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How many of these dogs of bygone days have you heard of?
Before there was an AKC, there were simply dogs with jobs. Bred almost solely to reinforce the characteristics that made them useful to human survival, dogs of the past tended to have more variety in their appearance than today’s purebreds. Does your dog have an ancient ancestor? With advances in dog DNA test technology, especially the highly-regarded Embark tests, you can find out a lot about your best friend’s heritage—but you won’t find these extinct breeds included in the data.
Thylacine, the Australian Tiger Dog
The Thylacine or Thylacinus cynocephalus (Greek for “dog-headed pouched one”) was technically not a canine but a marsupial. British settlers to Australia hunted the “Tasmanian tiger-wolf,” an apex predator, to extinction to protect their sheep herds.
The last known specimens died in captivity, although the same folks who keep an eye out for the Loch Ness monster and Yeti believe they’ll find evidence of this unique critter in the hinterlands of the Outback.
Hare Indian Dog
The Hare dog was thought to be a domestic dog and coyote hybrid—a crossing known as a coydog. The Hare dog was kept by a number of Athabaskan tribes for sight hunting and trap-lining in the Great Bear Lake region of northern Canada.
Over time, the Hare dog interbred with other dog breeds introduced by encroaching settlers and trappers.
Salish Woolly Dog
Prized by Salish Coast Native American tribes for their fur, these little dogs were kept separate from other village dogs to preserve their white coat, and were sheared like sheep every spring. The fiber was spun for traditional blanket weaving.
However, the availability of Hudson Bay trade blankets, inexpensive sheep wool, and the interbreeding of woolly dogs with other breeds contributed to the extinction of the breed.
Grandfather of some of the biggest and most majestic breeds today such as the mastiff, St. Bernard, Bernese mountain dog, rottweiler, and Great Dane—to name a few—the molossus can be traced back to Greek antiquity. Molossian dogs have performed many jobs over the centuries, most particularly as guardians of people and livestock.
The Talbot hound was the pure white predecessor of the modern beagle and coonhound. The Talbot was a slow but thorough scent hound, closely related to the bloodhound, and thought to be absorbed into that breed over time.
St. John’s Water Dog
Most of our modern water retrievers owe a debt to Newfoundland’s St. John’s dog, including the Newfoundland, golden retriever, and Labrador retriever.
A naturally-occurring cross between the resident dogs of Newfoundland and water dogs brought over by Portuguese fishermen, St. John’s dogs caught the attention of British hunters, who imported the hounds to improve their water-retrieving stock. Over the years, the breed was absorbed into the Labrador.
The predecessor to the modern border collie and Australian shepherd, the Cumberland sheepdog was once popular all over northern England. The breed is thought to have been absorbed into border collie stock over time.
Intrigued? Find out about living super-rare dog breeds here. And for a deep dive on modern breeds and their origins, check out the best-selling Dog Encyclopedia.