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7 Extinct Dog Breeds You Never Knew Existed

Did you know that the ancestral dog breeds of some of your favorite four-legged friends have gone extinct?

That’s right. Golden Retrievers haven’t always had those big, goofy smiles. 

Some of these good boys and girls were workhorses, while others were prized for their looks and personalities. We’ve done some digging to fetch seven extinct dog breeds you’ve probably never heard of. 

Let’s take a look!

What Makes A Dog Breed a Breed? 

Dogs and humans have lived alongside each other for thousands of years. Early in this relationship, humans began selecting hounds to mate with one another to achieve specific traits in the next generation of puppies.

These characteristics depended on the tasks the humans wanted them to perform. Hunting, herding, and protection were all high on the list. But over time, many breeds have disappeared.

This can happen for many reasons. Sometimes, the original varieties may die without anyone to carry on their legacy. In others, genetic instability may lead to the decline. And sometimes, pedigrees go out of style or become redundant. 

In the 1800s, Queen Victoria popularized keeping dogs as pets rather than working animals. This sent breeding in a new direction of form over function and marked a time when many varieties disappeared. 

Pro Tip: Bigger isn’t always better. Find out what is the World’s Smallest Dog.

couple with dog in grass
While there are many popular dog breeds today, some no longer exist.

7 Extinct Dog Breeds 

According to the American Kennel Club, over 400 distinct dog pedigrees exist today. But let’s take a look at some of the ones that failed to survive.

#1 St. John’s Water Dog 

The St. John’s Water Dog was once popular among fishermen for its good temperament, working skills, and water-resistant coat. The owners taught them to fetch nets and dive underwater to retrieve different objects. 

But in the 1800s, the Canadian government began taxing any animal bred for purposes other than herding sheep. This led to a quick decline in their population, and the last known of its kind died in the 1980s. 

This dog breed may have gone extinct, but its genetics live on today in some of the world’s most popular pups, like the Labrador Retriever.

#2 Tesem 

The Tesem was a variety popular in ancient Egypt. Ancient people recorded images of this pedigree in both sculptures and paintings. Of the many dogs depicted in Egyptian artwork, historians think that Tesem is the oldest. 

Similar in appearance to the modern greyhound, this small pooch was leggy with pointed ears, a distinctive curled tail, and a greyish-yellow coat. 

Their name translates to “hunting dog.” 

It’s unknown why the Tesem went extinct. But over time, similar canines with straight tails and floppy ears replaced them.

#3 Alpine Spaniel 

Many people believe that Alpine Spaniels are the ancestors of the modern Saint Bernard, and one look will tell you why. They were large dogs, up to 100 pounds, with thick, curly white coats dotted with patches of red and brown. 

This was a popular breed in the Swiss Alps in the 1800s. They were suitable for protecting livestock but became famous for their search-and-rescue abilities.

One Alpine Spaniel named Barry allegedly rescued 40 people from the frigid mountains during his lifetime. Today, Barry’s taxidermied remains are displayed at the Natural History Museum of Bern.

This dog breed likely went extinct after a disease outbreak decimated its population.

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Cute dog looking at the camera
Furry friends are family, no matter the breed.

#4 Turnspit 

The Turnspit was an animal named quite literally for its job. These short-legged pups would run on something similar to a hamster wheel, which turned a spit when roasting meat over a fire. 

These dogs originated in the castles of Wales, but their popularity caused them to spread throughout Europe over several centuries. 

Unfortunately, this breed was underappreciated, even abused, in its time. We don’t know much about them as no one took the time to create records of them. People didn’t seek them out as pets, so the poor Turnspit became obsolete when technology surpassed the spitfire. 

#5 Tweed Water Spaniel 

Hailing from the shores of Scotland, the Tweed Water Spaniel was an intelligent, playful breed. Fishermen often used these dutiful dogs to retrieve nets. And unlike the Turnspit, it seems they truly enjoyed their work as water pups!

Scottish noble Lord Tweedmouth bred his Tweed Water Spaniel, Belle, with a Wavy Coated Retriever named Nous. Eventually, this pair would be exalted as the ancestors of the beloved Golden Retriever.

We don’t know precisely why this dog breed went extinct, but it appears it went out of favor in exchange for its cherished descendants. 

#6 Kuri Dog 

Anthropologists think that when the ancestors of the Maori people sailed from Polynesia to New Zealand, they brought the Kuri with them. 

The small, white canine was good at hunting, but people also raised them for meat and fur. 

This dog breed disappeared around the time European settlers began flooding New Zealand. There’s no definitive cause for their disappearance, but some believe they were overbred with European and lost their distinctive characteristics. 

#7 Welsh Hillman

The Welsh Hillman may be the oldest of all Welsh herding canines. People described them as graceful, fearless, and quick on their feet. These hounds could herd all types of livestock. 

With brown and black fur and a tall stature, they looked like a daintier version of today’s German Shepherd. 

The genes of this extinct breed likely live on in modern herding dogs. But the last known Welsh Hillman, Jess, died in 1990. 

Will We Ever See Extinct Dog Breeds Again?

For millennia, so many wonderful pups have roamed the Earth. Each of these unique breeds had unique skills, strengths, and personalities.

While various groups work to bring back extinct dog breeds, some are likely gone forever. We’re honestly a little sad we haven’t been able to pet each and every one of them. But since we can’t do that, we’re happy to share their legacies with you.

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