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20 of the World's Rarest Dog Breeds

We bet you've never heard of some of these dog breeds

These Catahoula Leopard puppies are 13th on our list of rarest dogs. (Photo: Zuzule/iStock)
These Catahoula Leopard puppies are 13th on our list of rarest dogs.

Sometimes it feels as if everyone walking down the street has a dog, but you won't find these breeds on every sidewalk. Some hail from far-off locales, others have unique features like extra digits or talents like truffle-hunting. All of them are found in such small numbers that they sometimes aren't even acknowledged by the American Kennel Club. See which dogs made the list.

rarest dog breeds

20. Tibetan Mastiff

tibetan mastiff rarest dogs
(Photo: Lina Dijkhuizen via Flickr)

The Tibetan Mastiff is huge in size and noble in bearing, known for a “solemn but kind expression” and an impressive double coat. Its aloof, watchful, and independent nature makes the Tibetan Mastiff an excellent guardian breed but a reluctant participant in organized activities like obedience.

19. Swedish Vallhund

swedish vallhund rarest dogs
(Photo: ksilvennoinen via Flickr)

Swedish Vallhunds are athletic dogs, excelling in obedience, agility, tracking, herding, and flyball, in addition to traditionally being a farm dog used for herding. The “small, powerful, fearless” breed comes in a variety of colors and with a variety of tail lengths, from bobtail (no tail) to a full curl tail.

18. Bedlington Terrier

bedlington terrier rarest dogs
(Photo: Ned Harris via Flickr)

Known for its curly and pale-colored wool coat, the Bedlington Terrier bears some similarity to a lamb. But this breed is much more athletic than it appears, traditionally used for racing and to catch vermin. Its graceful build aids in speed and endurance.

17. Finnish Spitz

finnish spitz rarest dogs
(Photo: JanneHeinonen via Flickr)

This agile and hardworking breed resembles a fox in many ways. The Finnish Spitz features erect ears, a dense coat, and a bushy tail, appearing in a range of colors from pale honey to deep auburn. The breed is known for its intelligent expression and brisk movement.

16. Otterhound

otterhound rarest dogs
(Photo: Christian Mueller via Shuttersto)

As its name implies, the massive Otterhound is very capable in the water. The scent hound has webbed feet and a rough, double coat, which also makes it a great hunter on land. Otterhounds excel as pets too, being inquisitive, boisterous, and amiable.

15. Norwegian Lundehund

norwegian lundehund rarest dogs
(Photo: Boromir kennel via Flickr)

With six toes on each foot, prick ears that it can control at will, and the ability to tip its head backward to touch the backbone, the Norwegian Lundehund is unlike any other breed. Its unique build helped it excel at Puffin hunting, but it also makes an “easy-to-live-with” pet.

14. Chinook

(Photo: Noelle Deihl-Harteveld)

The name Chinook means “warm winter winds” in Inuit, and its double coat keeps it comfortable in the cold. The Chinook originated in New Hampshire as a drafting and sled-dog racing breed, combining the power of a freighting dog and the speed of lighter racing sled dogs.

13. Catahoula Leopard Dog

catahoula leopard dog rarest dogs
(Photo: Fraudoring via Flickr)

The often multi-colored or spotted Catahoula Leopard Dog is believed to be the first dog bred in the United States. It was named after Catahoula Parish in Louisiana and was traditionally used to hunt wild boar.

12. Peruvian Inca Orchid

peruvian inca orchid rarest dogs
(Photo: paramonguino via Flickr)

The Peruvian Inca Orchid has been around since before AD 750, and today it remains an uncommon but treasured pet. The “agile, smart and swift” breed is good at hunting and lure coursing as well. But its most notable quality is that it is sometimes hairless, with skin that appears in a variety of colors.

11. Thai Ridgeback

thai ridgeback rarest dogs
(Photo: laurenmellies via Flickr)

The Thai Ridgeback was previously unknown outside of its country of origin, but it is now gaining popularity elsewhere. What makes it most unique? A ridge of hair, growing in the opposite direction of its coat, running along its back. Only two other breeds have the same feature.

10. Azawakh

azawakh rarest dogs
(Photo: Garde-Epee via Flickr)

This West African sighthound makes a fiercely protective companion and guardian, and an extremely intelligent lure courser. The breed is elegantly built and features a short coat in a wide variety of colors and markings.

9. Lagotto Romagnolo

lagotto romagnolo rarest dogs
(Photo: kazenouta via Flickr)

Hailing from the Romagna sub-region of Italy, the Lagotto Romagnolo was named as a lake dog and traditionally used as a gun dog. Its most interesting occupation, though, is truffle hunting.

8. Mudi

mudi rarest dogs
(Photo: bleuborzoi via Flickr)

This Hungarian herding dog is as active as it is versatile. It makes a talented hunter, rodent exterminator, herding dog and flock guardian, but as a pet the Mudi is happiest when given long walks or jogs and a large area in which to run free.

7. Stabyhoun

stabyhoun rarest dogs
(Photo: Foto Martien via Flickr)

The Stabyhoun comes from Friesland, a province in the Netherlands, and today there may be fewer than 4,000 in existence. Stabyhouns make excellent hunting and guard dogs, and they’re also great at catching vermin like moles and rats.

6. Karelian Bear Dog

Karelian Bear Dog rarest dogs
(Photo: Runningbeardog via Flickr)

The Finnish Karelian Bear Dog is one of the top 10 most common breeds in its home country. Originally used for hunting and as a watchdog, it has quick reflexes and a fearless nature, and is still popular with big-game hunters.

5. Carolina Dog

carolina dog rarest dogs
(Photo: RegiDaws via Flickr)

Also known as the American Dingo, the Carolina Dog actually started out as a wild and free roaming dog. It was discovered in the cypress swamps of the Southeastern United States around the 1970s, and is now bred in captivity.

4. New Guinea Singing Dog

new guinea singing dog rarest dogs
(Photo: djclark25 via Shutterstock)

The New Guinea Singing Dog gets its name from its unique vocalization, but the once-wild breed gets its reputation as an excellent companion from its intelligence and physical ability.

3. Catalburun

catalburun rarest dogs
(Photo: Pet Tribe via Flickr)

Possibly because of severe inbreeding due to their rarity, the Catalburun is one of the only dogs in the world featuring a split nose and suspended ears. They were originally bred for hunting in Turkey.

2. Fila Brasileiro

fila brasileiro rarest dogs
(Photo: didgeridog via Flickr)

The Fila Brasileiro is believed to have origins in a number of breeds like the Mastiff and Bloodhound, which could explain its large bones, loose skin and smooth coat. The working breed is known for its tracking ability, but also for its sometimes aggressive temper.

1. Telomian

Telomian rarest dogs
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Telomian is the only known Malaysian breed to live elsewhere, but originally it was bred by the Orang Asli indigenous people to catch vermin. Because the Orang Asli built homes on stilts to stay safe from dangerous animals, Telomians developed an unusual climbing ability.

For more, visit the American Kennel Club's website

Filed To: Photography
Lead Photo: Zuzule/iStock