Top 8 Rare Breeds of Dogs

Written by Rebecca
Updated: October 7, 2022
Image Credit jurra8/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • One of the dog breeds on this list is considered and known for being a rare climbing dog.
  • Another dog breed on this list is the result of highly specific breeding and are a relatively new breed of dog.
  • Another rare dog breed is an ancient species kept alive by breeding in prominent areas of the world.

Dogs were first domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, and humanity has not been shy about selectively breeding traits they find practical for survival or even just aesthetically pleasing. The World Canine Organization has identified 360 different breeds on a global scale, and that only takes into account breeds that reach a certain level of recognition, age, and population size.

That leaves some of the rarest and most unique breeds out of the equation. Formal recognition by a kennel club isn’t a necessity for the dogs on our list, and a lack of a formal dog breed census makes it impossible to meticulously rank the world’s most rare dog breeds by population size.

Instead, our list is designed to shine a spotlight on some of the interesting rare breeds in the world. While they may have become rare due to possessing an archaic or overly specialized skillset, a population that stretches over a narrow geographic concentration, or simply a lack of interest from breeders, all of these dogs have an interesting story to tell in their own right.

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By looking at the outliers, we can better understand how diverse the domesticated dog really is and broaden our worldview beyond the typical milieu of golden retrievers, huskies, and chihuahuas. Here are eight of the most fascinating rare dog breeds in the world.

#1. Telomian: Malaysia’s Rare Climbing Dog

Rare breeds of dogs - Telomian
The Telomian dog is a rare breed of dog that was originally bred by the Orang Asli people of Malaysia.

antoni halim/Shutterstock.com

The rarity of the Telomian is a reflection of the fact that it was originally bred by the isolated Orang Asli people of Malaysia — and it’s developed some unique characteristics to serve its community. A small to medium-sized dog with a reputation for hunting snakes and rats, the Telomian bears a passing resemblance to similarly specialized terrier breeds. Every Telomian can be identified by their distinctive black masks, but their most distinctive feature is probably their deft paws which they developed as a means to climb the ladders used to reach the raised domiciles of the Orang Asli. While there’s a small population of these rare dogs in the United States, there aren’t yet enough of them to qualify as a member of the American Kennel Club. The Telomian is less domesticated than most dog breeds, and that makes them a more difficult breed to integrate into an average family.

This breed is descended in part from dingos, which you can learn more about here.

#2. Norwegian Lundehund: The Result of Highly Specific Breeding

Rare breeds of dogs - Norwegian Lundehund
Typical Norwegian Lundehund in the spring garden. This rare breed of dog was used to hunt puffins.

iStock.com/CaptureLight

Norway’s Lundehund was bred for the specific purpose of hunting puffins, and that’s allowed it to diverge significantly from other hunting dog breeds. But the fact is that the Lundehund may be older than most hunting dogs. The unique dental structure the Lundehund shares with the 5,000-year-old fossilized remains of the Varanger Dog suggests they split off from the rest of the evolutionary family tree a long time ago. You can more easily distinguish them from other dogs thanks to their unique six-toed feet. These unique paws help them navigate the treacherous cliffs and slippery crags where puffins are known to roost, and they can also be used to dig into the burrows that puffins call home. The development of new puffin hunting techniques nearly led to the extinction of this breed in the early twentieth century, though they have since grown to a population of around 1,400.

The Norwegian Lundehund is actually recognized by the AKC, and you can discover more about them here.

#3. Lagotto Romagnolo: Brought Back From the Verge of Extinction

Rare breeds of dogs - Lagotto Romagnolo
The Lagotto Romagnolo is an ancient breed that’s now a rare breed of dog, though it has a prominent place in history.

iStock.com/yhelfman

The Lagotto Romagnolo is another ancient breed that’s now rare, though it has a far more prominent place in history. A large part of that can be credited toward’s this water dog’s frequent appearance in Italian art of the Renaissance era, and part of that is due to its less specialized usage and its ability to adapt to new circumstances. The Lagotto Romagnola’s adorably curly coat has definitely helped boost its popularity, but it initially served a practical purpose. This medium to large-sized dog was used to retrieve waterfowl from the water for hunters, and their densely curly hair helped insulate their bodies from the cold and the water. As water dogs fell out of fashion, this breed turned to truffle hunting, and their curly hair offered a new advantage of helping protect them from thorns and brambles while they foraged through the wilderness. Eventually, popular interest in this breed declined significantly. As of 2009, a passionate community of breeders is keeping the Lagotto Romagnolo alive, although there were only about 500 members of the breed in the United States.

#4. Otterhound: Britain’s Most Endangered Dog Breed

Rare breeds of dogs - Otterhound
Otterhound lying down stretched out by a fence in the shade. The rough coats and large, vibrant personalities made this rare breed of dog the ideal dog for hunting otters.

iStock.com/LourdesPhotography

The Lagotto Romagnolo wasn’t the only water dog to fall out of favor. The similarly curly-haired otterhound has deep bonds with English history. King John maintained his own pack of otterhounds, and resident members of the breed could often be found in and around churches and larger estates as well. Their rough coats and large, vibrant personalities made them ideal dogs for hunting otters. And while some hunters sold their pelts for a decent income, otter extermination was largely about competition between humans and otters for fish in nearby waters. Ironically, the efficiency of the otterhound nearly led to its extinction. Otter hunting was briefly banned in the United Kingdom in 1979 out of concerns that these activities were decimating otter populations. And while it would be discovered that pesticides were actually at the root of the problem, the otterhound population never quite recovered. The world population of this breed is estimated to be roughly a thousand, though there’s been a slow but steady incline in numbers over the past few years.

You can learn more about this beautiful and rare British breed here.

#5. Mudi: One of Hungary’s Best Kept Secrets

Rare breeds of dogs - Mudi
Merle Mudi running on the green grass. The Mudi is one of the rare breeds of dogs from Hungary.

Aneta Jungerova/Shutterstock.com

Rarity can sometimes be an impediment to gaining official recognition from official kennel clubs, but the Mudi is proof that it doesn’t have to. As the youngest of Hungary’s three types of herding dog, the Mudi has gained some interest as a type of rescue dog in Finland and as a pet throughout North America. Despite its lineage dating back to the 19th century, the dogs were killed in large numbers during the Nazi invasion and occupation of Hungary during World War II. Conscious efforts at conservation have brought this breed back from the brink, and the population has risen to a few thousand. Though still rare, this dog managed to gain recognition from the American Kennel Club in 2022.

The Mudi dog breed is super versatile, smart, alert, and can be trained as an all purpose helper. These Hungarian farm dogs are courage and very useful for working even the most stubborn and unmanageable livestock. The breed is considered to be loyal, protecting, without being aggressive. Additionally, they are great family pets.

Mudis are good-natured, smart, and intelligent dogs, and you can learn more about them here.

#6. New Guinea Singing Dog: An Elusive and Formerly Wild Breed

Rare breeds of dogs - New Guinea Singing Dog
Among the rare dog breeds, the New Guinea singing dog sets itself apart as one of the few that’s never been fully domesticated.

Tara Lynn and Co/Shutterstock.com

Among the rare dog breeds, the New Guinea singing dog sets itself apart as one of the few that’s never been fully domesticated. They earned their name from the beautiful, haunting howls they use to communicate with one another, and their methods of communication include multiple types of barks and howls that cover an impressive spectrum of pitch and tenor. Until recently, it was believed that the only living members of this breed were the roughly 200 being kept alive in zoos and sanctuaries — and these domesticated specimens were becoming inbred thanks to the lack of variety within such an isolated breeding pool. A 2016 expedition in New Guinea uncovered a community of at least 15 of these medium-sized dogs in remote highland areas and leave open the possibility that these elusive dogs may be more prevalent still.

#7. Azawakh: Rare Despite Its Ancient Lineage

Rare breeds of dogs - Azawakh
Three young Azawakh (African Sighthounds) standing together amongst the stone columns of a historic building. This rare breed of dogs emerged from Africa 8,000 years ago.

iStock.com/animalinfo

Though they’re sometimes mistaken for more popular types of sighthounds like the Italian greyhound and whippet, the Azawakh actually first emerged in West Africa as many as 8,000 years ago. Their fine and beautiful coat can appear in a number of different colorations, but the lean but powerful musculature of the breed is always readily apparent. Originally bred as hunting dogs, this rare dog breed distinguishes itself from other sighthounds for its fierce loyalty to its human companions. Though they’ve been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t introduced to America until the 1980s. Even then, this dignified and beautiful breed wouldn’t gain recognition from the AKC until 2018.

#8. Biewer Terrier: A Small Breed That’s One of the Newest

Biewer Terrier in the grass
Although similar to the Yorkshire terrier, the Biewer Terrier is a rare breed of dog distinct from the Yorkshire terrier.

Radek Havlicek/Shutterstock.com

The Biewer Terrier was recognized by the AKC the same years as the Azawakh — but its relatively recent recognition can be credited to how young this breed is in the first place. When a Yorkie litter belonging to German breeders Gertrud and Werner Biewer produced a puppy with a unique coloration of blue, white, and gold in 1984, they realized they had something truly unique. A 2007 genetic study determined that the Biewer Terrier is a unique breed distinct from the Yorkshire terrier, although the two continue to be quite similar in terms of appearance, behavior, and personality. There are roughly 1,500 Biewer terriers in the United States.

You can discover more about this mischievous breed — including the fact that it’s pronounced the same as “beaver terrier” — here.

If you’re looking for the rarest dog breeds in the world, here’s the definitive list:

Here is the list of the rarest dog breeds:

RankRarest Dog Breed
1.Telomian
2.Norwegian Lundehund
3.Lagotto Romagnolo
4.Otterhound
5.Mudi
6.New Guinea Singing Dog
7.Azawakh
8.Biewer Terrier

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About the Author

My name is Rebecca and I've been a Professional Freelancer for almost a decade. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessing over cats and pet rats.

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