7 Dogs That Almost Went Extinct

Believe it or not, some dog breeds have had a close brush with extinction, just like many animals in the wild. These canines include the Irish Wolfhound, Shiba Inu, and Otterhound.

Apr 5, 2024By Jessica Montes
dogs that almost went extinct

Several canine varieties have faced the threat of extinction in their thousands of years as human companions. Reasons, such as changes in human lifestyle, shifts in agriculture, and even warfare have all decreased population numbers. Here are seven dog breeds that have come close to extinction at various points in history.

1. Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound
Photo by: Sylvie Saulue

The Irish Wolfhound is a gentle giant with a loyal personality and strong prey drive. Irish Wolfhounds were bred for hunting wolves and other large game in Ireland. Because of their excellent hunting skills, these canines drove wolves to extinction in the late 1700s. Without an animal to hunt, the need for Wolfhounds diminished, leading to a decline in their numbers.

Economic hardships in Ireland also played a role in the Irish Wolfhound’s near extinction. During times of poverty and famine, people struggled to feed themselves and their families. Care for large dogs meant providing enough food and resources that many farmers and hunters could not afford.

Despite these challenges, dedicated efforts by enthusiasts and breeders helped revive the Irish Wolfhound population. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, breeding programs worked to preserve and promote the breed. This involved breeding Irish Wolfhounds with Scottish Deerhounds to increase the population numbers.

2. Sealyham Terrier

Sealyham Terrier
Photo by: Okforlicz

Although the Sealyham Terrier was adored by old-Hollywood celebrities, it once had a brush with extinction. These pups originated from Wales as hunters for small game such as otters, foxes, and badgers. However, as the need for working terriers declined with changes in land use and hunting practices, the breed's original purpose became less relevant.

​​The Sealyham Terrier's popularity as a companion dog also declined over time. Dog owners were not as interested in this breed, and fewer breeding programs were established. In 2008, the SOS: Save Our Sealyham campaign was launched after the U.S. saw a mere 43 official kennel registrations. Since then, registrations for this breed have tripled and continue to grow.

These pups are affectionate and friendly, but they can have a stubborn streak. They value their independence and need a consistent, firm, and patient trainer who can lead them to their next Best in Show win in 2024!

3. Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu
Photo by: Makiko Fujimoto

They might be in the top 50 most popular dog breeds in the U.S., but Shiba Inus were once an endangered breed. During World War II, many Japanese dogs, including the Shiba Inu, faced near-extinction due to food shortages, bombing raids, and the government's orders to kill dogs to prevent the spread of disease and conserve resources. Shiba Inu numbers drastically fell during this period.

After Japan rebuilt itself after the war, the country faced significant economic challenges. This further threatened the survival of the Shiba Inu as people struggled to care for pets amidst poverty and instability. In addition, societal changes like urbanization also reduced the number of indigenous dog breeds. People moved from rural farmlands to urban areas where there was less need for the Shiba Inu working and hunting skills.

Thankfully, breeding programs were created, and Shibas are once again a beloved companion and the number one dog breed in Japan.

4. Thai Ridgeback

Thai Ridgeback
Photo by: Valentin930

Next is the Thai Ridgeback. It’s named after its country of origin and the trademark vertical ridge down its back. As it was developed primarily in rural areas, the limited geographic distribution meant that the breed's population was confined to a relatively small area, making it vulnerable to environmental changes and human activities.

Thai Ridgebacks were used as hunting and guard dogs by local communities. They hunted mongooses, boars, and snakes and chased away rats and other pests from homes. However, with the modernization of agriculture and changes in lifestyle, there was a decline in the need for such working dogs, leading to a decrease in demand and breeding of the breed.

Population numbers stayed low because they are pariah dogs. These are semi-wild, sometimes ownerless dogs that roam areas near humans. Although they can be domesticated, they have strong survival instincts that make them prioritize food and shelter over being a pet.

5. Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless Dogs)

Xolo dog
Photo by: BluesyPete

The Xoloitzcuintli is an ancient, hairless breed with deep cultural significance in Mexico. The Mayans, Aztecs, Toltecs, and Zapotecs all treasured them for their spiritual associations and healing powers. As Mexico modernized, the superstitions and stigmas associated with this breed changed. Some people thought they had negative connotations, and this may have led to a decrease in the breed’s popularity.

Immigration also played a role. As more European colonizers settled in Mexico, they introduced other dog varieties into the gene pool. Xolos began losing their signature traits, such as their hairless bodies, and the number of full-bred dogs diminished. In the 1950s, Xolo enthusiasts started a breeding kennel. With the help of Mexican artists Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, who were avid Xolo owners, breeders increased their population size.

6. Bolognese

Photo by: Boel

The Bolognese breed, originating from Italy, experienced periods of decline in popularity throughout history. This fluffy, snow-white lap dog was favored by aristocrats and seen as a marker of wealth. They were given and kept as gifts solely between the upper class, meaning they had a limited market. As monarchies declined and there were changes to the Italian social structure, the breed lost its royal badge of honor, and it became less popular.

Through careful breeding programs, promotion, and increased interest in rare and ancient breeds, the Bolognese has seen a resurgence in recent years. The American Kennel Club will fully recognize the breed in the miscellaneous class on June 26, 2024.

7. Otterhound

Photo by: American Kennel Club

Like the Irish Wolfhound, Otterhounds faced extinction because of changes to its original purpose. They were bred in England for hunting otters, which were considered pests in certain areas due to their impact on fish populations.

However, as otter populations declined due to habitat loss, pollution, and conservation efforts, so did the demand for otter hunting. In fact, it is now illegal to hunt otters in the United Kingdom without a license, and many states in the U.S. have otter protection laws, as well.

As otter hunting declined and urban lifestyles became more prevalent, the Otterhound faced a loss of interest among dog enthusiasts. Without a strong demand for the breed, breeding programs became scarce, further contributing to its decline.

While many of the breeds on this list have bounced back from the brink, the Otterhound is struggling to keep its numbers up. Today, according to the American Kennel Club, there are less than 350 Otterhounds in the U.S. There are less than 1,000 worldwide.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.