Canadians are a dog-loving bunch: in 2016, approximately 41 per cent of Canadian households include at least one dog, with the total doggo and pupper pet population in the country reaching 7.6 million furry friends.
And we’re surprisingly patriotic in our canine choices: of the 10 most popular dog breeds in 2016, the Labrador retriever—a breed with its roots in Canada—was ranked number one.
In fact, the Canadian Kennel Club recognizes five breeds as being “uniquely Canadian.” Do they have a particular Canadian character? You be the judge.
While modern-day Labs owe much of their distinctive appearance, trainability and good nature to breeding efforts by English nobility, they got their start in Newfoundland (confusingly, not in Labrador). A breed called the St. John’s water dog, used by boat crews to help pull nets in from the cold North Atlantic waters, was the ancestor of today’s retrievers, helping to create the modern breeds when it was exported to England around 1820. The St. John’s water dog’s characteristic black and white “tuxedo” markings still appear in some modern retrievers today, linking them back to their far-away Canadian ancestors.
Dogs don’t get much more Canadian than Newfoundlands: big, friendly, intelligent and used to the cold, they’re like the whole darn country distilled into dog form. Like Labradors, Newfoundlands are descended from St. John’s water dogs, but Newfs are thought to be the result of breeding them with mastiffs—which would account for their large size and great strength. Newfoundlands were particularly valuable for sailors, with their webbed feet and swimming technique enabling them to rescue drowning people, haul in nets, and even pull small boats. They’re such good swimmers that, at one point, they were required at lifeguard stands on the British coastline.
Tahltan bear dog
Although this breed has been recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club as “uniquely Canadian” since 1940, you won’t find Tahltan bear dogs running around at the dog park. That’s because, as far as anyone can tell, the breed has been extinct since the 1960s. Kept by the Tahltan First Nation in BC, the Tahltan bear dog was small and strong, with a distinctive yodel and a short, bushy tail. They were used to track bears and large cats, barking and harassing cornered animals until hunters could move in for the kill. Unfortunately, only nine dogs were ever registered with the Canadian Kennel Club, and, as far as breeders can tell, there are no living descendants.
Canadian Inuit dog
Also known as Qimmiq in Inuktitut or the Canadian Eskimo dog by the Canadian Kennel Club, this is one of the oldest and rarest indigenous purebred species of dog in North America. Once a sled or pack dog, the breed was threatened with extinction as snowmobiles became more and more common in the Arctic. Although there are only about 300 purebred dogs out there, there are concerted efforts to preserve the species. Canadian Inuit dogs are thought to have been brought to North America from Siberia by the Thule people 1,000 years ago, and are genetically identical to Greenland dogs. And while Canadian Inuit dogs are undoubtedly Canucks, unlike most other Canadians, these doggos prefer cold weather, often preferring to sleep outside, even in winter.
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
No, this pooch isn’t collecting money from ducks—to “toll” means to attract prey by arousing their curiosity. The smallest retriever breed, Tollers entice game birds by romping and playing at the water’s edge, sparking curiosity from ducks and geese. Once the birds are close, the hunter rises from behind a blind, sending the birds into flight and gunshot range. Once a bird is shot down, the Toller runs into the water to retrieve it. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling dogs were originally developed in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, and are now the province’s official dog. Don’t depend on them as watchdogs, though—Tollers don’t have an aggressive bark, although they occasionally let loose with a high-pitched howl called the “Toller scream.” A true Canadian breed, this pupper is almost unknown outside the country.