Without a doubt, it seems incongruous to consider that millions of dogs are euthanized each year in the United States, yet there are dog breeds that have hovered on extinction and in many cases, actually become extinct. With so many “extra” dogs exist – sometimes only for a short while, before being euthanized because of lack of space in our shelters – one might ask how some breeds of dogs actually become extinct?
The number of dogs in any particular breed is often a reflection of how popular a breed is. Most Americans had never heard of the Portuguese Water Dog – until it was popularized by the Obama family, when they decided that would be the breed of dog they would get. In fact, the breed nearly became extinct, but was saved by a wealthy shipping magnate when he took an interest in the breed in 1931 and began to re-establish the breed in Portugal. Others followed in his steps. As recently as 1960, only twelve Portuguese Water Dogs were in the United States. It took twenty-four years of hard work by lovers of the breed to re-establish and standardize the breed sufficiently for the breed to be added to the AKC’s Working Group.
Often, a breed “disappears” because the original need for the breed no longer exists. For example, the Portuguese Water Dog was a working water dog; carrying messages from fishing boats to other boats and to shore, retrieving broken nets, and even diving to help herd schools of fish. As technology advanced, radios carried messages, and other mechanisms replaced the function the Portuguese Water Dog had originally filled. There was no longer a working need for the breed, and as a result, the breed nearly died out.
Sometimes, a breed is localized to an insular area and becomes caught up in human wars. For example, the Peruvian Hairless Dog (known to the AKC as Peruvian Inca Orchid dogs) nearly became extinct when the Spanish conquistadors invaded Peru. The breed survived in remote areas, and to this day has not fully recovered. The AKC has the breed in the Foundation Stock Service program, to encourage the breed to be redeveloped and to maintain accurate breeding records.
Other times, a breed may have some desirable traits and be cross-bred to another breed, in the hopes that the resulting cross will be better than the original breed. The British “White Terrier” is one such breed that no longer exists. The breed was cross-bred with the English Bulldog, creating two new breeds: the Boston Terrier and the Bull Terrier. The White Terrier breed, although initially promising, had become unpopular due to a variety of genetic problems, including a tendency to deafness.
The vast majority of dog breeds found in the United States are not at risk to suddenly become extinct. Readers should not assume that their dog’s breed needs to have a population explosion. There are some breeds that dog fanciers are trying to save; these are most easily found by looking in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service listings. If your dog is not in the list, please do not send your dog out to breed indiscriminately. Saving a dog breed requires a great deal of knowledge about the breed, including working towards developing enough stock adhering to a breed standard, and is not to be undertaken lightly.
About the author: Sharon McCuddy is the author of the “Lucky Dog” article series, which includes the above article. In part, the author draws on her experiences as a dog owner, rescuer and dog foster home to provide educational articles in the Lucky Dog series. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with their veterinarian for any medical related issues, and to use the information provided in the articles as a basis for self-education as a responsible dog owner.