Where Do Dog Breed Names Come From?

What's in a name? We're exploring the origins and names of your favorite breeds.

By | Posted: December 29, 2014, 1 p.m. PST

A dog breed’s name may reveal something about his origins, his intended work, or perhaps the person instrumental in developing the breed. Other times, a breed’s name is just a name… and occasionally a confusing one at that. 

 Australian Shepherds 

For centuries, dog breeds have been named after geographical areas, the dog’s working purposes, or his appearance. For example, a Pointer points, a Shetland Sheepdog hails from the Shetland Islands, and the Curly Coated Retreiver has (surprise!): a curly coat. Other correlations between breeds and their names aren’t quite so straightforward. But what’s in a name after all. Wouldn’t a breed -- by any other name, smell as sweet?

Affenpinscher: The name Affenpinscher loosely translates to Monkey Terrier. Let’s leave it up in the air if Affenpinschers look like monkeys. Suffice it to say, owners concur that the dogs are as clever and impish as monkeys.

American Eskimo Dog: Descending from European Spitz breeds, the American Eskimos Dog was developed for attractiveness and liveliness. Despite the name, the dog was not bred by northern Native Americans, but rather by German immigrants. (Maybe we Americans simply like to lay claim to lovely breeds!)

Anatolian Shepherd: The Anatolian Shepherd originated in the ancient land of Anatolia, now known as Turkey. Anatolia derives from the Greek word "anatole," or "the East” or "sunrise.” The breed’s serious name corresponds to his serious purpose: shepherding and protecting in Anatolia. They certainly weren’t developed as a sporty playmate; their guardian/frontline defense role was critical to the survival of the shepherds, their families, and their livestock. 

Australian Cattle Dog: Similarly accurately named, the ACD was developed in Australia to control cattle. The breed is sometimes referred to as a Blue (or Red) Heeler, because they move reluctant cattle by nipping at their heels, and because their coat coloring gives the overall appearance of red or blue.

Australian Shepherd: Now, just when we’re on an Australian accuracy roll, we move to the confusion. The Aussie was developed for herding livestock and all around ranch work, but not in the land down under. In fact, the Aussie is Made in America. Gobsmacked by this news? Your astonishment is justifiable. (well, history does suggest that the Australian title is connected to sheep herds brought in from Australia).

Australian Terrier: Bred to accompany Australian settlers on chores and keep their barns clear of rodents and snakes, the agile hard working Australian Terrier is both from Australia and a Terrier. So two for two with name accuracy.

Beagle: A lovable scent hound and popular companion, the Beagle’s name may derive from the French "begueule,” meaning open throat/mouth, or a Gaelic blend of the word "beag,” meaning little. Since we can’t pinpoint the exact derivation of the word Beagle, let’s talk instead about one of the world’s most famous Beagles, Snoopy. Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’ Snoopy character was based on his beloved childhood dog, Spike. Now that’s a beguiling Beagle derivation tale to share.

Boston Terrier:  Often deemed the American Gentleman, the Boston Terrier was indeed bred in the stables of Boston. But he’s not in the Terrier Group, so the name Terrier is perhaps confusing. Developed from bully breeds and Terriers, the Boston Terrier is in the American Kennel Club’s Non-Sporting group. {Let’s concede the name "Boston Non Sporting” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like "Boston Terrier” does!}

Bouvier des Flandres: Bred to work for farmers, butchers, and cattlemen, the Bouvier des Flandres originated in the farming regions of Belgium. The word Bouvier means cowherd, one who tends cattle, watches over them, and keeps them safe. Often the dog’s task was to lead dairy cows from the pasture for milking. Tracing the word back to older origins, Bouvier may loosely translate to "a stable for oxen.” {Lesson for today: to trace a name, look back in time… but not too far back!).  And one last note: an early name for Bouvier predecessors translates to "dirty beard.” Fortunately that name didn’t stick. 

Canaan Dog: First let’s address the "Dog” in the breed name. There are over a dozen breeds with a name that includes the word "Dog.” Now clearly this doesn’t mean the other breeds aren’t in the canine species, but it does mean certain breeds were named byveryliteral-thinking people. But their naming system does keep species straight. My Zoey’s breed name "German Shepherd Dog” helps differentiate her, I suppose, from a German Shepherd Deer, Donkey, or Duck…

As for the Canaan Dog, it’s an ancient breed, developed from pariah dogs of the Middle East, with a history dating back thousands of years. Since there’s scholarly dispute on where the name "Canaan” originated, let’s instead go right to Noah’s ark for the answer. According to theBible,the land was named after Noah’s grandson, Canaan. He was supposedly cursed, but the dog breed has experienced better fortune. During WWII, the breed worked successfully as sentries and mine detectors for Middle East forces, and the Canaan is now the national dog of Israel.

Catahoula Leopard Dog: We need to wander deep into the swamps of Louisiana to track down the origins of the Catahoula Leopard Dog. If you’re looking for Leopards, though, you’re off trail. The name Catahoula itself (possibly a mispronunciation of "Couthaougoula”) – is of Choctaw Indian origin, and loosely translates to "sacred lake.” The leopard in the name refers to the color patterns. The tough and adaptable Catahoula did, however, take on large animals such as wild hogs.

Chow Chow: An ancient breed with a lion-like scowl, the Chow Chow was developed in China as an all-around working dog. Presumably sailors bringing the dogs back to England gave the breed the Chow Chow name -- as slang for cargo items, including the dogs.  Other explanations concerning the possible origin of the name seem more respectful, especially for such a confident, capable, and ancient breed of dog. We may never have the mystery altogether solved.

Dalmatian: The early Dalmatian worked sentinel duty on the Dalmatia border, the area on the eastern coast of Adriatic Sea. The name Dalmatia came from an ancient people called the Dalmatae. But today the breed is typically more recognized for either his spots or for running alongside fire-equipment carriages. And I’m guessing more of us can sing some of Cruella de Ville from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians than point to the ancient Dalmatia border on a map.

Dachshund:Merging the scrappiness of terriers and the tracking skills of hound breeds, the Germans developed the Dachshund centuries ago to hunt badgers. The dog’s development may have been complicated (their long bodies aided hunting in burrows), but the Germans stuck to a simple name. The dog breed that hunted badgers was called, most appropriately, a Badger Dog (aka, a Dachshund).

Doberman Pinscher: One of only a few breeds named for a person, the Doberman was named after Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a late 19th century German tax collector bothered by robbers. Dobermann developed the breed for both protection and companionship. The second "N” got dropped along the way.

Glen of Imaal Terrier: This spunky Irish-born Terrier was developed as an all-around farm dog, ratter, and (fact or legend, it makes a great story!) a turnspit dog to keep the kitchen rotisserie turning. The breed originated in the remote Glen (valley) of Imaal in the Wicklow Mountains. The name Imaal links to an Irish dynasty, the Uí Máil, who dominated the kingship of Leinster in the 7th century -- until the Uí Dunlainge toppled them. Confused by all the Uí’s? Well, they do make for fun names for the little Glen Terriers….if you can learn to pronounce them.

Great Dane: Danes as we know them today were developed in Germany to hunt boar and protect estates. Despite the name, the Great Dane wasn’t developed in Denmark. In fact, the breed name comes apparently from a French naturalist, who saw the dogs in Denmark and called them Great Danish dogs. Note that Germans today call the breed Deutsche Dogge, or "German Dog.” Sounds like the Germans are spot-on with accuracy in this case! 

Irish Setter: Renowned for his brilliant red coat, the Irish Setter was certainly bred in Ireland, and undoubtedly bred as a bird dog for setting. Name correctness? Check! 

Keeshond: Also known as the Barge Dog or the Smiling Dutchman, the Keeshond was named after the Dutch Cornelis (Kees) de Gyselaerthe (spelled Gijselaar in today’s Dutch). And of course, Hond is Dutch for "dog.”  Kees was a leader of the rebellion against the House of Orange, and the dog became the rebels' symbol. And as an interesting aside, the House of Orange supporters’ symbol was apparently the Pug, especially because a Pug named Pompey saved the life of the Prince by alerting him of an assassin. {History aside, Pugs and Keeshonds can live nicely together these days. Even so, maybe ask them to put political differences aside at the dinner table on holidays...}

Leonberger: This breed’s name derives from the town of origin: Leonberg, Germany. Heinrich Essig, an important businessman, bred large dogs using (although the records are unclear) breeds such as Newfoundlands and Saint Bernards. With adept marketing strategy, Essig promoted his dogs, supposedly developing them to resemble the town’s crest: a lion rearing up on his legs. Leonbergers were popular with celebrities and royalty. Empress Elisabeth of Austria owned half a dozen of Essig’s dogs. On a marble monument erected in her honor in Vienna, she’s depicted with two majestic Leonbergers at her feet. Unfortunately for the Empress, she didn’t have her faithful Leonbergers by her feet when an Italian anarchist assassinated her by stabbing her on a promenade. 

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: Originally one name for the breed was the Little River Duck Dog. The name paints a descriptive image. But the modern name fills inallthe pieces of the breed’s development: 

  • The breed was developed in Nova Scotia (A Canadian Province).
  • Duck: Yes, the breed was developed to help waterfowl hunters.
  • Tolling means luring. The dog draws waterfowl into firing range by playful actions. 
  • Retriever: After having lured the ducks for the hunters to shoot, the dog was developed to retrieve the bird.

But to even more accurately include information into his name, we’d need to call him the "Nova Scotia Duck Tolling, Spirited, Intelligent, Energetic Retriever.” Now that’s a mouthful. 

Parson Russell Terrier: The Parson Russell is a fox hunting terrier, aptly named for the Rev. John Russell. Who was this sporty Parson? He was the vicar of Swimbridge in 19th century England, but he’s more famous for developing Terriers than doctrine. Whether fact or fiction, it makes a good story that his sermons were short because he was eager to head off on the day’s hunt. 

Plott Hound: The German Plott family of North Carolina bred hound dogs in the mountains to hunt bear. Since the dogs were Plott’s hounds, the breed became known as the Plott Hound. Not highly original, but as direct a correlation as it gets.

Pomeranian: The Pomeranian takes its name from Pomerania, where it was believed to have been developed from larger Nordic breeds to the size recognized today. Pomerania is a historical region on the south shore of the Baltic Sea. To learn more about it on the web, stay clear of distracting yet delicious-sounding Pomeranian Gingerbread recipes you’ll find (and I succumbed to!).

Rhodesian Ridgeback:  Developed in South Africa to hunt and guard, the courageous Rhodesian Ridgeback was later used (yes, in Rhodesia) to harass lions out of the bush, allowing big game hunters to take aim. The Ridgeback portion of the name stems from the distinct ridge of hair that grows backward on his back.  

Rottweiler: Although the breed has origins with ancient Roman drover dogs, the Rottie hails from the areas of Rottweil, Germany. Rottweilers worked as all-around farm dogs and pulled carts for farmers who couldn’t afford horses or cows. A hard-working breed with a spot-on accurate name. 

Saint Bernard: An 11th century monk named Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice in the Alps. The monks developed the Saint Bernard dogs in later centuries from local alpine mastiffs to work as watch and rescue dogs. As for the famous depiction of the dogs carrying casks of brandy….well, it may well be a creation of literature and art, but the image is too wonderful to toss out lightly.

Tosa Inu: So now we head to Japan to decipher the breed name Tosa Inu. Let’s start with the easy part: Inu means dog. Now pull out a map. Tosa is the name of the prefecture (state) on the smallest of Japanese islands, Shikoku. The Tosa, revered in Japan, has been around for many centuries. Plus he’s a dog with a history of strength, cultural ritual, and athleticism – loosely a parallel wrestling dog (complete with processions) to Japanese sumo wrestlers. 

Xoloitzcuintli: An ancient Mexican breed, the revered Xoloitzcuintli chose their own unpronounceable name to keep humans humble. An alternative explanation is that they were named after an Aztec god associated with fire, lighting, and illness. Either way, the breed arguably wins for the most misspelled and hard-to-say dog name.

 

More Dog Breeds 

 



JOIN CLUB DOG NOW

3 of 3 Comments View All 3 Comments

Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Where Do Dog Breed Names Come From?

User Avatar

Lynn   waco, Texas

1/3/2015 12:47:43 PM

Breed owners, let me know if you knew about your breed's history! i learned so much writing this piece, and found so much of it surprising, even thought my expertise is breed profiling.

Get Adobe Flash player

Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

1/3/2015 6:13:38 AM

Great article, interesting!

Get Adobe Flash player

Leslie - 233329   Lakeside, AZ

1/1/2015 2:39:05 PM

Very interesting .......

Login to get points for commenting or write your comment below

 
First Name : Email :
International :
City : State :

Captcha Image


Get New Captcha


Top Products

ADS BY GOOGLE