The Most Unusual Dog Breeds

With the decline of reindeer herding and puffin hunting over the past century, some dog breeds are struggling to find their purpose in the world.

The American Kennel Club recognizes 190 dog breeds, with the family-friendly Labrador retriever ever-present at the top of their most-popular list, along with German Shepherd dogs and golden retrievers. But though humans have been breeding dogs for thousands of years, usually for precise purposes, many breeds have nearly become extinct or grown significantly less popular through time.

Though everyone loves a Lab, we like to root for the underdog, too. Here are some of the least common dog breeds, according to the AKC's ranking.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Norwegian Lundehund
Norwegian Lundehund

Norwegian Lundehund

20-30 pounds

This dog was bred to hunt puffin birds on the remote arctic isles of Norway. To reach in the crevices where puffins nest, they are very flexible with a great range of motion in their joints. They have six toes on each foot. The breed nearly became extinct in the 1940s-1960s; there are now about 1,400 in the world. Today, puffin hunting is illegal in most places.

Photo: Shutterstock

English Foxhound
English Foxhound

English Foxhound

60-75 pounds

Though these dogs are social and gentle with children and other animals, they are rarely seen as house pets because their relentless pursuit of, well, pursuit. They are pack hounds with great stamina, bred for fox hunts.

Photo: Mick Atkins / Shutterstock

Sloughi
Sloughi

Sloughi

35-50 pounds

This ancient breed, also called the "Arabian Greyhound," was bred to hunt a variety of game such as hare, fox, jackal, gazelle, and wild pigs in the deserts of North Africa. A classy, graceful dog, the Sloughi (SLOO-ghee) is devoted to its owner and aloof with strangers.

Photo: Shutterstock

American Foxhound
American Foxhound

American Foxhound

60-70 pounds

These good-natured but independent dogs get along with kids, other dogs, and cats, but without lots of exercise they can become depressed and destructive as house pets. They also bay loudly, which might be unpopular with the neighbors. They are cousins of the English foxhound.

Photo: Wikipedia

Otterhound
Otterhound

Otterhound

80-115 pounds

Otter hunting is generally illegal, which may be why these dogs are one of the most endangered dog breeds today, with less than 1,000 worldwide. But otterhounds make great family companions and the AKC says they have a great sense of humor.

Photo: Shutterstock

Cesky Terrier
Cesky Terrier

Cesky Terriers

13-22 pounds

These terriers originated in Czechoslovakia where they were used for hunting. They are tenacious workers, but less active and quieter than other terriers, so can make good family pets, adventurous playmates and eager exercisers. Plus, they are considered hypoallergenic. The Cesky is the national dog of the Czech Republic.

Photo: Shutterstock

Cirneco dell'Etna
Cirneco dell'Etna

Cirneco dell'Etna

17-26 pounds

The independent Sicilian sighthound has a sweet nature and is incredibly swift. These beautiful dogs with their pretty name are mild, low-maintenance companions, cherished for their loyal and gentle nature.

Photo: Shutterstock

Harrier
Harrier

Harrier

45-65 lbs

This dog, which the AKC says looks like a "beagle with a gym membership" was bred for trailing hares. Though this cutie looks like an English foxhound, it is smaller than the foxhound, and larger than a beagle.

Photo: Shutterstock

Dandie Dinmont Terrier
Dandie Dinmont Terrier

Dandie Dinmont Terrier

18-24 pounds

These are little dogs with a big bark, known for their distinctive topknot of hair. During the 1600s, they were used for hunting badgers and otters. They are an intelligent breed and make good watchdogs.

Photo: Shutterstock

Bergamasco Sheepdog
Bergamasco Sheepdog

Bergamasco Sheepdog

57-84 pounds

This big guy will catch your eye with his distinctive coat. The felting coat forms loose mats to help keep these dogs warm in the Italian Alps where they were used to tend sheep. According to the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America, this ancient shepherding breed is highly intelligent and was developed to problem-solve on its own in the isolated high mountain valleys where it guarded herds.

The dog is actually low maintenance: the coat does not need brushing, and has a Teflon effect -- things do not stick to it.

Photo: Shutterstock

Pyrenean Shepherd
Pyrenean Shepherd

Pyrenean Shepherd

15-30 pounds

This little herder is descended from ancient sheepdogs of the Pyrenees mountains. The tough 'Pyr sheps' come in two varieties: rough-faced and smooth-faced, both which can be born in the same litter.

The breed may have been native to the Pyrenees mountains in southern France and northern Spain, working as a sheepherder in conjunction with the Great Pyrenees mountain dog, which would have acted as the herd's guardian.

Photo: Shutterstock

Chinook
Chinook

Chinook

50-90 pounds

One of the rarest of the AKC breeds, this smart, patient, and devoted sled dog has many talents, among them herding and search and rescue. The breed was developed in New Hampshire during the early 20th century, and is the state's official dog.

Photo: jude/Wikipedia

American English Coonhounds
American English Coonhounds

American English Coonhounds

45-65 pounds

Descended from foxhounds, the athletic American English coonhound was brought to America by settlers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Their instinct for tenacious and stubborn pursuit of raccoons can make them challenging as house pets.

Photo: BurnAway/Wikipedia

Finnish Spitz
Finnish Spitz

Finnish Spitz

20-33 pounds

The breed was originally bred in Finland to hunt anything from rodents to bears. The small, fearless dog is friendly, but an avid hunter. They are recognizable by their beautiful golden-red coat.

Photo: Shutterstock

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs
Polish Lowland Sheepdogs

Polish Lowland Sheepdogs

30-50 pounds

This shaggy herding breed was almost driven to extinction in World War II, but today these confident, clever dogs are popular as companions for apartment dwellers in their native Poland. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Canaan Dogs
Canaan Dogs

Canaan Dogs

35-55 pounds

The national dog of Israel, this breed has been in existence in the Middle East for thousands of years. They are believed to have been a feral dog in ancient Canaan, and archaeologists hypothesize that they were revered as sacred animals. Their coat comes in various colors and patterns, and they are agile, clever, and confident. There are about 2,000-3,000 Canaan dogs in the world.

Photo: Shutterstock

Pharaoh Hound
Pharaoh Hound

Pharaoh Hound

45-55 pounds

The beautiful, elegant Pharaoh hound was traditionally used for hunting rabbits in the Maltese Islands. When not sprinting after small game over rough terrain, they are friendly, affectionate dogs that are comfortable in the home. The Pharaoh hound is the national dog of Malta.

Photo: Shutterstock

Finnish Lapphund
Finnish Lapphund

Finnish Lapphund

33-53 pounds

The AKC says this reindeer herder from north of the Arctic Circle is one of the friendliest of all dogs. Copious shedding and lots of barking doesn't prevent them from being popular pets in Finland. One of the distinctive facial markings on many Lappies are the "spectacles" around the eyes.

Photo: Shutterstock

Skye Terrier
Skye Terrier

Skye Terrier

35-45 pounds

The purest of these dogs were found on Scotland's Isle of Skye. It is one of the oldest terrier breeds from Scotland. The big, feathery bat ears are a distinctive feature, though some Skye terriers can also have ears that lie flat against the head.

Photo: Chris Phutully from Australia/Wikipedia

Curly-Coated Retriever
Curly-Coated Retriever

Curly-Coated Retriever

60-95 pounds

A dog that the AKC calls "wickedly smart," the curly is one of the oldest of the retriever breeds. Originally bred in England for bird and waterfowl hunting, it is a versatile gun dog and champion swimmer. Its curly coat is not just good-looking, but waterproof and thorn-resistant, too. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Norwegian Buhunds
Norwegian Buhunds

Norwegian Buhunds

26-40 pounds

A Nordic spitz-type dog, closely associated with the Vikings, the Buhund is a cold-weather worker skilled at herding and guarding. They are friendly, agile, courageous and fun-loving.

Photo: Shutterstock

Lowchen
Lowchen

Lowchen

15 pounds

The non-shedding Lowchen is a popular companion dog in Europe. The name "Lowchen" is German for "little lion," probably due to its courage and big heart. The coat is often cut to look like a miniature lion.

Photo: Shutterstock

Scottish Deerhound
Scottish Deerhound

Scottish Deerhound

75-110 pounds

The "Royal Dog of Scotland" was bred to stalk giant wild red deer. The breed goes back to a time before recorded history. One of the tallest of dog breeds, males can stand as high as 32 inches.

Photo: Shutterstock

American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniel

25-45 pounds

The American water spaniel was developed in Wisconsin during the 19th century from a number of other breeds, including the Irish and English water spaniels. They are gun dogs with a luscious brown coat and have the working traits of both spaniels and retrievers.

Photo: Shutterstock

Plott hound
Plott hound

Plott hound

40-60 pounds

North Carolina's state dog is a hunting hound of striking color that was bred to bring big game (such as a bear) to bay or up a tree. The Plott ound is one of the least known breeds of dog in the U.S. The AKC calls the Plott hound "a mellow gentleman at home" but fearless at work.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ibizan hound
Ibizan hound

Ibizan hound

50 pounds

The graceful Ibizan hound is considered by most experts to be one of the most ancient dog breeds, believed to have evolved from an Egyptian hunting dog. The dog was bred as a rabbit courser on the rocky shores of Spain's Balearic Islands.

Photo: Shutterstock

Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel

45-68 pounds

Often mistaken for poodles, the Irish water spaniel is the largest and one of the oldest of spaniels. It is one of the rarer breeds in the American Kennel Club. They are champion swimmers, alert, inquisitive, hardworking, brave and a bit of a clown.

Photo: Shutterstock

Komondor
Komondor

Komondor

80-100 pounds or more

This large Hungarian flock guardian is a head-turner with its profuse white dreadlocks from head to tail. Often called "mop dogs" for obvious reasons, and somewhat resembling a parade float, this big guy is a fairly common breed in Hungary today. During World War II, many Komondorok were killed by German and Russian invaders, because it was the only way to capture a farm or house that it guarded.

Photo: Shutterstock

Pumi
Pumi

Pumi

22-29 pounds

Another Hungarian shepherd dog, these cute whimsical-looking little dogs are actually hard workers. They are suspicious of strangers, but never aggressive or overly shy.

Photo: Shutterstock

Sussex spaniel
Sussex spaniel

Sussex Spaniel

35-45 pounds

Sussex spaniels, slow-paced, calm dogs, nearly became extinct during World War II. They are long, low-built bird dogs of great strength and endurance, though the breed suffers from some health conditions. They are known for their somewhat clownish behavior.

Photo: Shutterstock

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This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.

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