Why are some dog breeds rare or unpopular?

Every year, the AKC publishes its list of breed rankings by popularity, based on registration statistics. 2022, the top 10 least popular breeds were:

Popularity is based on registration, not on which breed is the most entertaining, smartest, or best-looking. Breed popularity doesn’t mean that one breed is better than another, so don’t feel slighted if your favorite hovers near the bottom of the list. It’s not always easy to figure out why some breeds are so often among the bottom ten, but there are often many factors that contribute.

In some cases, it may be the breed is rare in the United States. Other breeds may be perceived as unsuitable as family pets. Some breeds were bred for jobs that have since become obsolete, making them less desirable as working dogs and not the right fit for everyone as pets.

Are These Breeds’ Jobs Still Relevant?

Some of these breeds were bred for purposes that are now redundant in modern America. The Norwegian Lundehund, for example, was bred to retrieve live puffins from the steep cliffs in Norway. They have unique characteristics specific to the job, including six toes on each foot, an extra joint in the neck that allows them to bend their head backward, and flexible shoulders so that their forelegs can extend to the side.

Norwegian Lundehund puppy playing with a ball in the grass.

With a history extending back to the 15th century, the breed’s numbers dwindled sharply when Norwegian farmers began using nets to catch puffins. The government also levied a tax on Lundehunds, which became too expensive for many Norwegians to keep. Despite efforts to protect the breed, there are currently only 1400 Lundehunds worldwide and about 350 in the United States. With their job disappearing and the breed exceedingly rare, it’s no wonder this tiny, unique breed clocks in near the bottom of the annual breed rankings.

If you’re considering that perhaps novelty or unfamiliarity has something to do with rankings, the next two breeds disprove that. The English Foxhound and American Foxhound have long histories of specific jobs. The AKC recognized the older of the two, the English Foxhound, back in 1909. It was bred originally to hunt deer and later, red foxes.

In Britain, the wealthy and noble classes kept packs of foxhounds, prized for tenacity and endurance, to hunt foxes in packs. However, fox hunting for sport has fallen out of favor in the United States and Northern Ireland. It has since been banned entirely in England, Scotland, and Wales. Like the Lundehund, the popularity of the Foxhounds has diminished.

These two foxhound breeds aren’t always suitable as a house or family pet. Both the English and American Foxhounds often lived in packs in kennels managed by hunt clubs. Although their primary purpose has largely disappeared, these hounds have extremely high prey drives that will overcome even the best training. They need a great deal of exercise to keep them from becoming destructive. And, as sweet as they are, that drive and energy may not be a match for inexperienced owners or trainers. Not to mention their infamous baying howl might keep you up, as it can be heard from over a mile away.

Breed Rarity Can Have Many Factors

With some low-ranked breeds, it’s more difficult to explain their scarcity. For example, Americans are very familiar with Whippets, Greyhounds, and Salukis, so why has another slim, coursing breed, the Sloughi, not caught on in popularity? Even in its native part of the world, the North African deserts of the Maghreb region, the breed is rare. This ancient breed originally hunted game, including wild boar, rabbits, jackals, and deer.

Sloughi walking near a river.

As far back as the 13th century, people prized the Sloughi for its stamina and speed. But, as is the case in other countries, hunting with hounds became illegal in Morocco and Algeria in the early 20th century. For numerous reasons, including the hunting ban and a rabies epidemic, the Sloughi almost disappeared entirely. As for its rarity in the United States, the breed didn’t arrive in the United States until 1973. Even today, there are only a handful of breeders in this country. Although the Sloughi is now recognized by the AKC and has been able to compete in AKC events since 2006, the breed is still extremely rare. 

The Cause of Breed Numbers May Also Be a Mystery

It’s not so clear why other breeds aren’t popular. There may only be about 600 Cesky Terriers in America, with only five active breeders in the whole country. Perhaps its recent lineage accounts for some of the scarcity, since it wasn’t developed until the mid-20th century. In 1948, Czech breeder Frantisek Horak crossed a Sealyham Terrier with a Scottish Terrier to produce a dog that was a tenacious hunter, more trainable than some terriers, and small enough to burrow into fox dens. The breed was introduced in the United States in 1987 and was AKC-recognized in 2011, making it one of our newest breeds.

Cesky Terrier sitting in the garden smelling a flower.

And, while bred to hunt in the Bohemian forests, the Cesky Terrier is also a sweet and happy dog, good with families and children. The American Cesky Terrier Fanciers Associationdescribes the breed as charming, fun-loving, and endearing. All of this isn’t to say that they aren’t a bit of a handful. They’re spirited, energetic, and adventurous and require plenty of physical and mental exercise. But with so many positive traits, we can only assume that, with time and familiarity, the breed may catch on in popularity in America.

We’d love to have black-and-white, definitive reasons that some breeds just don’t become wildly popular in this country. Maybe they’re unfamiliar to the general public, outlived their “professions,” or don’t make the easiest of pets. Basically, a breed remains rare until more responsible breeders promote and preserve it. In a way, one could say a breed is rare because it is rare.

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