Some dog breeds are so commonplace in modern society that the majority of us would have little trouble identifying many of the most popular ones. Considering their typical temperament, drive and personality, we can even hazard a guess at the dog’s purpose based solely on the typical characteristics of the breed. For example, a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois might have the inherent drive to be a great police dog; a gentle breed like a Golden Retriever might be a prime candidate to become a service dog.
But although there are some very popular breeds around the world, there are a few rare dog breeds which don’t receive anywhere near the same attention. Some of these are ancient breeds with fascinating backstories, and perhaps part of their appeal is that they haven’t hit the mainstream yet.
Each year, the AKC publishes a list of the most popular dog breeds registered in the United States. As you might expect, the top of the list frequently features the likes of the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd and Golden Retriever. However, if you turn the list on its head, you can discover the rarest dog breeds in the US – which is exactly what we’re going to do in this article.
(A quick note: the breeds featured in this list cover only the 193 fully registered breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. There are, of course, other breeds which are also scarcely seen in the United States, such as those in the AKC Foundation Stock Service (FSS). Breeds in the FSS are eligible for consideration for full AKC registration status, although this is not guaranteed. For more information on the AKC FSS, click here.)
The Chinook is the official state dog of New Hampshire, following a campaign by elementary school students about a decade ago. This muscular breed has a calm, reserved temperament, and is a type of sled dog. The numbers of this breed were so depleted in the early 1980s that only eleven Chinooks remained in the United States – but breeders in Maine, Ohio and California divided the remaining Chinooks and saved them from extinction. The breed has only been recognized by the AKC since 2013.
9) Cirneco dell’Etna
Originally from the Italian island of Sicily, this hound was traditionally used to hunt rabbits and other small animals. The Cirneco dell’Etna’s name is derived from the active volcano which looms over the Sicilian city of Catania. Today, their loyal, gentle demeanor makes them an ideal choice for a house pet.
Smaller than an English Foxhound but larger than a Beagle, this working dog was used to hunt hares and foxes. The Harrier is still used by Irish hunting groups, with a reported 166 registered packs of Harriers across Ireland. The first Harriers appeared in England during the early thirteenth century, although the precise origins of the breed are unclear.
7) Skye Terrier
The Skye Terrier was bred on the remote Isle of Skye in Scotland, aiming to rid the island of badgers and foxes. Twice as long as it is tall, the Skye’s elegant appearance made it a favorite of Queen Victoria in the late 1800s, although its popularity has now dropped around the world.
6) Cesky Terrier
Pronounced ‘chess-key’, the Cesky Terrier was bred in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) shortly after World War II. This dog was bred to hunt in the dense forests of Bohemia. The Cesky is a relatively new import to the United States, being brought to the country in the 1980s by a group of enthusiasts, and was accepted into the AKC at the turn of the century. The breed is now widely-recognized by most Kennel Clubs in the English speaking world, although low registration numbers mean it is rarely seen.
5) American Foxhound
Recognized by the AKC as far back as 1886, the American Foxhound is the state dog of Virginia. George Washington was pivotal in the breed’s development, regularly using them in foxhunts. Today, the breed still requires extensive amounts of exercise – boredom can lead to destructive behavior.
The Azawakh Valley, situated in the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, is home to many examples of this breed. A sighthound, the Azawakh is tall, lean and elegant with a short, fine coat. The agility and stamina of an Azawakh makes them ideally suited to chase hare, antelope and wild boar across a variety of challenging terrain. The lean nature of these dogs means their distinctive bone structure is clearly visible.
Another sighthound and another breed from Africa, the Sloughi is primarily found in Morocco and other northern African countries. This medium-large dog is revered for its hunting skills, but has a gentle temperament. It was only recognized by the AKC in 2016, and is the third rarest breed in the United States based on the number of registrations.
2) Norwegian Lundehund
In Norwegian, the term ‘lundehund’ literally translates as ‘puffin-dog’. This breed was developed to hunt puffin birds along the coast of Norway dating back to the times of the Vikings. One unique characteristic of the Norwegian Lundehund is the fact that the breed has six toes on each foot, all fully formed and muscled.
1) English Foxhound
One of the four foxhound breeds, the English Foxhound is the rarest dog breed in the United States based on 2019 AKC registration data. The breed rose to prominence during the reign of Henry VIII in England. These dogs are best utilized for hunting, and despite their gentle disposition, are rarely used as house pets.
The rarest dog breed in the US in previous years
The AKC releases breed registration statistics on an annual basis, which allows us to go back and see which breeds have had the fewest registrations in previous years.
2018 – Sloughi
2017 – Norwegian Lundehund
2016 – American Foxhound
2015 – English Foxhound
2014 – Norwegian Lundehund
2013 – English Foxhound
The rarity of an English Foxhound isn’t only confined to the 2019 registration list – this breed also had the fewest registrations in 2013 and 2015.
Many of the rare dog breeds we’ve featured on this list have their own unique histories. It can be fascinating to learn about them and discover what sets them apart from the breeds we are already familiar with.
Have you ever encountered one of the breeds on list – or have you owned one yourself? We would love to hear from you! Please let us know your comments by visiting our Facebook page.
Update 06/22/2020: This article was updated to include a reference to the AKC Foundation Stock Service (FSS).