Thousands of years ago, cave-dwelling humans huddled in fear around their fires not knowing what deadly animal lurked in the darkness. To our most ancient of ancestors, animals were things to eat or things that ate man. Thousands of years ago this law was broken when the first wolf was tamed and over the generations became a dog, man’s best friend and the first animal that humans domesticated.
Since then man has bred dogs for various needs, creating thousands of breeds big and small. War, disaster, or simple fashion has seen some of these breeds fall out of favor and into oblivion. These are the top 10 dogs who either were saved from extinction, or should be brought back into being.
10. Belgian War Dogs
When the great empires of Europe sent their armies in action the smaller nations huddled in fear, hoping their neutrality would protect them. One of these countries was Belgium, whose army was focused on suppressing its colonial subjects not stopping the armies of some of the world’s most powerful empires. Even though it tried to stay out of the war, the tiny nation was dragged into the bloody conflict when Germany used it as a backdoor into France.
Belgium’s army heroically stood up to the might of the Prussian Empire, and while the Belgians were crushed they slowed the Germans enough to allow France enough time to mobilize its men to meet and push back the Krauts. The Belgian Army was able to clash with the Germans with mobility provided by their unique pack animals, the Belgian Mastiff. These dogs hauled machine guns and war supplies to and from the frontlines, allowing the Belgian Army to serve its purpose as the road bump to the Germans. After the war, trucks and tanks made the dogs obsolete and they almost became extinct. A small group kept the breed alive and now they are making a comeback.
9. Peruvian Punk Dogs
The Inca Empire, based on the west coast of South America, was one of the most powerful civilizations in the pre-contact Americas. In the annals of history it was an unusual society. It didn’t have draft animals for tilling of farmland but it had llamas and alpacas for carrying goods. They didn’t have a system of writing but rather used a system of tying knots to record information. They lacked the knowledge of iron and steel but their mastery of stonework still leaves modern stoneworkers in awe. Their culture didn’t have money and instead depended on a system of labor each person owed to the empire. Yet the Inca civilization grew and thrived, and only New World diseases and the invasion of the Spanish Conquistadors brought it down.
Before the European contact, the Incan people had a special type of hairless dog that they used for hunting and companionship. The medium-sized dog had almost no hair, and has a long history in Inca art and mummified pets are even found during archeological investigations. When the new Spanish rulers and their Christan missionaries took the reigns of power they quickly went to work, methodically wiping out the Incan culture under the guise of converting pagans to Christ. Part of that effort was the elimination and demonization of the Incan dogs. The breed was left on the fringes of society often hunted for food or its pelt.
As Peru entered the 21st century the country realized how special their dogs were and an effort was launched to save the breed. The government decreed that all Incan temples should have at least one of these native dogs. Their survival was also helped by a rebranding of the breed as “Punk.” As a result of these efforts, the Incan dog’s outlook looks good.
The legendary Molossus dog breed belonged to the ancient Greek kingdom of the Molossians. Its hunting ability and size were greatly admired by dozens of ancient historians. The Molossians treasured their dog so much that they pressed the canine’s image on their coins. The Romans crushed the Molossian Kingdom in the Third Macedonian War of 168 BC. A huge hunting and shepherd dog of southern Europe that could reach upwards of 200 pounds, the breed spawned a few of Europe’s large breeds but itself became extinct.
Now a number of breeders are trying to bring it back. One breeder, Jared Howser of Salt Lake City, Utah claimed to have reborn the Molossus pedigree when he displayed his 9-month-old puppy named Euphrates, which was an enormous 180 pounds and 6-feet tall. Howser said Euphrates represented the American Molossus, a first litter, that is the closest genetic descendent of the Mesopotamian Molossus.
Skye Terriers are small lapdogs that are not flyers. Rather than being related to the great blue sky above, they are a dog breed from the Isle of Skye, a British island in the ocean blue. A very regal looking dog, they were once popular among royalty. One famously hid under the dress of Mary Queen of Scots as her head was cut off on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
In recent decades the breed fell out of favor and The Telegraph newspaper declared in 2006 that it was the United Kingdom’s most endangered dog breed. In 2005 only 30 dogs of the Skye pedigree were born and only a few dozen are bred every year. If more owners can be found willing to deal with this high maintenance dog it can be rescued from the danger of extinction.
6. Salish Wool Dog
Disease, war, and forcible assimilation into the settler way of life have almost destroyed not only the indigenous people themselves but also almost destroyed their soul and culture. In Canada, most of the indigenous peoples call themselves the First Nations. Among Canada’s West Coast First Nations, blanket weaving using mountain goat wool and dog hair is an important part of their culture. The Cowichan First Nations even developed a sweater, the Cowichan Sweater, that would reach iconic status when “The Dude” wore one in the movie The Big Lebowski.
A key part of this weaving culture was the Salish Wool Dog. Native only to the Canadian West Coast, the Salish Wool Dog is the only known prehistoric North American dog developed for animal husbandry. It was through its hair that the local First Nation people were able to create beautiful blankets and clothing.
Disaster struck with European contact. First came cheap sheep wool and various other foreign dog breeds. Along with these new goods came disease, decimating the west coast First Nations. Barely able to survive themselves, the Salish people’s dog, now with no economic use and displaced by European breeds, went extinct. Although the dog breed no longer exists there are still samples of its hair. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington has one surviving blanket made from primarily dog hair. Also, the Smithsonian has a dog skin pelt. As DNA technology advances, hopefully, one day these samples can be used to create a Salish Wool Dog clone and revive the breed.
5. Japanese Dogs
In Japan, space is premium and cuteness is treasured. This does not bode well for the local Japanese dog breeds. Japan has six native dog species: the Shiba, Akita, Kai, Kishu, Shikoku and the Hokkaido. Historically these dogs are large breeds from the mountains or from northern Japan. There they lived in wide-open spaces with lots of room to run and exercise. They are ill-suited to the urban lifestyles of the modern Japanese family, which is often too busy at work or school to walk a dog.
More and more the large Japanese dog breeds are being ignored and instead new foreign pocket imported breeds, like the miniature dachshunds, miniature poodles and chihuahuas, are being chosen as pets. Promotional campaigns have been launched to get more people to choose patriotically but some breeds like the Kishu are so rare that a Japanese zoo added two Kishu dogs alongside the zoo’s regular exotic animals.
4. Curly-coated Retriever
Retrievers are famous for their long, straight hair. Hard to find in America, in the UK there is a little known curly-coated Retriever breed. The unfamiliar might accuse the dog of being a poodle mix but when the breed was developed in the UK there were no poodles in Britain. Also, poodles shed their curly hair and the curly-coated retriever does not.
The curly matte hair was much sought after as the more straight-haired retriever breeds had a shiny coat that reflected moonlight. With its stealth hair camouflage, this dog has a reputation as an outlaw dog as they were famously preferred by poachers as hunting dogs. Loyal, devoted owners now struggle to keep the breeding population from falling into a danger zone of too few breeding pairs.
3. Turnspit dog
Terriers were bred to hunt vermin like rats, and the dachshund was bred to invade and flush out anything living in small tunnels. The Turnspit dog was developed for kitchen work. Turnspit dog was a short-legged dog bred brought into existence to serve a purpose much like the dinosaurs in Fred Flintstone’s universe. Like Fred Flintstone’s dinosaurs that washed dishes or played a record, the Turnspit’s purpose was to turn a wheel, which in turn spun a stick of meat over a fire.
For much of our history, everything had to be done by hand. The industrial age changed this with the invention of machines and gadgets that made life easier. Machinery also made things like the Turnspit dog obsolete. A rich household would have servants to do this job, but poorer households would depend on these dogs. Since it represented low social status the breed didn’t survive when machinery replaced it.
The dog was bred to be happy indoors, comfortable with noise, and hard-wired so that it was happy to run on a wheel for long periods of time. This dog would have been ideal in the modern age. No backyard? No problem, the turnspit hates the outside. No time to take a dog for walks? Just let it run in the exercise wheel. Power out? Let your dog power your devices by making its exercise wheel your power generator.
2. Dire Wolf
The Game of Thrones books and HBO TV show have been cultural touchstones. Children with the names Arya or Khaleesi are becoming more and more common. Across all aspects of our media are references or Game of Thrones Easter eggs. The iconic animals of House Stark, the Dire Wolf are also in demand. Dire wolves are actually real animals that once roamed the Americas, but the wolf with the scientific name Canis Dirus went extinct about 10,000 years ago.
Lois Schwarz, of the Dire Wolf Project, hopes to bring the breed back and make Dire Wolves Great Again. In the Schwarz Kennels in White City, Oregon, Schwarz is breeding the American Alsatian to be a large, long-lived companion dog with a wolflike appearance, aka a Dire Wolf. Surprisingly, Schwarz has been able to hardwire a calm, mellow, distinctly un-wolflike attitude into the dogs, making them perfect as emotional support pets… although their $3,000 price tag might stress you out.
1. Red Wolves
Like many apex predators who called the continental United States home, the various wolf species were hunted almost to extinction. Like their Dire Wolf cousins did thousands of years ago, the Red Wolves of the south and southeastern United States — including Texas, Florida, and West Virginia — went extinct in the 1980s. Or so it was thought.
Field biologist Ron Wooten noted that the feral dogs of Galveston Island, Texas had similar features as the Red Wolf. Based on this hunch, he sent in DNA samples and they confirmed that the dogs had Red Wolf DNA. At some point in the recent past, a feral dog pack in Galveston Island bred with the Red Wolf species. While the Red Wolves have died off in the wild, the Red Wolf DNA lives on in these wild packs of dogs. Now scientists are hoping the Galveston dogs could be used as a sort of time capsule or DNA reservoir to “restore lost aspects” of the Red Wolf’s genetic history.