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by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we figure out how different breeds of dogs were named!


•  The Pekingese was bred in the Chinese city of Peking (now called Beijing) and is one of the oldest breeds. It’s one of the breeds most closely related to the wolf, along with the Akita, Malamute, Basenji, and Shar-Pei.

•  The Shar-Pei is known for its deep wrinkles. The breed originated in Canton, China. The name means "sand skin" and refers to the texture of its short, rough, wrinkled coat. A Shar-Pei's tongue is a blue-black color, making it the only other dog besides the Chow Chow that does not have a pink tongue.

•  The Corgi originates in Wales. In Welsh, the name means “dwarf-dog” from “cor” meaning dwarf and “gi” meaning dog. Corgis are closely related to Siberian Huskies. Despite their short stature, they were bred as herding dogs. Queen Elizabeth II has owned more than 30 Corgis since she was a young child.

•  The Papillon derives its name from the long and fringed hair on the ears that resemble butterfly wings, and the French word for “butterfly” is papillon. They were bred as rat-catchers. Marie Antoinette owned one who reportedly ran out from under her skirt after she was executed.

•  The Great Pyrenees was bred by Basque shepherds who inhabited the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France and northern Spain. The Pyrenees Mountains were named for Pyrene, a mythical Greek princess who was raped by Hercules, gave birth to a serpent, was killed by wild animals, and buried under the mountain range that now bears her name.

•  The Yorkshire Terrier is a small dog breed developed during the 19th century in Yorkshire, England, to catch rats in clothing mills. During World War II, a Yorkie named Smoky saved the lives of soldiers by dragging a communications cable through an 8-inch-wide, 60-foot-long drainage culvert.

•  The Chihuahua was named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The word means “dry sandy place.” The Chihuahua is the smallest of all purebred dogs. A Chihuahua named Milly at 3.8 inches tall (9.65 cm) is the world’s smallest dog. At the age of 2 years old, she weighed 1 pound (.45 kg).  In a comparison of brain to body size ratio, the Chihuahua has the largest sized brain. The Taco Bell dog’s name was Gidget and she was in many commercials (not all for Taco Bell). She died in 2009 at the age of 15.

•  The Bloodhound takes its name from the fact that it was bred to follow the trails of wounded animals.  It has a keener sense of smell than any other breed and can pick up a scent from only one or two skin cells.

•   “Ticking” is a strong white material used to cover and protect mattresses and pillows. The Bluetick Coonhound has a white coat underneath a network of black spots, and the overall effect makes the dog look like it’s covered by blue ticking. If a dog has a white coat with brown spots, it’s called red ticking. The Bluetick Coonhound was bred as a hunting dog in the Southeastern U.S. and was only recognized as an established independent breed in 1946.

•  Basset Hounds were bred for the purpose of pursuing rabbits, using their keen sense of smell to track them down.  Only Bloodhounds have a better sense of smell than Basset Hounds do. “Basset” comes from the French word “bas” for “low” and refers to the low-slung stature of the dog. It has the longest ears of any breed, with Bloodhounds a close second.  The ears funnel scents to the nose. Because they are big-boned with heavy bodies and deep chests, they are poor swimmers.

•  There are two types of Husky: the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute. The word “husky” started out in the mid-1800s as “hoskey dog” or “esky dog” which both refer to “Eskimo dog.” The Siberian Husky originated in northeastern Siberia and was bred by the Chukchi Eskimos of northeastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances across rough terrain in difficult conditions with very little food and no warmth. They were also used to herd reindeer and as watchdogs. Huskies have a thick double coat that keeps them well insulated. Their undercoat is short and warm, while the overcoat is long and water-resistant. Their almond-shaped eyes allow them to squint to keep out snow.

•  Pomerania is a region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in Central Europe, split between Germany and Poland. The name comes from the Slavic “po more” meaning “by the sea.” It’s where the Pomeranian was bred.  They were bred from the large sled dogs of the north, making them another breed closely related to wolves.

•  The word “terrier” comes from the old French “chien terrier” meaning literally “earth dog.” A cairn is a pile of rocks used to mark the way, from the Gaelic “carn” meaning “a heap of stones.”  A cairn terrier was trained to flush small animals that live underneath and inside cairns. A cairn terrier named Terry played Toto in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”

•  The word “spaniel” comes from the Old French word “espaignol” meaning “Spanish dog.” Spaniels were bred as hunting dogs and have been around since the 14th century. Today there are 25 different types of Spaniels. One English breed was developed specifically for tracking woodcocks. These dogs are now known as Cocker Spaniels. Springer Spaniels were named for their ability to flush or “spring” game birds. King Charles Spaniels became popular due to their association with King Charles II of England, who ruled in the 1600s and had a fondness for the breed.

•  The story goes that the Chinese word “tsa” means “mix” and is pronounced “chow” as in “chow mein” with “mein” meaning “noodles.” The word “chow” also came to mean a meal, being a mix of food dishes. When dock workers were unloading ships laden with all sorts of Chinese goods, they referred to the cargo as “chow chow” meaning a mixed up mish-mash of items. When they unloaded a breed of Chinese dogs, the dogs also were called Chow Chows.  Other people claim that “chow chow” is Chinese for “puffy lion dog.” Chows are famous for having black tongues, but a Chow’s tongue is pink at birth.

•  Cecil Rhodes was a British politician and businessman who bought up diamond mines in southern Africa, founded the DeBeers Diamond Company, worked to develop economic progress in Africa, and subsequently had a country named after him: Rhodesia. The country has since been split up and renamed, becoming Zambia and Zimbabwe. People working in Africa needed to protect their livestock from lions. They cross-bred European dogs with the dogs the local tribes used that were remarkable for the Mohawk-style ridge of backwards-facing hair that lined their spine. The Rhodesian Ridgeback, a type of hound, can keep a lion at bay.