The World Canine Organization assembled a list of 339 different dog breeds that are agreed upon and recognized internationally. That’s a lot of dog breeds! But what this comprehensive list doesn’t include are the many different breeds that used to be documented, but are now extinct.
You may wonder how a dog breed becomes extinct. It’s generally at the hands of humans. We have either lost interest in preserving a certain breed or we have selectively bred that particular dog breed into a completely new breed. Here are a few interesting dog breeds that are no longer with us.
A slow and methodical tracker, the Southern Hound was one of the oldest scent and tracking breeds ever documented. This big, plodding dog with long legs and a deep voice dates all the way back to the early 1400s. Known for his ability to track trails that had already gone cold, he was an expert (albeit slow) rabbit and deer hunter. As the Renaissance was coming to an end, hunters began to favor faster prey, so fox hunting rose in popularity. Because the Southern Hound was such a deliberate, steady tracker, he wasn’t the best choice for this fast-moving sport. Looking for a speedier dog, hunters began cross-breeding Southern Hounds with quicker, lighter breeds. The result was the beginnings of modern-day scent hounds including Beagles, Bloodhounds and Foxhounds.
The now-extinct Alpine Mastiff was once a member of the Molosser family of dog breeds. In the early 1800s, Alpine Mastiffs were exhibited in the UK and said to be the largest dog breed in the country. Although the breed is an ancestor to the present-day Mastiff, selectively breeding Alpine Mastiffs with other large breeds – including Great Danes and Newfoundlands – has created the breed we now call St. Bernard.
A utilitarian little dog with a rich legend, the Turnspit Dog was also known as the Cooking Dog, the Underdog or the Kitchen Dog. He carried these less-than-glamorous monikers because his job was to run on a wheel (a spit) that rotated meat so it would cook uniformly. Turnspits had short, crooked legs and long bodies. The dogs were allowed inside other rooms besides the kitchen because when they weren’t turning meat they were used as feet warmers.
I read a funny story about a preacher in the 1800s who was preaching about Ezekiel and when he said “It was then that Ezekiel saw the wheel” all the foot-warming Turnspits jumped up and ran to the door. Some sources report the Turnspit as a relative of the modern-day Terrier, and other sources believe they can be seen in the Welsh Corgi breed. When mechanical spits were invented there was no need for these dogs, so the Turnspit breed drifted into oblivion.
Multiple Spaniel Breeds
The English Water Spaniel has been extinct since the 1900s. An expert hunting dog with a specialty for ducks and other waterfowl, this breed was known for their ability to swim and dive as well if not better than the birds they were after.
Another expert swimmer and diver was the Tweed Water Spaniel. While a one-time recognized breed, they were believed to have come about via cross breeding of St. John’s Water Spaniels with a variety of other Spaniel breeds. Some experts believe that the Tweed Water Spaniel was the origin for the Golden Retrievers of today.
Norfolk Spaniels, or Shropshire Spaniels as they were sometimes called, were a highly-regarded dog breed. In fact, in 1886 a Norfolk Spaniel received second place at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. In what many people considered an error, the breed drifted into extinction when The Kennel Club began folding them into the English Springer Spaniel dog breed, which was newly-created and very popular at the time. By 1903, Norfolk Spaniels were completely extinct.
At about that same time, the Toy Trawler Spaniel breed, a descendent of some of the first King Charles Spaniels, was dwindling down. This breed was initially bred for hunting, but the dogs were becoming known more as family pets and then slowly died out.
Sadly, there are many intriguing dog breeds we’ll never get to meet. Even though it’s hard to fathom, it makes sense if you understand history. Long ago, dogs were thought of as functional; if they were handy there was a place for them. As needs changed so did a dog breed’s usefulness, and new breeds were developed to satisfy current demands. Even if all this makes sense intellectually, I would still like to offer a safe home full of love and good food like CANIDAE to a Turnspit Dog or any of these extinct breeds.
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell