By Caroline Coile
Canines come in all shapes and sizes. They have long faces, flat faces, curled tails and no tails. They're fluffy, wrinkled, bald and poofed. They're racers, hunters, herders and guardians. Some of them look just plain weird; some of them even act a little weird. But each one of them is wonderful in its own way.
There's a reason dogs come in so many variations: Each breed is often specially suited for a particular job, and sometimes the most unexpected traits are what help them do that job best.
So meet some amazing - and unusual - breeds!
With her long legs and lean body, the Azawakh looks more like a model than a huntress. For more than a thousand years the Azawakh has trekked across the Sahara and the Sahel with nomadic Tuareg tribes. She chased hare and gazelle across this barren land, helping feed her tribe. Her long legs give her a long stride and keep her body high above the burning sands and her lean body helps her run fast and far.
Today few Tuareg people pursue their traditional nomadic and hunting lifestyles, but they still take pride in their Azawakhs.
* Learn More About the AzawakhNorwegian LundehundNorwegian Lundehund, Double-Jointed Puffin-Hunter of Norway (photo credit: Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography/vetstreet.com)
He just may be the world's most flexible dog - and the only dog with six toes on each foot. He can bend his head backwards so the top of his head touches his back and extend his forelegs straight out to either side. The Lundehund was bred to catch the puffins ("lundes") in narrow cliff cave nests on Norway's Lofoten Islands, using his strong extra toes to grasp the rocky cliffsides and his flexibility to squeeze into - and back out of - tight, curving passageways.
The dogs have been supplying their villages with puffin meat and down feathers since the 1500s. But by the early 1900s, men began catching puffins with nets, which replaced most of the dogs. Only the isolated fishing people of Vaeroy used Lundehunds. Today's Lundehunds descend from these last Lundehunds of Vaeroy.* Learn More About the Lundehund
Chinese CrestedChinese Crested, Hairless Curio of China
(photo credit: Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography/vetstreet.com)
Even a hairless dog has a purpose. Without fur, dogs may give off more body heat: a valuable trait if you have to use a dog as a surrogate heating pad.
As early as the thirteenth century, Chinese seafarers kept Cresteds on ships as non-flea-bearing ratters and as curios for trade. Like other hairless breeds (the Peruvian Inca Orchid and Xoloitzcuintli) whose hairlessness results from the same gene, the Crested has hair on it crown, ears, ankles and tail. But the Chinese Crested is more striking because its hair is long, whereas the others are short. Some, called powder puffs, have full coats.
* Learn More About the Chinese Crested
Bedlington Terrier, Lamb-Like Ratter of Britain
With the heart of a lion and looks of a lamb, the Bedlington Terrier is much tougher than she appears. Bred to kill rats, badgers, otters, fox and even rabbits in nineteenth-century England, she's a speedster among terriers. Her curly coat originally protected her from weather and water, but eventually fashion-conscious owners discovered it could be cleaned and trimmed into something with an uncanny resemblance to a lamb. But she's a wolf in lamb's clothing - and she'll prove it if you give her something to chase.
* Learn More About the Bedlington Terrier
BasenjiBasenji, Barkless Hunter of the Congo (photo credit:
Ron Willbie, Animal Photography/vetstreet.com)
In the jungles of the African Congo lives a small, tough dog with a tail curled like a pig's and a voice to match. The Basenji doesn't bark, but he can out-yip, out-yodel, and out-squeal just about any other dog. Nobody knows why the Basenji doesn't bark - or why the breed only comes into estrus once a year.
DNA studies suggest Basenjis are one of the world's most primitive breeds. Many of the people of the Congo still depend on their Basenjis to help feed their families. The dogs hunt anything from huge swamp rats to wild boar. Expeditions to the Congo in recent times have brought back native Basenjis to expand the AKC gene pool.
* Learn More About the Basenji
Chinese Shar-Pei, Wrinkled Gladiator of China
Like a medium-sized model dressed in a 4XL sweater, the Chinese Shar-Pei has a body that swims beneath folds of skin. The loose skin served a purpose when the breed originated and was used for dog fighting - it allowed him to turn inside his skin when the other dog grabbed him, so the Shar-Pei could bite back or escape without his flesh being wounded. Even his incredibly coarse coat served as a suit of armor.
An extremely ancient breed, the Shar-Pei shares a blue-black tongue, and likely an ancient relationship, with the Chow Chow.
* Learn More About the Chinese Shar-Pei
Komondor, Dread-Locked Flock Guard of Hungary
He looks like a galloping mop, but he's really a dog in dreadlocks. The Komondor's Rastafarian-style coat hangs in bunches of long mats, called cords, made when the curly undercoat is trapped by the rougher outer coat. As the dog gets older the cords keep getting longer - so long they may drag on the ground. The thick, tough strands protect the Komondor against tough predators and also give him a waterproof thermal coat.
The Komondor has been living with and guarding sheep on the Great Hungarian Plain for almost 1,000 years. Puppies grow up with the flock, thinking of the sheep as their family and protecting them. The Komondor has recently found a new job guarding sheep against coyotes in the American west. Other breeds you may see sporting cords include the Puli, Bergamasco, Havanese and even Poodle.
* Learn More About the Komondor
Neapolitan MastiffNeapolitan Mastiff, Giant Gargoyle of Italy (photo credit: Ron Willbie, Animal Photography/vetstreet.com)
His bark is generally worse than his bite, and he's got a mug only a mother could love. The Neapolitan Mastiff was bred to look fierce. The Neo has guarded estates for centuries, and is more than capable of fending off intruders. But his best weapon is a look that convinces most would-be trespassers to think twice! Unknown outside Italy until 1957, the Neo is best known for its role as Hagrid's dog, Fang, in the Harry Potter movies.
* Learn More About the Neapolitan Mastiff
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