Ever tune into the Westminster Dog Show to catch sight of your favorite breed or breeds, and to get a glimpse at breeds you’ve never before seen? I do every year and usually end the night ohh’ing and ahh’ing over a few pooches I declare I must have. Of course, my current three dogs rule the house, the sofa and the bed, so I simply have no more room. Heck, there’s no longer room for me. But there’s definitely lots of room for incredible, rare and unique breeds, along with the ones we all know and love, in the world of dog. Here are ten breeds that easily make the “most unique” list, discussed here in no particular order other than moving from the hairless to the hairiest.
Xoloitzcuintil – Thank heavens I’m writing this because I wouldn’t have a clue how to pronounce this or its other name, Tepeizeuintli, but I could manage its more user friendly name, the “Mexican Hairless.” Widely kept in ancient Aztec settlements and prized for their healing and magical powers, this dog, which now comes in toy, miniature and standard sizes, and both as Hairless and Coated (with a full coat of short, sleek, glossy hair), the Xoloitzcuintil is one of the rarest and oldest breeds in the world. Although they don’t necessarily look that cuddly, they were used by the Aztecs as bed warmers. Ah well, to each his or her own, bed warmer that is. The breed is affectionate and intelligent and sensitive, and the dogs do demand a good deal of attention. They are not suited for cold climates. They are relatively inactive and are thus suited to apartment living which seems to be in line with their serving as fine bed warmers.
Peruvian Inca Orchid – This extremely rare and ancient breed originated in Peru in 750 A.D. Given it is a gifted sight hound, it was highly prized by the Inca Indians. The name derives from the dog having been kept in rooms with orchids – I’d sure love to be kept in rooms with orchids — and its skin is pinkish, rather like a delicate cymbidium. Like the Xoloitzcuintil, the breed comes in both a Hairless and Coated variety. This breed, which is deer-like in look and gait, is extremely sensitive and fragile, so it’s probably not a dog to use as a bed warmer nor would it be a good choice for first-time dog owners or families with very young children. The dogs do not do well in sun or in cold climates and are best kept indoors as much as possible. They don’t require an inordinate amount of exercise but do thrive on spending time with their families for they are highly devoted, affectionate and loving.
Chinese Crested – Although the Chinese Crested has been featured a lot recently at Westminster and other shows, it has to be included because it’s so darn odd looking, both in its Hairless and “Powder Puff” varieties. The Chinese Crested is intelligent and entertaining, if, I suppose, you consider its ability to climb and dig holes entertaining. But to its credit, the Chinese Crested is a devoted family member and, given its gentle nature and cheerfulness, does exceptionally well with children and other animals. It is one of those rare things these days: a well-adjusted creature, able to get along with others, even those unlike itself. Ah humans, take note, there’s a lesson here (i.e., “can’t we all just get along.”). The breed can be relatively sensitive but if trained gently and appropriately, does well in obedience-type sports and is great at performing tricks. The Chinese Crested would be well suited to apartment life, and when outdoors, should be protected from harsh sun or cold weather. It is a toy breed, weighing 5-12 pounds, and standing between 11 and 13 inches tall.
Chinese Chongqing – I’m not sure how to pronounce the second word in this breed’s name, which sounds like a Chinese card game, but this breed originated in the Southwestern region of China 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty and the dogs were mainly owned by the elite for protection and as a status symbol. The dogs are scent hounds and avid hunters of small game. Even today they are extremely rare and very difficult to find. They’re medium in size, ranging between 33-54 lbs., and standing 14-19.5” tall. Squarely and powerfully built, these natural guardians will not hesitate to defend their family, property or territory, and they need a dominant and respectful owner. This breed is not suited for city living, they require regular exercise and are not well suited for cold climates. The Chinese Chongqing is a primitive and evolutionary breed that was not developed through selective breeding, and they are terribly dignified and noble in appearance.
Sloughi – Another very delicate looking dog, the Sloughi is an ancient sight hound developed in North Africa as a desert hunter of fox, hare, jackal, hyena, wild boar and gazelle. It looks as if these dogs may not have been able to feast on what they hunted for they’re Hollywood starlet skinny. Although the breed was highly prized in North Africa, due to the French occupation and a rabies epidemic, the breed was decimated, and today this breed is exceedingly rare. The Sloughi is an affectionate and loyal breed and the dogs tend to develop a strong and deep emotional attachment to their owners. As a result, they do not change ownership easily and they require a good amount of attention. They become bored and destructive if left alone for extended periods and care should be taken with other small pets given that the Sloughi may interpret them as prey, even if they have been raised with them. They are as sensitive as they look and do not do well if stressed or if there are changes to their routines, so again, no bed warmer here but a slender, elegant and noble-looking creature.
Lowchen – This breed originated in France during the 14th century, was known as the Little Lion and was particularly favored by the aristocracy. During the first half of the 20th century, the Lowchen nearly became extinct. The Lowchen has appeared twice in the Guinness Book of World Records, once as the most expensive dog in the world, and once as the rarest dog in the world. The dogs possess a wonderful temperament, being well-balanced, playful and outgoing, with a regal bearing. They firmly attach themselves to their family and are good with children and other household pets. Although the Lowchen is fragile in appearance, it is actually robust and tough. The classic leonine look of the Lowchen must be professionally maintained but don’t let that look fool you: they like to dig, so they require proper training to discourage this tendency. The breed loves long walks and daily jogs and hiking, and they love off-leash opportunities to run freely, so although this is a non-sporting breed, they are very active dogs.
Mudi – The Mudi which originated in Hungary is a relatively new breed and is noted for its versatility as sheep herder, flock guardian, guard dog, cattle herder, hunter and companion. They have also been trained as rescue dogs. The breed, because it is new, is hard to find, but they’re rather irresistible given their most distinctive characteristic: their expression which is highly intelligent, focused and attentive. You almost expect the Mudi to engage you in an articulate conversation or a spirited debate about worldly matters. The Mudi, which stands between 14-20” tall and weights 18-29 lbs., is a very energetic dog and does best with a large yard or in a rural setting. The dogs thrive on working and lots of exercise, and most likely they’d be great at Frisbee catching. Loving and gentle, the Mudi will tend to form a close bond with one particular member of the family, and they do well with children, particularly those with whom they’ve been raised.
Lagotto Romagnolo – The name of this breed may sound like an Italian film star, and indeed the Lagotto originated in Italy where it served as a water retriever and hunter. The coat of the Lagotto is thick, curly and woolly and is considered hypoallergenic. Now this is a dog who’d make a great bed warmer or pooch to snuggle with. What’s most interesting about this breed, aside from the romantic name, is the fact that is it the only purebred dog in the world selected to search for truffles, those incredibly expensive, aromatic and edible fungi. As truffle lovers know, pigs have long been the chosen truffle hunters so it’s interesting to learn that a breed of dog will be putting its extraordinary scenting abilities to such good use ( that is, if you like truffles). The Lagotto, aside from being a great truffle sniffer, is an excellent companion dog. These dogs are highly intelligent and eager to learn, but they do require a great amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Don’t allow this breed to get bored because the dogs will become destructive and dig. After all, that is how they snoop out those prized truffles.
Coton De Tulear – I love this name, which means cotton in French, and the Coton De Tulear has a coat that is fluffy and cottony. The dogs look like big cotton balls. The Coton originated on the island of Madagascar in the early 20th century and they remain quite rare in the United States (the AKC doesn’t even yet recognize the breed). If you’re looking for a bed warmer, the Coton might suit the bill because the breed is an indoor companion and they do not require high levels of exercise. They’re happy to sit on your lap – and at 15-20 lbs., this would be pleasant – or at your feet, but they also love to play and are extremely sociable dogs, and they get along well with children and other pets. Of course with more hair comes more maintenance, so the Coton does require frequent brushing and combing, but that seems a small price to pay for such a charming companion.
Bergamasco – Last but not least, our hairiest dog, the hair being a combination of textures of wool, goat and, well, dog. These textures combine and mat into “cords” that will grow to reach the ground, covering the dog like a dense curtain. The Bergamasco stands 22-24” tall and weighs 57-84 lbs. The Bergamasco originated in Persia . It is an ancient sheepherding breed which nearly became extinct during World War II. The breed remains very rare today. Although this dog was never intended to be solely a pet, they are loyal, gentle and highly protective of their families. They are best suited for cold climates, and do best in rural settings with room to roam and with jobs to perform. The cords of their coat must be separated by hand and brushed individually, so the phrase “high maintenance” comes to mind. But the Bergamasco, bred to solve problems on their own, are intelligent, independent and free-thinking – what more could you want in a dog — or human for that matter? And bed warmer? Looks as if the Bergamasco would be great on cold nights.