Do You Know the Origin of These Popular Dog Breeds?

Before they were recognizable purebreds, many popular dog breeds were essentially mutts — mixed with various dogs until they achieved their signature look.

Although the evolution of dog breeds often hasn’t been kind for the dogs — health issues and other overbreeding complications abound — it’s still interesting to see what these breeds were like at their origin. Some were much healthier and looked quite different. Some were bred for very specific roles in society. And some are much newer breeds than you might think, especially compared to the oldest dog breeds.

Here’s a little history lesson on the five most popular dog breeds in the U.S.

1. Labrador retriever

yellow, chocolate and black Labradors sitting on a benchCredit: lizcen/Getty Images

The Labrador retriever — the long-reigning most popular dog breed in the U.S. — actually originated in Newfoundland. “He was first known as the lesser Newfoundland — probably to distinguish him from the giant breed known as the Newfoundland — the St. John’s Newfoundland or the St. John’s dog,” according to VetStreet. It’s not exactly clear how they became known as Labs, but there are some theories. “One is that the name is borrowed from the Spanish word for laborer — labrador — which is certainly a fitting description,” VetStreet says. Or the breed might be related to dogs known as “cani di castro laboreiro,” who accompanied Portuguese fishermen working off the coast of Canada. Regardless, the name clearly stuck.

These lesser Newfies were “black in color, smooth coated, and of a medium size,” according to PetMD. They came equipped with webbed feet, a water-repellent coat and a broad, rudder-like tail, which helped them assist fishermen. They actually were the more popular choice compared to the larger Newfoundland for fishermen and their families because in addition to their working ability, they tended to be more affectionate and playful dogs.

In the 1800s, British visitors to Canada spotted the dogs and brought some back with them for further breeding, aiming to preserve their friendly demeanor and retrieving instinct. These dogs returned to North America in the early 1900s and have soared in popularity ever since.

2. German shepherd

German shepherd lying outside in grassCredit: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

The German shepherd has a much less complicated name origin than the Labrador. This dog breed descended from several varieties of German herding dogs. “In the waning years of the 1800s, a German cavalry officer, Captain Max von Stephanitz, made it his mission to develop the ideal German herder,” according to the American Kennel Club. “Von Stephanitz and like-minded breeders crossed various strains from the northern and central districts of Germany, resulting in the ancestors of today’s German Shepherd Dog.”

Stephanitz preferred the dogs who had a “wolfish appearance,” PetMD says. Some notes on the German shepherd’s development even suggest wolves were used in crossbreeding, though Stephanitz himself actually advised against this. Stephanitz also focused on the dogs’ strength, intelligence and ability to work well with people — traits that serve them well today as military, police and other types of service dogs.

German shepherds started to become popular in the U.S. in the early 1900s, but they were affected by anti-German sentiment surrounding World War I. “American Kennel Club (AKC) chose to alter the name of the breed from German Sheepdog to Shepherd Dog, while Britain renamed it the Alsatian Wolfdog — both in an attempt to separate the breed from its German roots,” according to PetMD. But in 1931, the German shepherd got its name back, and movies featuring celebrity shepherds, such as Rin Tin Tin, further bolstered the breed to where it is today.

3. Golden retriever

Golden retriever running outside in grassCredit: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

We have Lord Tweedmouth to thank for the lovable golden retriever. Goldens originated during the Victorian era, thanks to “Dudley Marjoribanks, the first Lord Tweedmouth, who developed the breed in the Scottish Highlands,” according to the AKC. “For the 50 years between 1840 and 1890, Tweedmouth kept scrupulous records of breedings effected to create an ideal gundog for use at his Guisachan estate.” The dog specifically had to be able to withstand the rainy climate and rugged terrain.

“To accomplish this, he crossed a Wavy-Coated Retriever with a Tweed Water Spaniel,” according to PetMD. “The result was four puppies with excellent bird-hunting abilities. Later, the yellow Wavy-Coated Retriever was cross-bred with Bloodhounds, black retrievers, setters, and Tweed Spaniels.” At this point, the dogs sported their “distinct yellow flat coat.”

These golden (or yellow, as they also were called at the time) retrievers came to North America in the early 1900s, some with Lord Tweedmouth’s sons. And quickly people realized they were much more than strong hunting dogs. The breed’s friendly demeanor and desire to please has made it a superb worker — excelling as a service dog, therapy dog, search-and-rescue dog and more.

4. French bulldog

French bulldog standing on grassCredit: druvo/Getty Images

French bulldogs might seem like a relatively new phenomenon. But these little dogs were decorating laps of the upper class long before they were popping up on celebrity Instagram feeds.

Like the Lab, the Frenchie’s name is another misnomer, as these small bulldogs actually originated in England in the 1800s. They were especially popular among Nottingham lace makers, both providing company and ridding their workplace of vermin. “After the industrial revolution, lacemaking became mechanized and many of the laceworkers lost their jobs,” according to VetStreet. “Some of them moved to France, where their skills were in demand, and of course they took their beloved dogs with them. The dogs were equally popular with French shopkeepers and eventually took on the name of their new country.”

Over the subsequent decades, the dogs were mixed with other breeds — possibly terriers and pugs — and developed their trademark “bat ears,” the AKC says. This irritated English breeders, who didn’t like seeing the dog adapted away from their traditional bulldog. But the French embraced the petite pooch, and thus it became known as the “Bouledogue Francais” before making its way across Europe and to North America in the late 1800s.

As lovable as it is today, sadly selective breeding wasn’t so kind to these dogs. “The Frenchie, which has an average lifespan of 9 to 11 years, is prone to major health problems like brachycephalic syndrome, intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), allergies, and canine hip dysplasia (CHD), and minor problems like patellar luxation, and hemivertebra,” according to PetMD. Plus, heat and anesthesia pose higher risks for the breed, and most puppies must be born by Caesarean section due to their anatomy.

5. Bulldog

closeup of the face of an English bulldogCredit: badmanproduction/Getty Images

The bulldog rounds out the top five most popular dog breeds in the U.S. And unlike the other breeds in this group, these dogs can trace their roots back several centuries. But their history isn’t so pretty.

“First bred in England as a cross between the pug and the mastiff, the Bulldog’s main purpose was as an entertainment dog in the sport of bull-baiting, a popular game during the Middle Ages — from the 1200s through the mid 1800s, when it was outlawed by an act of Parliament,” according to PetMD. “The aim of the dog was to attack and bite the bull, not releasing its grip until the bull was brought down.”

England banned blood sports like this in 1835, which set the bulldog on a new course. Some blood sports, such as dogfighting, went underground. This led to crosses among bulldogs and various terriers for quicker animals — which “put forth early prototypes of the Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and other bull-type terrier breeds still popular today,” according to the AKC.

As for the bulldog, it was in danger of becoming extinct without bull-baiting. But fans of the breed kept it alive while adapting its appearance and temperament. “People who bred Bulldogs for exhibition selected for dogs with shorter legs and bigger heads until they arrived at a dog with a heavy, thick-set, low-slung body, wide shoulders and a massive head,” VetStreet says. “They also moderated the dog’s temperament, taking it from tough to kind, from aggressive to courageous but never vicious.” These cherry-picked traits might have helped in the personality department, but unfortunately they gave rise to many health issues similar to those of the French bulldog. Still, if you wish to adopt one of these dogs from an animal shelter or rescue group, know that you’ll likely be getting a friendly and devoted companion.

Main image credit: suefeldberg/Getty Images

58 comments

danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p2 days ago

Thank you

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Toni W
Toni W3 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W3 days ago

TYFS

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David C
David C3 days ago

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David C
David C3 days ago

woof

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Teresa W
Teresa W3 days ago

interesting, thank you

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Joan E R
Joan E R3 days ago

Thanks.

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Janet B
Janet B4 days ago

Thanks

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