dog that stands paws apart from the other dogs at the dog park? Well, we have some adorable and unique dog breeds you'll go barking mad over. Fair warning—you may have to wait before you get one. Some of these unique dog breeds may be hard to come by.  

saluki dog
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What makes these dog breeds rare?

Simply put, it’s a numbers game. First off, certain dogs may be scarce because the intended purpose of the dog is no longer needed—for instance, dogs that were bred specifically for herding or hunting specific animals or birds. Another reason why there are rare dog breeds is there just aren’t that many of them at the moment. The road to becoming officially recognized by the American Kennel Club can be several years in the making.

Long story short, the dog breed must enter the AKC Foundation Stock Service (FSS), a record-keeping service. Before a breed is recognized, they are eligible to compete in the Miscellaneous Class, a stepping stone from the FSS to Full Recognition. Meanwhile, more and more puppies are born. A breed must have at least a three-generational pedigree and have at least 300 dogs registered in the FSS for the breed to be considered. Yet AKC full recognization doesn’t automatically catapult a dog to the most popular dog breed list. Whether you have a short or long wait, why not start thinking about the most popular puppy names for your new pup?

close up of Lagotto Romagnolo dog
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1. Lagotto Romagnolo

Curly-haired, Italian dog breeds are so darn cute and cuddly, and the Lagotto Romagnolo is no exception. “Their name means ‘water dog’ in Italian, but they are commonly called ‘truffle dogs’ because they are used to hunt for truffles,” explains Catherine Lenox, DVM, a regulatory veterinary manager at Royal Canin. In fact, the Lagotta Romagnolo is the only purebred in the world recognized as a specialized truffle searcher. Truffle hunters or not, they are warm and friendly companions.

Breed Overview
Height: 16 to 19 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 24 to 35 pounds
Life expectancy: 15 to 17 years

Arabian Greyhound (Sloughi)
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2. Sloughi

You can see why this unique dog is nicknamed the “Arabian Greyhound” as the resemblance is uncanny—they are one of the fastest dog breeds in existence. “Originally from North Africa where they were bred to hunt game such as gazelles, Sloughi make somewhat reserved pets and may require some extra socialization to warm up around strangers,” says Dr. Lenox. Yet, they form a closely-knit bond with their person or family. Because of their hunting genes, they might not make the best roommates with smaller animals and birds unless introduced to them at an early age.

Breed Overview
Height: 24 to 29 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 35 to 50 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 15 years

Kai Ken dog
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3. Kai Kens

We can’t get enough of the super cute Japanese dog breeds, including the Kai Ken. Their show-stopping, striking brindle coat is uniquely beautiful. “Nicknamed ‘Tora Dog’ (“tora” is Japanese for “tiger”), this breed is athletic—the Kai Ken tends to be a good swimmer and climber,” says Dr. Lenox. They are exceptionally clever and devoted to their family. As one of the six native Japanese breeds, they are one of the rarest dogs in the world. The Kai Ken became a designated national treasure of Japan in 1934 and is protected by law.

Breed Overview
Height: 15.5 to 19.5 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 20 to 40 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years

a pack of english foxhound dogs
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4. English foxhounds

Many rare dog breeds come from across the pond, such as the English foxhound, bred in England. “They are used for fox hunting and tend to be much stockier than their American counterparts. The conformation of the English foxhound hasn’t changed much since they were first bred, around the 1700s,” says Dr. Lennox. As a pack-mentality type of dog, they are most happy around other dogs, people (including children), yet rarely seen as house pets, the AKC says.

Breed Overview
Height: 24 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 60 to 75 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 13 years
Australian Kelpie
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5. 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. It’s outgoing and friendly, but also a workaholic and brainiac that requires loads of exercise and mental stimulation. For that reason, the Kelpie isn’t a breed for a first-time dog parent or a family with young children, which may partly explain why it’s so rare. While the origin of the Kelpie is disputed, these Australian dog breeds are 100 percent Aussies.

Breed Overview
Height: 17 to 20 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 24 to 44 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 13 years
Bavarian scent hound
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6. Bavarian mountain scent hound

The Bavarian mountain scent hound, a German breed with superior tracking ability, can differentiate between a wounded animal it is hunting and other animals of the same species. The BMSH needs lots of space to roam and expend their energy. They’re not keen on spending time away from family in a kennel. “They are calm and devoted to their families, but they need an experienced owner,” says Mary Burch, PhD, an animal behaviorist with the AKC Family Dog Program.

Breed Overview
Height: 17 to 20.5 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 37.5 to 55 pounds
Life expectancy: 15+ years

estrela mountain dog close up portrait
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7. Estrela mountain dog

The Estrela mountain dog is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal and one of the biggest dog breeds in the world. Unique dog breeds often make the best companions, and the Estrela is no exception. “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.”

Breed Overview
Height: 24.5 to 29 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 77 to 132 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 14 years
Thai Ridgeback dog
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8. 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. Thai Ridgebacks are faithful companions and exhibited their devotion to family back in the day by keeping cobras away from their humans, and killing the dangerous snake if necessary. “While Thai Ridgebacks can be loyal pets, they are independent and protective and are not the best choice for the first-time dog owner,” says Burch.

Breed Overview
Height: 20 to 24 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 35 to 75 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 13 years
Norwegian Lundehund
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9. Norwegian Lundehund

The Norwegian Lundehund was the one-and-only dog breed created to hunt puffins, yes, puffins. “Now that puffins are an environmentally protected species, Norwegian Lundehunds have become loyal family dogs that usually have six toes on each foot instead of the usual four,” says Dr. Lenox. They might not need their extra toes for scaling rocky coastlines anymore, but they could prove useful in agility courses. Lundehund’s are an easy-to-live-with breed, as long as their day is full of activities to expend their boundless energy.

Breed Overview
Height: 12 to 15 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 20 to 30 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Bergamasco sheepdog
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10. Bergamasco sheepdog

Of all the rare dog breeds, the “flocks” on the Bergamasco sheepdog are certainly unique with hair that makes them look like a mop. 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. Surprisingly, the flocks don’t shed and aren’t as hard to maintain as they look, O’Neill says. Bergamascos proudly take up their post as calm and watchful guardians of the family. They’re accommodating, trainable with just a wee bit of mountain dog independence. Overall the Bergamasco is a healthy and low-maintenance dog breed.

Breed Overview
Height: 22 to 23.5 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 57 to 84 pounds
Life expectancy: 13 to 15 years
Pyrenean Shepherd
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11. Pyrenean shepherd

How about a muzzle snuggle from this cute scruffy face? The Pyrenean shepherd is a bright-eyed dog with 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. They’re also one of the dog breeds that live the longest.

Breed Overview
Height: 15 to 18.5 (rough-faced), 15.5 to 21 (smooth-faced)
Weight: 15 to 30 pounds
Life expectancy: 17 to 19 years
Biewer Terrier
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12. Biewer terrier

Pronounced like “beaver,” the Biewer terrier is one of the cutest little lap dog breeds you ever did see. Its sole purpose is to love and be loved. Biewers have that swoon factor of being adorably innocent when they nonchalantly pick up your slipper or their favorite toy and carry it around. They’re ever so charming and friendly making friends with everyone they meet, including dogs they don’t know. This unique dog breed won’t stay rare for long. It’s seeing a growing amount of interest, Dr. Klein says. 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.”

Breed Overview
Height: 7 to 11 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 4 to 8 pounds
Life expectancy: 16 years
Cesky Terrier
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13. 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 convey a stately and dignified vibe. Yet the toy dog breed 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, chief veterinary officer of the AKC. The Cesky isn’t a breed you’ll bump into at the dog park—there are only about 600 in the United States.

Breed Overview
Height: 10 to 13 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 14 to 24 pounds
Life expectancy: 13 to 15 years
Belgian Laekenois
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14. Belgian Laekenois

The Belgian Laekenois is the rarest of the four native Belgium Sheepdogs (Belgian Sheepdog, Malinois, and the Tervuren) in the United States. If you can get your hands on one, you’ll never want to stop snuggling 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 requires an active lifestyle to be happy. By the way, this is how long it’s OK to leave your dog home alone.

Breed Overview
Height: 22 to 26 inches, at the shoulder
Weight: 40 to 80 pounds
Life expectancy: 14 to 16 years
Portuguese Podengo
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15. Portuguese Podengo

This Portuguese Podengo comes in two different sizes and, back in the day, each size had its own job. The larger one, hunted deer and boar, while the medium hunted rabbits. Chasing and hunting are in their genes, so they’re wired to run and play until they drop. As far as family life goes, they hit all the high marks as warm and friendly companions, and are open to new friendships with new people and dogs. They have few genetics problems, so you probably won’t have to visit the vet as often.

Breed Overview
Height: 16 to 22 (medium), 22 to 28 (large) at the shoulders
Weight: 35 to 44 (medium), 44 to 66 (large) pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 15 years
Treeing Tennessee Brindle
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16. Treeing Tennessee brindle

The Treeing Tennessee Brindle hails from the United States, mainly in and around the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains. Noted for their brindle coat, TTBs are also 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.

Breed Overview
Height: 16 to 24 inches
Weight: 30 to 50 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years
Teddy Roosevelt Terrier
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17. 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 more short-haired dogs that make great family pets.

Breed Overview
Height: 8 to 15 inches
Weight: 8 to 25 pounds
Life expectancy: 14 to 16 years
Peruvian Inca Orchid
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18. Peruvian Inca Orchid

If the great outdoors makes you feel icky, then the Peruvian Inca Orchid, a hairless dog breed, could be the perfect canine BFF for you. They come in three different sizes and 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.

Breed Overview
Height: 9.75 to 25.75 inches
Weight: 8.5 to 55 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years
Dandie Dinmont Terrier
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19. 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 apartment 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.”

Breed Overview
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: 18 to 24 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Saluki dog
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20. 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.

Breed Overview
Height: 23 to 28 inches
Weight: 40 to 65 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 17 years
Azawakh dogs
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21. 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.

Breed Overview
Height: 23.5 to 29 inches
Weight: 33 to 55 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
canaan dog
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22. 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.”

Breed Overview
Height: 19 to 24 inches
Weight: 35 to 55 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
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23. 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, wire-haired 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.

Breed Overview
Height: 24 to 27 inches
Weight: 80 to 115 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 13 years
bolognese dog
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24. 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 though it has a fluffy coat, it doesn’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.

Breed Overview
Height: 10 to 12 inches
Weight: 5.5 to 9 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years


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, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.