10 Amazing Facts about Dogs’ Breed Name Origins

dog breeds name origins Facts

Everyone loves dogs, and most pet owners prefer to keep pedigreed dogs of different breeds for their myriad qualities and beautiful and exotic appearances.

There are countless dog breeds in the world, and each of them have a unique name to distinguish them from their brethren. Some of the more commonly known ones are the Labrador Retriever, the German Shepherd, the Greyhound et al.

But each of these nomenclatures have a unique and often highly interesting story behind them, also shedding a lot of light on the origins of the breeds themselves. Some of these stories are highly surprising, while others are fairly obvious and evident in the names themselves.

Each of these stories says something about the nature of the dogs and the history of dog breeding in the world. Here are ten amazing and unexpected facts about the naming of some popular dog breeds.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever

This highly popular and very intelligent breed of canines, used for a number of purposes including search and rescue, therapy, and helping sick and infirm people alongside sports and hunting, has a very confusing origin story as far as its name is concerned.

The modern Labrador is believed to have been descended from the St. Johns’ Water Dog, also known as the Lesser Newfoundland, which was bred in the Avalon Peninsula in the south in Newfoundland at around the same time as its bigger cousin the Newfoundland dog.

When these breeds were brought to England, in order to distinguish between the two the smaller St. John’s dog was called the Labrador Retriever- because it “retrieved” waterfowl hunted by Pilgrims in the Labrador sea.

The strange thing is, the bigger Newfoundland dogs were actually the ones bred in Labrador! The names stuck, however, and Labrador became the household name for the most popular “Retriever” that we know today.

German Shepherd

German Shepherd

This intelligent, loyal and formidable breed of dog, whose original purpose and homeland is pretty evident from its name, was originally named DeutscherSchäferhund by von Stephanitz, which means “German Shepherd dog” in English.

While the origins of its nomenclature is fairly self-evident, the history of changes in its name is fascinating.

The German Shepherd is also popularly known as the “Alsatian” in many countries, particularly former British colonies- this is because at the end of World War I, due to anti-Germany sentiments being rampant, the UK Kennel Club officially changed the name to “Alsatian Wolf-Dog” in order to maintain the breed’s popularity.

Eventually, the “wolf-dog” was removed because breeders believed that it would lead to the false belief that the breed was a wolf/dog hybrid, leasing to legal complications.

Eventually, in 1977, the name “German Shepherd” was reinstated by the UK Kennel Club following extensive campaigns by dog lovers, though “Alsatian” still appeared in parentheses beside its name till 2010.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever, originally bred in 19th century Scotland, got the latter half of its name for precisely the same reason as its American cousin: it was used to “retrieve” hunted birds such as wildfowl across marshy and swampy lands.

Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth played a major role in its origin as it was first bred in his estate in Scotland known as “Guisachan”. As guns improved in the 19th Century so did the need for specialised retrievers to retrieve hunted fowl whose bodies would otherwise disappear in the swamps.

The breed was developed according to Marjoribanks’s vision of the “ultimate hunting dog” and his ambition to include all sporting dogs in its bloodline. Thus breeds like the Bloodhound and the Labrador Retriever were also mixed into its bloodline.

Its distinctive golden coat, however, can be traced back to its original ancestors from Marjoribanks’s kennel: a yellow-coated male Retriever called “Nous” and a female Tweed Water Spaniel (a breed that has been extinct since the 19th century) known as “Belle”.

Beagle

Beagle

This small hunting and tracking hound was first mentioned in English Literature by this name in the late 15th century text Esquire of Low Degree, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The etymology of its name is unclear, but has been traced back to several possible options which include the French begueuleor “open throat” which is a combination of the two French words bayeror “open wide” and gueuleor “mouth”; the word beag which can be found in Old English, Gaelic and French and means “little”; the French word beugler which means “to bellow” and the German word begele which means “to scold”. These myriad options paint a very vivid picture as to how the dog was seen back then and its origins; unfortunately, the actual origin of its name is still unsure.

English Bulldog

English Bulldog

The first mention of the name “bulldog” is found in English literature around the 16th and 17th century English Literature, where it was initially spelt as “Bondogge” or “Bolddogge”.

The dog got its name because it was used in the very bloody English sport of bull-baiting, in which these dogs were sent to attack a tethered bull. The winner would be the dog that would manage to pin the bull to the ground by grabbing its nose.

The participation of these dogs in this highly violent and often lethal sport led to them developing their distinctive stocky and muscular appearance as well as a savage and vicious nature.

The sport was eventually banned in 1835 by the British Government in the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. The dog also eventually developed a much gentler nature though its reputation for viciousness remained as did its name.

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier

This little toy dog, highly popular in dog shows where the can be seen daintily dressed up with ribbons on their heads, were originally bred as ratcatchers and take their breed name from Yorkshire, England where they were originally bred.

They were supposedly bred by cotton and woollen mill operatives who migrated from Scotland to Yorkshire looking for work. Its original ancestors have been identified as a male terrier named Old Crab and two female terriers, one of whom was named Kitty. Paisley Terriers, Skye Terriers and even the Maltese got into the mix somewhere along its bloodline, giving rise to its distinctive appearance.

The early days of the Yorkshire Terrier were confusing as a number of different terriers vaguely resembling each other were all classified under that one name, but the breed eventually carved out its own distinctive identity and pedigree.

Boxer

Boxer

The breed name of this famously athletic and playful bulldog descendant is believed to have been taken from its curious style of play in which it tends to stand on its hind legs and “box” with its front paws.

But this theory has been disputed, including the argument that the Germans wouldn’t choose such an “obviously anglicised” name for a native breed (presented by Andrew H Brace in the book Pet Owner’s Guide to the Boxer). New evidence supports this theory, with the discovery of a root word for the term “boxer” in an 18th Century German text called Deutsches Fremdwörterbuch.

The name may also have been derived from the German term “bierboxer” which referred to a group of dogs which used to be taken to open-air “beer garden” restaurants in Germany by their owners, or the fact that boxer in German translates to “prizefighter” thus making the name a commendation of the fighting prowess of the dog, which breeders have clarified are not dependant on it standing on its hind legs.

Poodle

Poodle

This very famous breed of show dog, which comes in three varieties- standard, miniature, and toy- and can often be seen in dog shows with their already exquisite and strange looking coats shaped into further strange shapes by groomers, was originally bred as a water dog hence the name Poodle, from the word puddle.

It was supposedly first bred in Germany, where it was given the name Pudelhundafter the German words Pudel meaning “splash about” (and shares the same root as the English “puddle”) and Hundmeaning “dog”.

Though coming from Germany, the dog gained widespread popularity in France where it was used as a water retriever and eventually became that country’s national dog. Poodles were often seen as symbols of nobility, breeding and social standing there, and received enormous pampering in the hands of their wealthy owners.

Rottweiler

Rottweiler

This ancient hunting dog, which is believed to have had ancestors in the Roman Empire, takes its name from a town in eastern Germany which was occupied by the invading Roman Army who had crossed the Alps around 74 AD.

The Romans were eventually driven out by the Swabians but the drover dogs were kept for their high level of usefulness in herding cattle. The town was eventually named Rottweil, and the dogs came to be known as Rottweiler Metzgerhunds (Rottweil Butcher Dogs) as they were often used by travelling butchers to guard their money which was kept in pouches slung around their necks.

The Rottweilers came back into popularity around World War I as the demand for police dogs grew, and by then their name had become permanent.

Dachshund

Dachshund

These famous “sausage dogs” are classified by their German name which means “badger dog” and comes from the German terms Dachsmeaning “badger” and Hundmeaning “dog”.

They were originally known as by the names “DachsKriecher” meaning “badger crawler” and “Dachs Krieger” meaning “badger warrior” both of which have been found in 18th-century German texts.

Their name comes from their original function- both the standard and miniature versions of these dogs were bred to smell, flush out and hunt burrow dwelling animals like badgers and rabbits respectively.

Their unique body shape makes them ideal to hunt their prey right out of their holes. Because of this shape, they would come to be known in English-speaking countries and particularly the United States as Weiner Dogs or Sausage Dogs, while in their homeland Germany they are now popular by the name Dackel (or Teckel among hunters).

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