Stories behind every dog breed that originated in America
Stories behind every dog breed that originated in America
Thousands of years ago, ancestors of the modern gray wolf inhabited Europe, crossing the Bering Strait into America around the same time that early humans made the journey. These ancient wolves are thought to be the common primogenitor to all American dog breeds. There is evidence that several Native American tribes domesticated these wild animals, possibly after the two groups learned they could share a mutually beneficial relationship: The wolves could get an easy meal while the natives gained protectors, hunting companions, and pack animals. Many of these Native American dog breeds are now extinct, but they certainly played a huge role in the development of modern home-grown breeds.
Another major influence on modern American dog breeds were the pets and working dogs brought over by early explorers and colonists. For centuries, dogs had been bred for work and sport in places like Britain, France, and Spain. When early settlers brought these canines over they bred with existing American dogs, creating entirely new animals that could be bred for specialized purposes and further domesticated.
Stacker compiled a list of 55 dog breeds that originated in the United States, using various sources such as the American Kennel Club and Vet Street, which were last updated in 2019. Researching the dogs’ histories we’ve identified when the breeds first existed, when they were first documented, and when they were first recognized by the AKC or United Kennel Club (if applicable). The dogs have been listed in alphabetical order, from the Alapaha blue blood bulldog to the white shepherd. A handful of the dogs on our list have long been extinct, like the Hare Indian dog and the Hawaiian poi dog, while a few remain incredibly popular with modern families, like the puggle and the Cocker spaniel. A few, like the Australian shepherd, may even have origin stories that surprise you.
So whether you’re a canine lover or simply appreciate all things home-grown, read on to discover the origin stories of every American dog breed.
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Alapaha blue-blood bulldog
While it is thought that the Alapaha blue-blood bulldog has been driving cattle and guarding homesteads in the Southern United States for some 200 years, there is no official documentation of the breed from before 1979. Experts agree that the aloof, self-assured pups probably descended from various crosses between a variety of types of bulldogs brought to the country by some of the earliest settlers.
Alaskan klee kai
“Klee kai” is an Eskimo term that means “little dog,” a fitting name for these miniature huskies. The companion-sized pooches were originally bred by Linda Spurlin and family in the 1970s, only becoming available to other owners in 1988. While the breed is not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, it is becoming an increasingly popular family dog.
Among the oldest sled dogs of the Arctic, Alaskan Malamutes are thought to be descendants of Paleolithic hunters’ domesticated wolf-dogs. First recognized by the AKC in 1935, the breed has been making themselves useful pulling heavy loads over long distances and locating seal breathing holes for some 4,000 years. Gentle and great with kids, Alaskan Malamutes make a great addition to any family.
First recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1999, American bulldogs have been a mainstay of American farms for hundreds of years. These tough dogs earned their keep doing tasks like driving cattle to market and catching bulls for castration, and are often employed as working dogs today.
According to the United Kennel Club, the American bully was first developed as a natural extension to the American pit bull terrier over 100 years ago. In appearance, the breed closely mirrors their American pit bull terrier relatives, although the influence of other genetic relatives like the American bulldog, English bulldog, and Olde English bulldogge can be seen as well. The American bully was officially recognized by the UKC in 2013.
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American cocker spaniel
Known in America simply as a cocker spaniel, this beloved breed is known nearly everywhere else as the American cocker spaniel in order to distinguish it from its close cousin the English cocker spaniel. Spaniels, a breed used to hunt game, were first mentioned as early as 1300 and were imported to America sometime in the mid-1800s. American breeders concentrated on giving life to smaller, solid-color pups instead of the leggier, spotty version preferred by the British.
American English coonhound
American by birth and English by ancestry, American English coonhounds were devised by early American settlers to trail and tree raccoons. The pups were derived from English foxhounds (another breed known for their hunting and trailing skills) sometime in the early 1880s. The athletic dogs thrive best under the care of experienced dog owners and are thought, by some experts, to be the fastest of the coonhound breeds.
American foxhounds are almost as old as the country itself, with founding families like the Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Lees playing a key role in the breed’s development. These formerly English families brought over the hunting dogs pre-Revolution in order to continue their beloved tradition of foxhunts. Over the years, refinements were made to the breed, and by the time of the Civil War, American foxhounds were a completely distinct breed from their English cousins.
American hairless terrier
American hairless terriers are the only hairless breed indigenous to the United States. The dogs are a naturally occurring offshoot of a rat terrier, a feisty breed named for its ability to exterminate disease-riddled rats. Rat terriers were first brought to the United States in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1970 that the first hairless pup was born (to coated parents) in Louisiana and it wasn’t until 1983 that a pair of hairless siblings were born and the breeding could begin in earnest.
American leopard hound
While American Leopard Hounds are among the oldest of the tree dog breeds in America, very little is definitively known about their origins. It is thought that their predecessors were brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and then were bred either with dogs native to Mexico or with a variety of other transplant breeds. Still, by the 18th century, the breed was well established in North Carolina and began to spread throughout the Southern United States, popular as both a hunting and family dog.
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American pit bull terrier
A cross between a Pit Bull and Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier was popular during a period of American history when dogfighting was legal. However, their ugly history shouldn’t be a deterrent—the pups are known for their playful and silly nature, do well with children, and make excellent family dogs. The AKC doesn’t currently recognize the breed, but the United Kennel Club has recognized American Pit Bull Terriers since its inception in 1898.
American Staffordshire terrier
Another breed that got its start as a fighting dog during the 18th and 19th centuries is the American Staffordshire Terrier. While it’s exact genetic ancestors are unknown, its closest ancestor, an English Staffordshire Terrier, had arrived in America by the mid-1800s. The larger and more mellow AmStaff became a pop-culture favorite, becoming the face of Buster Brown Shoes, starring in classic comedies like “Our Gang,” and earning recognition as decorated WWI veterans.
American water spaniel
Conceived as an all-in-one hunting companion by early settlers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, American Water Spaniels were bred specifically to help the frontiersman catch waterfowl for sustenance. We know that these early settlers utilized various European breeds to create the pooch, but exactly when the breed came into existence is lost to history. Officially named Wisconsin’s state dog in 1985, there are only 3,000 or so American Water Spaniels left in existence today.
The Australian Shepherd name is entirely misleading, blurring out huge aspects of the breed’s history. The dogs are direct genetic descendants of the Pyrenean Shepherd, the favorite herding dog of the Basque people and one that accompanied them during a brief sojourn to Australia. Upon the Basques arrival in California around the time of WWII, ranchers wrongly assumed that the breed (which had since been crossed with Collies and Border Collies) was native to Australia, and the name stuck. Australian Shepherds were further refined and bred in the American West, and have long been a part of cowboy culture.
Black and tan coonhound
Dating back to the 18th century, black and tan coonhounds were first bred in the southern United States as a cross between a foxhound and a bloodhound. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1945, making it the first of the coonhounds to earn recognition by the organization. These hunting dogs have been described as happy-go-lucky, and are said to make wonderful family dogs.
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Black and tan Virginia foxhound
Primarily a working breed, black and tan Virginia foxhounds are kept to hunt foxes as they have been for hundreds of years. A close relative of the black and tan coonhound, and perhaps a cross between that breed and a Virginia Hound, there is some argument about when exactly Black and Tan Virginia Foxhounds originated and whether or not they qualify as a unique breed (they are not currently recognized by any major canine registries). That being said, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint a date of origin, although experts agree it was either in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
Black mouth cur
Developed in the Southern United States as an all-around farm dog, black mouth curs have been fairly widespread since the 19th century. The word “cur” is generally used to denote a mix-breed dog, but black mouth curs are actually purebred, likely descending from pooches originating in Alabama (Southern black mouth cur), Texas (foundation black mouth cur), and Mississippi (Ladner yellow black mouth cur).
In 1858 the Lacy brothers arrived in Marble Falls, Texas, having traveled from Kentucky by covered wagon and bringing with them the first blue Lacy. A cross between a greyhound, scent hound, and coyote, the brothers sought to breed a dog that could excel as both a herding and hunting dog. Today, many owners claim that the blue Lacy is the “perfect all-around dog” knowing exactly where to be at just the right time.
The University of Tennessee's mascot, the bluetick coonhound, has been a fixture in Southern culture for centuries. Described as “cold nose” scent hounds, these dogs can follow trails that are hours or days old, making them excellent hunting companions. Their bloodlines extend back to the country’s earliest days, specifically to a group of French staghounds that were given to George Washington by Marquis de Lafayette.
All true Boston terriers have one common ancestor: a bulldog and white English terrier mix named Judge who was brought to America by his owner, William O’Brien, in the 1800s. After he was sold to Robert C. Hooper, Judge was painstakingly bred in an effort to transform the breed from the bulky fighting dog to the gentle, sweet, family companion we know and love today. Boston terriers, often nicknamed the “American Gentleman,” have been the official dog of Massachusetts since 1979 and the official mascot of Boston College for more than 100 years.
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Around 1900 in a small South Carolina town named Boykin, a man named Alexander White found a small, brown spaniel outside the local church. After taking the pup (named Dumpy) home, White discovered that he was a natural-born hunting dog, with a knack for water and land retrievals. Along with his friend, Whit Boykin, White began a specialized breeding program to further develop some of the dog’s best traits and characteristics, and in 2009 the AKC finally recognized the Boykin spaniel as its own unique breed.
Carolina dogs are thought to be direct descendants of the domesticated Asian wolf dogs that primitive humans brought with them as they migrated from Asia into North America along the Bering land bridge. Shy and suspicious, with an extreme pack mentality, these dogs can still be found living in the wild from Georgia to Arizona. However, the domesticated pooches are extremely loyal to their people, excel in competitive activities, and are great at hunting small game.
Catahoula leopard dog
In 1539 Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto landed in Florida, bringing with him a host of bloodhounds, mastiffs, and greyhounds. These dogs were bred with the Native Americans' dogs, and again later with French explorers’ hounds. The end result was the Catahoula leopard dog, a working and herding breed who was a favorite of early Central Louisiana settlers.
Chesapeake Bay retriever
The Chesapeake Bay is a haven for bird hunters: The 200-mile stretch is located along the Atlantic Flyway, the flight path taken by birds as they make their way south to their winter homes, and hosts one-third of all migratory waterfowl each year. In light of the abundance of ducks and geese in the bay, bird hunters in the area were eager to breed a retriever that had a perfect set of features for hunting in the cold bay. By the 19th century, they’d succeeded, breeding Newfoundlands, Irish water spaniels, and other assorted breeds together to create the Chesapeake Bay retriever, which was recognized by the AKC in 1884.
In his early years, Arthur Treadwell spent time in Alaska at the height of the gold rush. By the time he returned home, in 1902, he was an avid musher eager to breed his own line of sled dogs. The result was the Chinook, descended in part from Admiral Robert Peary’s Greenland husky, and one of the most revered working dogs in the country.
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Named after the breed’s two founders, Dennis Willis and Mark Slade, Denmark feists aren’t actually from Denmark but originated in the American South. Bred from small hunting dogs brought over from Europe by immigrants, the Denmark feist was designed to be a silent, bold, and fearless treeing dog. The first Denmark feist was bred on the Slade farm in 1917 and remained exclusive to the family until 1984 when it was introduced to the general public as a new, original breed.
Gran mastín de Borínquen
Native to the American territory of Puerto Rico, the gran mastín de Borínquen is believed to date back to the 16th century. A direct descendant of the Spanish mastiff and dogs native to the island, the pups are most frequently used as guard dogs. It’s important for prospective owners to note that the breed’s potentially volatile tempers won’t make them a good fit for families with young children or those who are inexperienced in pet ownership.
Hare Indian dog
Now extinct, little is definitely known about Hare Indian dogs. We know for certain that they lived amongst the Hare Indian tribe, and were used for hunting and sled pulling. However, it’s unclear whether they were native to the area (and were, in fact, more akin to wild coyotes that the tribe was attempting to domesticate) or had been brought over by Vikings some 2,000 years ago and bred with Intuit and other local dogs.
Hawaiian poi dog
Another extinct breed, Hawaiian poi dogs were kept by Hawaiian islanders prior to the arrival of American explorers and colonists. Small, and with a distinctly flattened head, it’s unknown when, exactly, these dogs originated, but it’s certain that they haven’t existed since the early 20th century.
David Turkheimer and Shelley Watts-Cross bred the first king shepherd in the 1990s. A mix of German shepherd, Shiloh shepherd, and several long-haired European German shepherds, these pups were intended to create a German shepherd mix that had fewer health problems than the purebred variety. Calm and sweet, but also very high maintenance, this new breed still isn’t hugely popular among American families but would make a great choice for those looking for a kid-friendly dog.
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Majestic tree hound
Massive majestic tree hounds were first bred in the early 20th century to hunt large animals like bears, bobcats, and mountain lions in the South. Sweet and loyal, the dogs were first registered as a new breed in 1980. Easy to train, but needing lots of room to roam, the dogs would make ideal pets for those with plenty of open space.
Alexander McNab, a Scottish immigrant, arrived in California in the late 19th century. After setting up his 10,000-acre ranch near Hopland, California, he began breeding his Scottish border collies with the local Basque shepherd dogs to create a new type of herding dog that could assist him with the cattle and livestock that filled his land. Energetic and hard-working, McNab dogs make excellent farm companions or sporting dogs.
Miniature American shepherd
It wasn’t until the 1960s when cowboys working the U.S. rodeo circuit began breeding smaller Australian shepherds together to create a diminutive version of the pooch. The result was the aptly named miniature American shepherd. The breed’s intelligence, loyalty, and size have made the herding dog popular with canine lovers across the country.
Described as the “true All-American Pioneer dog,” mountain curs were vital to the pioneers and, it is said, the Southern Mountains couldn’t have been settled without them. Used as both guard dogs and hunters, there’s no official documentation regarding the exact origins of the breed, but they were recognized as an official group in 1957.
[Pictured: Variations of the cur dog breed.]
Native American Indian dog
Upon first seeing a Native American Indian dog, you might mistakenly think you’re looking at a wolf. In fact, with a similar heritage to a dingo, these pups are thought by many to be the missing link connecting wild animals to the first dogs domesticated by humans some 12,000 years ago. With such a long history, it can be hard to distinguish the exact details of the breed, but we do know that Karen Markel trademarked the breed in the mid-1990s, highlighting some of the most valuable traits of the dogs including intelligence, friendliness, versatility, and longevity.
[Pictured: A dog breed thought to be visually similar to the Native American Indian dog.]
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Olde English bulldogge
In spite of its name might lead you to believe, the Olde English bulldogge is a relatively new breed. In 1971, after becoming disenchanted with English bulldogs and all of their accompanying health problems, David Leavitt set out to develop a new breed, reminiscent of his favorite but healthier all around, similar to English bulldogs of the 18th century. He did it by crossing an English bulldog with a bullmastiff, pit bull, and American bulldog, ending in a working, family-oriented, and easy to maintain pup.
In 1750 a German immigrant named Johannes Plott arrived in North Carolina and settled down with his five Hanover hounds. It was his son who ended up breeding the old-world dogs with local stock, creating an entirely new hound perfect for hunting and farm work dubbed the Plott hound. In 1989, the state made the Plott hound their official state dog.
A cross between a pug and a beagle, the first known litter of puggles were born in Wisconsin to breeder Wallace Havens in the 1980s. There is some question as to whether the mix was an accident or a planned attempt to create an entirely new breed, but whatever their origin story puggles have gained massive popularity in the country, becoming the most widely owned crossbreed in 2005. Not currently recognized by any of the major canine organizations, aficionados hope that the lively, playful pup will land on the registries soon.
An all-purpose farm dog, the exact year of the rat terrier's origin is unknown, but by the early 20th century, many farms across America had at least one hunting rats, vermin, and other small game. As people left the countryside migrating to bigger cities the dogs’ popularity waned, but many families still keep the silly, playful dogs as pets.
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A well-known fox hunter and dog breeder in the state of Georgia, George E.L. Birdsong, gets credit as the individual who did the most to create and perfect the redbone coonhound. Like other coonhounds, the redbone is a cross between a foxhound, bloodhound, and Irish hounds, identifiable by their love of hunting and howling. The United Kennel Club recognized its first redbone coonhound in 1902, although the breed is thought to have existed prior to that.
Salish wool dog
Another extinct pooch, the Salish wool dog lived with the Coast Salish Nations in what is now Washington state and British Columbia. Small dogs with a thick white coat that was sheared at least once a year, the oldest remains of the breed date back to some 4,000 years ago.
[Pictured: A German spitz, a visually similar dog breed to the extinct Salish wool dog.]
Similar to the gran mastín de Borínquen, Sato dogs are native to Puerto Rico, but unlike their distant cousins, they breed has a much sadder story. Their exact origins are unknown, but it’s likely they evolved from hunting and working dogs that were imported to the island over the years. The breed has long been neglected by the local people who couldn’t afford to keep the Satos as pets, instead abandoning them at the “Dead Dog Beach” or Sato Beach. Today, there are a handful of organizations that work to spay and neuter the rapidly growing population, vaccinate the existing animals, and place them in shelters, giving them a shot at finding a forever home.
Shiloh shepherd dog
In the 1970s an American German shepherd breeder decided she wanted to attempt to re-create the old style, much larger German shepherds. Through a variety of crossbreeding with Alaskan Malamutes and Alaskan shepherds, she succeeded in creating a Shiloh shepherd, which is similar in form and health to the old-style shepherd she was after, in 1990.
In 1985 breeder Francie Stull sought to create a medium-sized sighthound with a soft, silky coat. To that end, she bred two existing breeds, whippets and borzoi, together resulting in the first silken windhound. The name for the new breed wasn’t officially adopted until 1998; by then the gentle dogs had found homes all over the world.
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Another scenthound, Stephens cur were originally a strain of mountain cur. However, Hugh Stephens and his family in Kentucky succeeded in breeding a distinct enough line that they were granted their own independent breed in the 1900s. In 1998 the United Kennel Club recognized Stephens cur in its registry.
[Pictured: Variations of the cur dog breed.]
Teddy Roosevelt terrier
Named in honor of the 26th president who is thought to have owned this rat terrier variety, the Teddy Roosevelt terrier’s most distinctive trait is short legs. Like the rat terrier, the dogs were bred from many of the small hunting and terrier dogs that accompanied immigrants across the ocean. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that breeders worked to completely divide the Teddy Roosevelt terrier from the rat terrier.
There is little information about when the Texas heeler, a cross between the Australian cattle dog and the Australian shepherd dog, originated. Although the dogs are most frequently found in Texas, there’s no single breeder or kennel who claims responsibility for the dog. That being said, it is thought that Lucy Guynes registered the first of the friendly, energetic breed in 1970.
Toy fox terrier
Initially a working farm dog who was responsible for clearing rats and other vermin from barns and homes, the toy fox terrier has since evolved into a show dog and circus performer thanks to its natural agility and open personality. In the early 20th century, small smooth fox terriers were bred with toy breeds like Chihuahuas to create these little pups with playful personalities and classic terrier fire.
Of all the cur breeds, the treeing cur varies the most in size and color, but their ability to perform as hunting, guardian, and stock dogs is consistent across the breed. Developed in the rural United States some 100 years ago, the breed was officially recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1998.
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Treeing Tennessee brindle
In the 1960s Rev. Earl Phillips created the Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders Association. The group’s aim was to create a dog with great scenting power and strong hunting skills by breeding “outstanding brindle [curs] from every part of the country” including the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. The result, the treeing Tennessee brindle dog has been in existence since at least 1995.
Treeing Walker coonhound
The treeing Walker coonhound is a descendant of the English foxhound, Virginia hounds, and, most directly, Walker foxhounds (named for Thomas Walker of Virginia). These hunting hounds, bred for their speed, bark, and innate ability, have existed since the 19th century, and have been recognized by the UKC since 1945.
Developed in Kentucky in the 1800s specifically to chase and hunt the long-legged red fox, the Trigg hound is a blend of Irish, American, and English foxhounds. There are a handful of different strains of the dog, but the one developed by Col. Haiden C. Trigg tends to be the most popular thanks to their smaller size and friendly, eager to please nature.
[Pictured: English foxhound.]
A direct descendant of the German shepherd, white shepherds' fur is pure white thanks to a genetic mutation. The mutation fell out of favor in the breed’s native Germany in the late 1930s, but found favor (and a specific breeding program) in Canada and the United States. White shepherds became distinctive enough that they were allowed their own category by the UKC in 1999.
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