BY LUCIE WINBORNE, FREELANCE WRITER
In the market for an unusual pooch? Check out these canines who are ready to prove there’s a dog for every taste, no matter how exotic. Some might make you laugh, others might make you gasp, but one thing is certain—once you meet them, you’re not likely to forget them!
A Husky Knock-Off?
You could be forgiven for thinking, “What a beautiful Husky pup!” when you encounter the Alaskan Klee Kai. But that’s no puppy—these highly intelligent and energetic cuties, bred from American Eskimos, Schipperkes, and yes, Huskies, only reach a maximum height of 17 inches. Unlike their larger-size counterparts, which were bred as sled dogs, AKKs are still somewhat rare, were bred as companion dogs, and are typically shy and wary around strangers (which makes them a good choice for a guard dog). However, they deeply attach to their human families and make loving friends who will want to be part of your daily activities.
And how many dog breeds can you name that have earned the moniker “half cat”? That’s right—AKKs display some distinctly feline traits, including a penchant for resting on top of furniture rather than on it, climbing cat trees, observing the world through a window, walking atop high surfaces (these dogs can JUMP!), and curling up in any available spot of sunshine … quite likely next to your cat.
At the opposite end of the size scale is the Irish Wolfhound. Now, there’s no wolf blood in its makeup, but this tallest of all dog breeds, which can rise to an astonishing seven feet on its hind legs and typically weighs about 120 pounds, was originally used in war to drag men off horses and chariots, as well as to hunt large prey including deer and boars. (One wonders what those legs could do on a basketball court.) But despite that battle-tried history, these dogs are gentle giants who will do just fine in company with other canines, kids, and on occasion even kitties.
As its name implies, the breed originated on the Emerald Isle yet nearly went extinct there in the 19th century, due to its popularity as a gift for visiting nobility, the famine of 1845, and the extinction of the wolves it was used to hunt. Fortunately, it survived and thrived, and today is considered one of the world’s most admired and recognized breeds. But if its impressive size should be enough to scare off a would-be thief, don’t rely on these titans to attack, since they won’t sound an alarm and are brave but not aggressive.
A Face—& Body—Only a Mother Could Love?
Where did the Chinese Crested originate? Well, not in China, but more likely Africa or from the Mexican Hairless, with which it shares some genetic similarities. One theory goes that Spanish conquistadors brought them to China as gifts. If true, one could be forgiven for wondering what they were thinking, since this breed often takes first place at ugly dog competitions!
Chinese Cresteds come in two varieties: “hairless” with hair only on the head, feet and tail and “powder puff,” completely covered with hair. As with most such breeds, they tend to have missing or crooked teeth, but both skin and hair are smooth and silky to the touch. They also require regular grooming and protection from temperature extremes, and like humans they can develop blackheads.
But even if these dogs aren’t normally ranked among the world’s most photogenic, their appearance is certainly unique and considered elegant by fans. Plus, they’re lively and affectionate though stubborn, low shedders and make excellent lap-warmers in the wintertime since their lack of hair increases the amount of body heat they generate. Interestingly, the breed’s most well-known promoter was Gypsy Rose Lee, who was, of course, also noted for showing a lot of skin.
Calling Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
At first glance, the Norwegian Lundehund appears much like any other canine, until you examine its paws. This breed is born with six toes on each foot. (Most dogs have four, some breeds five.) But that’s not all that sets it apart: thanks to their unique build, these dogs can turn their heads 180 degrees to either side or touch the tops of their heads to their spines, looking directly backwards! And those extra toes served the breed well in the function for which it was bred in the 16th century—thinning the puffin population—by allowing them to grip the crevices of cliffs at the top of which the birds like to take refuge.
Norwegian Lundehunds enjoy both hiding and playing with their toys and food. Fast-learners and good family dogs, they are also still considered semi-feral, being much more capable than many domestic breeds of surviving in the wild. Like Alaskan Klee Kais, they are wary of strangers but loving snugglers with their humans. Nor are they above using their intelligence to outfox said humans, whether it comes to prying open a cupboard door or pulling a crate escape. And like the Irish Wolfhound, they nearly disappeared at one point, when their excellent hunting skills reduced the puffin population to such an extent that the birds were given protected status and the need for the breed all but died out. Today, while their drawbacks include a difficulty to train (including housebreaking), their active and affectionate nature, along with that crazy owl-like neck, render them endearing companions.
Do-Re-Mi … Sing Along with Me
Many dogs howl, but the New Guinea Singing Dog gets its name from its melodious vocalizations, which last from three to five seconds and characteristically increase in pitch at the start, then hit frequencies worthy of an opera diva at the end—in fact, opera singers are said to have expressed particular interest in them! They’re also remarkably flexible, with a bone structure like a cat's in which they can squeeze through any opening large enough to fit their head. Extremely shy in the wild and rare in captivity, these attractive dogs sport coats ranging from golden to black and tan and cream. They also have a fishhook tail reminiscent of all ancient aboriginal dogs and the Australian dingo, and eyes, ears and a wedge-shaped head similar to a fox.
According to Janice Koler-Matznickfrom the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society, they are genetically proven to be extremely close relatives of the Australian dingo, maybe even their ancestor. They are quick to learn but due to their independent nature, can not be considered obedient. They tend to be aloof with strangers and can be aggressive with other dogs, especially those of the same gender.
There are an estimated 300 or so known to exist in captivity, however, the wild population is thought to be widespread in the mountains of New Guinea, but no estimate of how many there are are can be made at this time. Efforts are being made by both individuals and groups to ensure the survival of these unusual “singers.”
Baa-baa “Sheep” Dog
Looks like a lamb but acts like a dog! That sums up the adorable Bedlington Terrier, formerly known as the Rothbury Terrier and/or “Rothbury’s Lamb” after admirer Lord Rothbury, whose estate was in the mining town of Bedlington in the county of Northumberland, northeast England. With a distinctively lamb-shaped head and fluffy, sheep-like fur, this breed, originally designed to hunt and kill vermin, is ideal for allergy sufferers. And while Bedlingtons still possess superb hunting instincts, they rarely perform that function nowadays.
As with the Chinese Crested, the Bedlington’s origin is obscure, though it was developed in the north of England. The dogs may have traveled with gypsies who used them as poaching assistants, and were favorite companions of factory and mine workers, who enjoyed racing them against Whippets. Curious and intelligent, this “lamb” likes to be at the center of things and will keep you on your toes much of the time. Bedlington owners give them credit for sharp judgment and report that they make excellent watchdogs, but are only “moderately” easy to train, since they have a definite mind of their own and can be quite stubborn when they wish. They’re not prone to picking fights, males in particular still relish one when their blood is up, and owners should be cautious when introducing them to other dogs.
Contradictory and charming, this terrier is—like other quirky canines we love—assuredly a breed apart.