Many dog breeds have fascinating stories with some going back centuries. Selective breeding has fine-tuned a lot for particular jobs, standards, and even personality traits. Large numbers of them trace their histories back to European countries, from familiar pups to more obscure ones. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 195 different breeds from its beginnings in 1878.
Some dogs make it evident with a nationality or place in their name. Others don’t provide clues, or perhaps the distinction fell out of favor over time. Get ready for a few surprises as we discuss 30 European breeds.
1. French Bulldog
Irresistibly cute, the French Bulldog is one of the most popular dog breeds with good reason. He is sweet and loving with a calm temperament. It also helps that grooming is easy-peasy. This pup has the influences of three countries that modified him to the happy-go-lucky pooch we know today. He started in England before breeders from France and the United States had their say.
2. Basset Hound
The Basset Hound has the kind of face that makes you want to hug him. His story begins in France over 15 centuries ago. This pup was a hunter with an excellent sense of smell. He didn’t start as the short-legged dog he is today. A genetic mutation was the likely cause. It undoubtedly inspired his name too. Basse means low in French.
The Briard is another ancient breed from France with his history going back over 1200 years. This pup did double-duty in the field, working as both a flock guardian against predators and a herding dog. He is a hardworking and loyal pet with the independence you’d expect with a pup with his job. He is also smart and can understand up to 200 words.
4. Yorkshire Terrier
The Yorkshire Terrier may look dainty, but this pup is a handful. He is a small dog, weighing less than 10 pounds. The origins of this sometimes-willful pooch go back to northern England. They served as ratters in the breed’s early days. Coal miners and textile workers admired their tenaciousness. When the AKC recognized them in 1886, Yorkies left the mines for the laps of wealthy Victorian women.
5. Old English Sheepdog
A gentle giant is the best way to describe the Old English Sheepdog. He is more of a European Heinz 57 than British, with a bit of Russian and Scottish thrown into his history. In England, he worked diligently as a drover. His charges were both cattle and sheep. You may see references to his nickname, Bobtail. That refers to the pup’s shortened tail, a sign that their owners didn’t have to pay taxes on them.
The Bloodhound and the Beagle share a common ancestry. This pup is the long-legged version. He has all the qualities that make him an excellent scent dog. He has a keen sense of smell and the curiosity to keep him on the job. His pedigree is impressive, with a history that goes back to the 7th century. The breed got its start from the French monk, Hubert, the patron saint of hunters.
7. American Eskimo Dog
The American Eskimo Dog isn’t a misprint. It’s a rebranding of the German Spitz. The United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the breed in 1913. The organization renamed it in 1917 following World War I. It’s not a misnomer, either. German immigrants brought their hardworking and intelligent pets to America with them, hence, the nationality in his name.
8. Brittany Spaniel
The Brittany Spaniel is a top-notch bird dog that is a tireless hunter of waterfowl and upland game. The breed got its start in France. Selective breeding honed his skills, making him one of the best pointers in the field. His smaller size and enthusiasm for the sport have made him a favorite. This pup is both talented in the show ring and competition with many Dual Championship honors.
9. Portuguese Water Dog
The Portuguese Water Dog doesn’t get his name from hunting waterfowl. His quarry is more of a piscine nature. This pup was the faithful companion of fishermen of Portugal with the sea legs to match. Instead of sheep, this pooch herded fish into nets. He is also an excellent swimmer and diver. He is about as friendly as a canine can get, too.
10. Airedale Terrier
The Airedale Terrier is the Swiss Army knife of hunting dogs. He can take on any sort of game in water or on land. Like others of his type, he is stubborn but eager to please. He is athletic and agile. This breed is one of the most versatile canines. This pup also has a gentler side that is a loving and devoted protector of his family. The factory workers of England had a winner with this pooch.
11. German Shepherd
Few dogs are as intelligent and trainable as the German Shepherd. He is a success story of selective breeding done right, thanks to the efforts of Captain Max von Stephanitz. He is a courageous dog with skills that go far beyond herding. It’s one reason that American and German soldiers relied on them during combat.
12. Border Collie
If there is a dog that can stand shoulder to shoulder with our previous breed, then the Border Collie is it. Many consider this put the most intelligent of them all. He is the ultimate herder. Part of his success comes from his so-called gaze, nicknamed simply, the eye. He has the agility and speed to round up any animal—or child. England is his native land, where shepherds helped hone his skills.
13. English Foxhound
The English Foxhound is about the most devoted hunters you’ll ever meet. He embodies everything there is about being a pack animal. This pup wrote the book on being energetic. The breed gets its name from the pup’s job to rid farms of predators. That changed in the 17th century when aristocrats took their horses. The Hunting Act 2004 banned the practice in the United Kingdom.
14. Norwegian Elkhound
Few breeds can boast of riding the high seas with the Vikings like the Norwegian Elkhound. However, this pup’s history goes back even further to 5000 BC. As his name suggests, this dog hunted elk and other large animals with his fine sense of smell. Loyal is one of the best ways to describe this friendly pooch. He makes an excellent watchdog.
15. Irish Wolfhound
The Irish Wolfhound is a sweetheart of a dog, despite his imposing size. This breed is worthy of respect, given his name. That history gives this pup an independent edge. However, he is loving and affectionate, nevertheless. Aggression isn’t in his vocabulary. The Romans seized upon the good nature of these dogs. Yet, he almost became extinct because he did his job too well.
16. Scottish Deerhound
Like our previous breed, the Scottish Deerhound has an unmistakable presence. Sir Walter Scott called this pup, “The most perfect creature of Heaven.” It was high praise for a dog that took on prey several times his size. Despite this history, the pooch is a gentle pet, albeit with an independent streak. The Deerhound is an ancient breed with its recognition by AKC, one of the oldest in 1886.
The Puli stands out for several reasons. This Hungarian herding dog is an ancient breed with origins that may go back to 4500 BC. Documented evidence exists that he may have been around for at least 1,000 years. Like many herders, this pup is quite intelligent. He is so smart that you must exercise him mentally and physically. It’s an effective way to curb bad habits.
The Vizsla has a storied past that reaches back hundreds of years to Hungary. He was a dog of the Magyar cavalry and royalty. His loyalty only surpasses his sweetness. Like many European breeds, the ravages of two world wars took their toll, pushing the Vizsla to the brink of extinction. He came to America only after a US State Department employee smuggled a dog into the country.
19. Italian Greyhound
The Italian Greyhound has a rich history that spans over 2,000 years. He sat on the laps of royalty, including Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great. He originally was a sighthound, spotting game for his human companion. This relationship fosters staunch loyalty and affection. This pup needs attention to thrive, a consequence of his close ties with people.
The Keeshond is unique among the breeds in our lineup in that he never had a particular job. He protected his home, but he didn’t do the farm tasks you might expect. He’s related to some other European dogs, such as the Norwegian Elkhound and Samoyed. He traveled around England before the pup finally made it to America.
Unlike many of the breeds on this roundup, the Bolognese is part of AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (FSS) group of dogs. It’s part of the process of formal recognition. This cutie is a lover that always seems to be wearing a smile. He gets his name from the Italian region that is his native land. If you think he looks like a Bichon Frise, you’d be right since he is a part of this group of pups.
When you look at a Borzoi, you just know that there is something regal and elegant about this breed. The accounts of this dog go back to the time of Genghis Khan. This sighthound went after game of all sizes, including wolves, hence, his other moniker, Russian Wolfhound. He is a gentle pet that is intolerant of roughhousing. However, he is both loyal and affectionate with his family.
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The Maltese is another charmer, related to the Bichon Frise. This pup was a symbol of wealth and standing during the time of the Romans. Few breeds can claim this kind of cred. As you may expect, he is a pooch that lives for pampering and attention. While he’s not a big shedding dog, his coat needs daily attention to keep it looking his best. Keeping him in a puppy cut will cut down on your maintenance.
24. Golden Retriever
There are few superlatives that you can’t use to describe the Golden Retriever. This pup calls the Scottish Highlands home with the influence of the first Lord Tweedmouth. His job was a flusher of waterfowl, which he will then retrieve once dispatched. His close relationship with the hunter fostered his affectionate nature that puts him on the top of AKC’s list of most popular breeds.
25. Cairn Terrier
Your first impression of the Cairn Terrier is probably as Toto in the The Wizard of Oz. His scruffy appearance makes him even more endearing. This pup epitomizes the definition of a terrier. He is independent and gutsy, willing to stand his ground with any other dog. He also calls Scotland his home, where he hunted rodents. His ability helped ensure his place in history and with fanciers today.
26. Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Sheepdog is as happy of a pup as his expression would suggest. He gets his name from his homeland in the Shetland Islands. His size is a reflection of the climate, where food is a precious commodity in harsh conditions. He is another of the Swiss Army knife of dog breeds. He does it all, whether it’s herding the flock or competing on the agility circuit.
27. West Highland Terrier
The first time you meet a West Highland Terrier, you’ll remember it. This pup is so lovable that he is hard to ignore. He has the intelligence that you’d expect of a terrier, along with the independence that can make training challenging sometimes. This breed looks his best when you get him professionally groomed. However, his coat does best if you don’t bathe him too often.
28. Saint Bernard
As recognizable as the Saint Bernard is, it is a surprise that the breed isn’t more popular. Perhaps it’s the drooling, which is a common complaint among pet owners. This pup is giant with the breed standards putting 180 pounds at the upper limit. His early history is shrouded in mystery. We know that Augustine monks are an essential part of his past in Switzerland.
We’d be remiss not to include the Poodle on our list of European dog breeds. This pup defies the common associations with the dog. He is a flushing hunter that retrieves his prey. He doesn’t shed but requires regular grooming. While he is an ideal lap dog, he’s also content to either play or hang out with you. He hails from Germany and not France, as many may think.
The history of the Beagle goes back to Roman times, although the precise origins of his name are obscure. This pup is the quintessential hound. His keen sense of smell and enthusiasm in the field is a rabbit hunter’s dream. His delightful personality is the icing on the cake. His origin goes back to England, where he was the everyday man’s hunting companion.
The history of many of our favorite breeds often is intertwined with mystery and intrigue. Sometimes, it’s lost to time or the extinction of ancient dogs that provided the genetic stock for modern ones. Even though a lot of these pups no longer have the jobs of yore, they still carry the traits and stature of the ones that herded sheep, protected farms, and hunted game.
Featured Image Credit: Somo_Photography, Pixabay
- 1. French Bulldog
- 2. Basset Hound
- 3. Briard
- 4. Yorkshire Terrier
- 5. Old English Sheepdog
- 6. Bloodhound
- 7. American Eskimo Dog
- 8. Brittany Spaniel
- 9. Portuguese Water Dog
- 10. Airedale Terrier
- 11. German Shepherd
- 12. Border Collie
- 13. English Foxhound
- 14. Norwegian Elkhound
- 15. Irish Wolfhound
- 16. Scottish Deerhound
- 17. Puli
- 18. Vizsla
- 19. Italian Greyhound
- 20. Keeshond
- 21. Bolognese
- 22. Borzoi
- 23. Maltese
- 24. Golden Retriever
- 25. Cairn Terrier
- 26. Shetland Sheepdog
- 27. West Highland Terrier
- 28. Saint Bernard
- 29. Poodle
- 30. Beagle