The history of the dog breeds we love to love can be traced back thousands of years, and while many modern breeds have evolved, some dogs are still named after their ancient ancestors.
The origins of a dog’s breed are just as interesting and defining as their given name. They can tell you all about the personality traits, physical stature, or even heroic history behind your furry companion.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are some breeds that we can’t definitively say how they got their name. But hopefully, this list gives you a glimpse into the history of our canine friends and helps to give them an identity outside of just being your pet’s breed.
Dachshunds are a type of dog that has been around for more than 600 years. They were originally bred to chase badgers, but today they’re mostly companion animals and show dogs. You might be surprised to know that these little pups are hound-terrier mixes! The German word “dach” translates to “badger,” while the English word “hound” is derived from the Middle-English word meaning “to hunt.”
This canine is likely named for its long history of assisting — you guessed it — shepherds. Their duty was to guard and herd sheep. The popular German breed was supposedly named in 1899 by Berlin veterinarian college student Max von Stephanitz, whose goal was to standardize shepherd dogs in the country. To this day, some farmers still use these dogs for herding purposes. Nowadays, they’re commonly trained for military and police forces because of their obedient, hardworking nature.
If you’re looking to adopt a little pup, keep in mind that the etymology of “pug” is pretty sweet. The word has been used as an endearing term for loved ones since at least the 1560s. Although there isn’t any definitive reason why this breed got its name, they were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885 with their signature snub-nosed face and compact body type.
St. Bernard is a breed of dog most commonly associated with the Swiss Alps and known for their large size, thick coats, and willingness to rescue people from avalanches or other disasters; they’ve been given several different names throughout history but it wasn’t until 1880 that they were officially named as such by the Swiss Kennel Club. It’s said that one legendary St. Bernard saved more than 40 humans in his life before he died at an old age.
The pointer is a breed of hunting dog that was originally named for its tendency to point at things. When these dogs first became popular in the 1600s, their pointing skills supposedly assisted their owners with finding the huntable game in areas where it was difficult to see.
The pit bull’s history is complicated. They were bred for dogfighting at one point in time, which may explain why the breed often gets unfairly stereotyped as always being overly aggressive. Although it has been argued that this characterization of the dog is unfair and inaccurate, their reputation precedes them-leading many people to fear them even if they’ve never actually interacted with a pit bull before. But despite what you might think about these dogs based on media coverage or hearsay, there are plenty of things that make owning a pitbull worth considering–including how loyal and devoted they can be to their owners.
The Danish dog is a gentle giant with an average height of 30 inches and a weight of 140 pounds. But, they’re not actually from Denmark; these dogs are likely German in origin. They’ve held many different names throughout their history which include “German Mastiff” or “German Boarhound.”
The German word “schnauzer” translates to “snouter,” or snout in English. Colloquially, it can also refer to mustaches. These dogs were aptly given this name because one of their most distinctive features is their prominent jaw hair that resembles a human mustache.
Jack Russel Terriers
The Jack Russell Terrier is a smaller breed of dog that was bred from the Fox Terrier in England back in the 1800s. Reverend John “Jack” Russell, who had been breeding fox terriers, finally decided to create a special type of terrier with shorter legs so it could hunt foxes where larger breeds couldn’t go.
The Chinese name “Shih Tzu” roughly translates to “little lion” in English, because these dogs were supposedly bred to have aesthetic features similar to the ferocious king of the jungle. However, some Tibetan legends suggest that Buddha Manjuri, God of Learning, could transform little dogs into actual full-grown lions that could protect him on his journeys.
The Welsh Corgi is a small, short-legged breed of dog that was originally bred for herding cattle. This name could refer back to the dog’s signature small stature and short legs that historically allowed them to successfully herd livestock since they were shorter than other breeds.
The spaniel breed was originally used to flush animals out of hiding without scaring them away. This meant that the animal would come into view for its owner, making it easier to hunt prey. Some believe that because woodcocks were often hunted with these dogs, they named the breed “cocker spaniels.”
Those who love poodles know that these beautiful, well-coiffed canines have a long history of being water retrievers. Though there is still some debate as to where they originated from, it’s clear that the word “poodle” likely derives from the German word “Pudel,” which translates roughly to “one who plays in or with water.”
The bloodhound is a well-known dog breed that has been around for centuries. It’s said to have aristocratic blood, hence giving the said name to it. A strong, obedient breed of dog that can track scents for miles on end, the bloodhound has been used by law enforcement and hunters alike for centuries.
The bulldog is a breed of dog that was originally bred to fight bulls. They were trained and groomed for this purpose, but it became illegal in Great Britain by 1835. Bullbaiting persisted after the ban, so they kept their original name even though they no longer fought bulls.