The Dogs of Canada

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

In Partnership With Dogs

St John's Water Dog

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, I thought it would be fun to do some research and see what dogs are native to Canada.  Surprisingly, there are very few dogs that come from our provinces and territories.  It’s the rare and the extinct ones I find the most interesting.  I had only heard of one or maybe two before, so it was interesting research to do!

Extinct Dogs

Most dog breeds originate because of a need in society at that time like finding food or keeping safe and helping make those aspects of life easier.  Dogs themselves became domesticated out of our need for help – security, food gathering, hunting and even companionship. The following are some Canadian breeds who originated for very specific purposes and became extinct largely because of the introduction of other breeds, or the accidental introduction of new diseases, causing the early breeds to disappear entirely.

Hare Indian Dog 

The Hare Indian Dog originated in northern Canada bred by the Hare Indians.  It was thought to be a cross between a dog and a coyote (“Coydog”).  It’s size was somewhere between a fox and a coyote, with a long pointed muzzle, narrow head, erect ears and bushy coat and tail.  The coat was largely white with grey and brown colors in irregular patches. The Hare dog was bred to be small and fast and used for coursing – using speed and sight to chase and catch game.  As aboriginal hunting methods changed or declined, the Hare dog was no longer useful.  Inter breeding with other breeds of dogs eventually caused the original Hare Indian Dog to become extinct in the 19th century. 

Salish Wooly Dog

This was a small white, longhaired, Spitz-type dog developed by the native peoples of what is now Washington and British Columbia – the Coast Salish Indians.  It has been suggested that this is the only known prehistoric breed of dog that was developed solely by selective breeding.  The animal was bred for it’s very thick, white coat and was sheared once a year like a sheep to be woven into blankets (the Salish Blankets).  The dogs were kept confined from other dogs to retain the purity of the color and consistency of their coats.  

There were many claims that no dog hair was used in the weaving of the blankets found to be made by the Coast Salish Indians.  However, recent DNA evidence confirms the existence of dog hair in the very early blankets – those woven in the first half of the 19th century. The decline of the Salish dog began with the influx of Europeans in the 1800s who brought their sheep and alternate wool types (Hudson Bay blankets were introduced around that time). By 1858 the Salish Wool Dog was considered extinct as a distinct breed and the last identifiable Salish-type dog died in 1940.  The only known physical evidence of the Salish Wooly Dog is a single pelt, rediscovered in 2004, in a drawer at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.


St. John’s Water DogNewfie statue

This breed, also known as the lesser Newfoundland or St. John’s Dog, was a known as a Landrace. A Landrace is a dog bred for purpose not because of it’s pedigree or appearance.  The formal definition of Landrace: “a dog or any livestock animal that has been bred without a formal registry, although their breeders may have kept written or informal pedigrees of their animals”.  Landrace dogs do not have breed standards so there is a lot of variety in their appearance.

The St. John’s Water Dog was the ancestor of the modern retrievers (Flat Coat, Golden, Labrador and Chesapeake Bay) as well as the ancestor to the larger Newfoundland Dog.  The St. John’s dogs were medium sized with strong, stocky bodies, thick short coats and strong, rudder-like tails.  Coloring was black with white patches on the chest and feet – “tuxedo” markings.  Writings as early as the 17th century describe these dogs accompanying Newfoundland fisherman on their boats retrieving lines and hauling nets back to the boats.  

The breed was made extinct by a combination of 2 factors:  In an attempt to encourage sheep raising, heavy taxes and restrictions were placed on dog ownership during the 19th century; and their main overseas destination, the UK, imposed long-term quarantines on all imported animals, especially dogs (1885) in an effort to eradicate rabies.  However, in both Newfoundland and the Maritimes provinces there are still many large, mixed breed dogs with many of the same characteristics of the St. John’s Dog.  The last 2 known St. John’s Dogs were photographed in 1980 at an old age having survived by living in a very remote area.

Interesting Canadian facts from my Googling:  Author Farley Mowat had a St. John’s dog named Albert.  In 1970, both Mowat and Albert appeared in an episode of the CBC series Telescope (CBC documentary series profiling notable Canadians). The episode included Mowat telling a bedtime story to his dog.  In the 1970’s Mowat made an attempt to save the breed by crossing Albert, with a Labrador Retriever. Four puppies resulted, and all had the distinctive white markings of their sire. Two puppies died and the other two were given away. One was given to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the other to Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.  I found no further information on what became of the puppies.


Tahltan Bear Dog

This dog was bred and raised by the Tahltan people to hunt bear and big cats.  It was described as mighty power in a small package with fox-like yips and yodels as its distinctive vocalization.  The Tahltan dogs were small – standing 14 to 17 inches at the shoulder with large, erect ears and a pointed, refined muzzle.  They had a glossy, average length dark coat with a thick undercoat and some white patches of color on their feet or chest. They had a very distinctive tail – short, bushy and carried erect.  It has been described as a shaving brush or whisk broom. The dogs were prized for their ferocity in chasing, treeing and harassing bears so hunters could more safely close in for the kill.  Despite their behaviour with bears, the dogs were thought to be highly social with people and lived in the dwellings with their families.

The Tahltan dog descended from pariah type dogs – free ranging dogs in that area that had come from prehistoric migration.  The dogs were centralized in the remote mountainous areas of northwestern British Columbia and the Southern Yukon.  The dogs flourished in the bitter cold and any attempt to move them out of their native environment caused the dogs to succumb to distemper, heat prostration and problems due to dietary change.  As explorers began venturing into their territories the breed became diluted.  There are no known living descendants past 1970 and the breed is believed to be extinct with no known genetic relationship with any current breed.


A Note About the Rare and the Unique

Something I noticed when I began doing some research on the various breeds native to Canada was that there were dogs advertised “for sale” for many, if not all, of the breeds thought to be extinct.  My research was by no means exhaustive and largely consisted of the internet and the various sources found within the articles and excerpts I read.  I can’t say for sure that all of the above breeds are extinct beyond the explanations offered in what I read – but I would say that it’s highly unlikely that any remain today.  

Over the course of my career I have discovered that people are attracted to the rare and the unique.  This isn’t always a good thing when it comes to living animals that we share our lives with.  If a breed of dog is not common then not as much is known about it’s health and temperament over a long period of time.  This can make for a difficult to train dog or one who is difficult to live with depending on your circumstances.  It can also make for health or dietary challenges.  If you are one of those who are attracted to a dog that no one else has, please ensure that you do a lot of research and lot of talking to knowledgeable breeders, owners and handlers of these dogs before making any decision for yourself.  Then, make sure you pick a credible source to get your dog from.  Reputable breeders and rescue groups do NOT sell dogs over the internet.  NEVER buy or sell any living animal (rare or common) this way – you are contributing to the growing increase in the “modern” puppy mills and the horrible treatment of domesticated animals we hear about all too often.

Uncommon Dogs

Here are a few dogs that aren’t extinct but they aren’t very well known.  I know that one or two of these breeds were new to me!

Canadian Eskimo Dog / Canadian Inuit Dog

The Canadian Kennel Club name for this dog is Canadian Eskimo Dog but the Government of Nunavut calls it the Canadian Inuit Dog and has made it the territory’s official animal.

The Inuit people living in the Artic regions of Canada, Alaska and Greenland first bred the Canadian Inuit dog.  It is considered to be a very ancient breed – often thought to one of North America’s oldest and rarest purebred indigenous domestic dog.  The breed is strong and resistant to the very harshest weather conditions.  It was used for sledding and hunting oxen, bear and other large animals and even used to keep polar bears away from native settlements.  It was critical to the early Inuit way of life and survival.  Around 1970 with the rise of snowmobiles and more modern ways, the numbers of the Inuit dog began to decline.  Today it is still somewhat at risk of extinction but is enjoying a rise in popularity in the UK and other northern countries thanks to many Canadian and English breeders dedicated to saving the breed. 

These dogs are powerfully built, athletic and imposing in appearance.  They are built for hard work, not speed.  The coat is thick and dense with a soft undercoat and a thick, impressive mane around the neck – larger in males than females.  Their coats can be any color or color pattern including solid white, black or silver.  Males can range up to 80 lbs and stand up to 28 inches at the shoulder.  It is a tough, intelligent dog.  The Eskimo dogs are often thought to have a stronger prey drive than many other dogs due to their use as sled dogs who often have to forage for their own food.


Labrador Husky

Less common than the Canadian Eskimo Dog is the Labrador Husky.  This breed is another spitz-type dog and was bred to be a very strong and very fast sled dog used primarily for transportation.  It originated in the Labrador portion of Newfoundland and Labrador.  The breed probably arrived with the Inuit people who arrived in the area around 1300 AD.  Although once closely related to other husky-type breeds, they become isolated to that area and continued to develop on their own.

The Labrador Husky is still a rare breed and not many purebred dogs are known outside of its area.  It’s a large dog weighing up to 100 lbs and standing up to 28 inches at the shoulder.   It has a muscular and distinctly stout body with a wide and heavy boned chest. The dogs have a thick double coat and can be solid white, black or grey (rare) or mixes of white and red, black, or grey.  They are said to be a friendly and intelligent breed.

As with most sled dogs, they require a lot of exercise and plenty of mental stimulation.  They shed constantly with a major shed twice a year – grooming is a daily requirement.


Seppala Siberian Sleddog

The Seppala is a rare working dog breed.  They share the same ancestors as the Siberian Husky but are a separate breed.  The Seppala is considered to be the working breed version and the Siberian is considered to be the show breed.  As their name suggests, they were bred for pulling a sled in cold countries.  Their coats are dense, smooth and medium length with an undercoat nearly as long as the guard hairs.  Coat color and marking is considered of little importance and the Seppala generally tends to be less flashy in appearance than other husky types.  Their ears are taller than the Siberian Husky and their bodies are longer and lighter than the Siberians.

Bred by legendary dog driver Leonhard Seppala from dogs imported into Alaska from eastern Siberia, the Seppala Siberians became famous in Alaska for their domination of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes distance race in the period from 1914 to 1917.  The Seppala was prized for it’s strong work ethic and affectionate, cooperative nature.  In 1939 the last Siberia imports, along with several of Seppala’s dogs, became the breed foundation for the Siberian Husky in Canada.

The pure, original bloodlines of the Seppala are rare and facing extinction.  They are still found in small numbers in some Canadian provinces. 


Common Canadian Dogs

Labrador Retriever

The Lab – quite possibly the most recognized dog and one of the most popular dogs of all time in North America and in the UK. 

The first Labs (descendants of the St. John’s Water Dog) were black and the occasional yellow or chocolate colored pups were culled.  Gradually a deep golden color, fox red and chocolate became acceptable colors.  Over time the deep golden yellow evolved into lighter yellow and even cream while the darker gold and fox red color largely disappeared.  Interest in these darker colors began to grow again and were re-established by English breeders in the 1980’s.  

Originally used as a hunting/retrieving dog, today’s Labs are used for a variety of purposes, in particular, service dogs.  

ECT Landseer

If you’ve never heard of the Landseer part of that might be due to some confusion about the breed.  A Landseer is sometimes also called a Landseer Newfoundland.  Some consider the Landseer to be just a black and white Newfoundland dog called Landseer to make the distinction between the 2 acceptable (CKC) colors of Newfies.  For others, though, the Landseer is a separate breed and is distinctly different than a Newfoundland dog.  In 1960, the FCI declared it to be a distinctively separate breed.  (The FCI – Fédération Cynologique Internationale – is an international federation of kennel clubs.)

The “new” breed is referred to as the ECT Landseer (ECT = European Continental Type).  The breed name “Landseer” came from the British painter Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.  In 1838 he created the painting A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, which shows a dog of this breed.

According to many, the Landseer ECT is in many ways different from the Newfoundland in appearance. In general the Landseer ECTs are taller, do not have a deep chest, have shorter hair, no under wool and their long legs make them fast, untiring runners.  They are much faster and more agile than the Newfoundland dog.


Newfoundland Dog

The Newfie is a large working dog and was originally bred as a working dog by Newfoundland fisherman.  It is renowned for it’s strong swimming ability and excels at water rescue / lifesaving.  

The breed originated in Newfoundland and is a descendant of the St. John’s Water Dog (the Lesser Newfoundland).  The Newfies have many mastiff characteristics, which were likely a result of breeding the Lesser Newfoundland with the Portugese Mastiffs brought to Newfoundland in the 16th century.

They are considered a giant breed with weights up to 200 lb in males and heights up to 30 inches at the shoulder.  Their coat is thick, oily and water repellent – ideal for icy water temperatures.  Their double coat requires a great deal of grooming which is something to take into consideration if you’re thinking of take a Newfie into your home.  Acceptable colors in Canada are all black or black and white (the Landseer Newfoundland).  Newfies can also be all brown or all grey but these are not acceptable colors for the Canadian Kennel Club.

Newfoundland dogs were used to bolster the St. Bernard breed in the 18th century when that population was threatened by distemper.  Newfies were also used as the foundation stock for the Leonberger breed in Germany, another breed who excels at water rescue.

Today they are still used for water rescue and also considered a good family dog provided that good, positive early socialization and training takes place.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Toller is the smallest of the retrievers.  The breed was developed in the community of Little River Harbour in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia around the beginning of the 19th century.  It was originally known as the Little River Duck Dog or the Yarmouth Toller.  Their origins are thought to be a combination of spaniels, setter and pointer-type dogs, retrievers and rabbit hounds with some farm collie thrown in.  Many have become herding as well as hunting / retrieving dogs hence the farm collie inclusion.

Tollers are named for their ability to lure and entice waterfowl within gunshot range (tolling).  They were sent out into the water to retrieve sticks or balls.  Their flashy white and red coloring and playful antics sparked the curiosity of waterfowl who would swim over to investigate.

Duck Tollers were officially admitted to the CKC in 1945 and gained worldwide recognition in 1980 by winning Best In Show at all breed championship events.  In 1995, the Toller was declared the official dog of Nova Scotia.

Tollers are intelligent, high-energy dogs who require a great deal of physical and mental activity.  

There you have it – all the Dogs of Canada – or at least all that I could find any information on.  Happy Birthday Canada!  Let’s focus keeping it positive for all our dogs – all over the country!

           **Above the Statue in St. John’s Newfoundland, in tribute of their famous friends.

Labrador dog

Text of Newfie