The supposed origins of 18 popular dog breed names

Shutterstock‘Pug’ used to be a term of endearment, not a dog breed name.
  • Many dog breeds have interesting stories and speculations behind their names.
  • The name “poodle” likely has ties to water.
  • German shepherds may have been bred to herd sheep.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Apart from their given name, a dog’s breed is undoubtedly what makes them unique. Everything from defining personality traits to their physical stature can be determined by a dog’s specific breed.

Although the origins of most breed names are speculative and a bit ambiguous, many dog breed names could have fascinating and even heroic origins.

Here’s how 18 popular dog breeds supposedly got their name.


Basset hounds likely got their name because they’re low to the ground.

ShutterstockThey have short legs.

This scent dog’s history seems to date back to sixth-century France. Many people believe this breed is descended from the St. Hubert hounds that used to be kept in monasteries.

In terms of name, the “basset” likely derives from the French word “bas,” which translates to “low” in English, since the hound’s known for having short legs, making it low to the ground.


Bulldogs might have ties to a violent form of entertainment.

ShutterstockThey’re known as being a friendly and loyal breed.

Historians suggest that centuries ago, in Great Britain, bulldogs were trained and bred to fight bulls for bullbaiting, a form of entertainment in which dogs attacked bulls. Bullbaiting was later outlawed in Great Britain in 1835, but the breed still kept the name.


Beagles are supposedly named for their unique howl.

iStockThese pups have a very distinct howl.

According to America’s Pet Registry, these British scent hounds may get their name from multiple sources. One of the more common speculations is that the name stems from the French word “beugler,” which roughly translates to “to bellow” in English, because the dogs are widely known for their frequent howling and their distinctive voice.


Dobermann Pinschers may have gotten their name from a tax professional.

ShutterstockThey’re commonly trained as service dogs.

Long before the days of e-file, a man used to show up on people’s doorsteps to collect their taxes from them. One of these men was said to be a guy named Louis Dobermann, who also bred dogs in his spare time.

The American Kennel Club suggests that he hoped to one day breed an authoritative companion that he could bring along to work, perhaps in the hopes that his taxpayers would be less resistant to his requests if he had a canine by his side.

This strong dog came to be known as the Dobermann Pinscher and its reputation as a working dog seems to have persisted seeing as they are commonly represented in K-9 police units around the world.


Bloodhounds might have an aristocratic meaning behind their name.

Huckleberry14/ShutterstockA common misconception is that bloodhounds are called such because they are good at sniffing out blood.

Centuries ago in Europe, the clergy supposedly kept hounds near the church and put monks in charge of caring for and breeding them. After several generations of purebred breeding, this strong, obedient dog came to be regarded as having “aristocratic blood,” thus giving it its final, lasting name – the bloodhound.


“Poodle” might sound like “puddle” for a reason.

topdigipro/ShutterstockThis breed used to be trained as water retrievers.

There remains a long-standing debate over whether these elegant, well-coiffed pups came from France or Germany, but the word “poodle” likely derives from the German word “pudel.” This word roughly translates to “one that plays with water” and, as you may expect, this word is found in the etymology of the English word “puddle.”

Poodles were originally trained to be water retrievers (dogs that hunt in the water), which makes this name quite appropriate.


Cocker spaniels have a long history of helping humans hunt birds.

Flickr / jE nortonThe ‘cock’ is likely a nod to the species of bird they would help owners hunt.

The spaniel is often regarded as one of the oldest, most recognisable dog breeds. Historians suggest this breed was originally trained to push animals out of hiding without scaring them off, making prey easy for their owners to hunt.

But the “cocker” in the name could specifically refer to the breed’s ability toflush birds like woodcocks into the open so their owners could hunt them.


Corgis could be named after their stature.

David Raihelgauz/ShutterstockTheir name isn’t super complicated.

This small canine’s name is the Welsh word for “dwarf dog.” This name could refer back to the dog’s signature small, short-legged stature that historically allowed them to successfully herd cattle since they were short enough to mostly avoid getting injured by livestock.


Shih Tzus could be named after a totally different species.

ShutterstockTheir name could have ferocious roots.

The Chinese name “shih tzu” roughly translates “little lion” in English, because these dogs were supposedly bred to have aesthetic features similar to the ferocious king of the jungle.

The name might have to do with some Tibetan legends that suggest that Buddha Manjuri, God of Learning, could transform little dogs into actual, full-grown lions that could protect him on his journeys.


The Jack Russell Terrier may have been bred for specific reasons.

ShutterstockThey may have roots related to a reverend.

The Federation Cynological International suggests that Jack Russell Terriers were bred from fox terriers back in the 1800s. The breed’s supposed namesake was Reverend John “Jack” Russell, who apparently was such a fox-terrier lover that he decided he wanted to breed a special terrier with shorter legs so it could hunt foxes in the hilly region where he lived.


Schnauzers are famous for their snouts.

otsphoto/ShutterstockThis breed likely developed in Germany.

The German word “schnauzer” translates to “snouter,” or snout in English. Colloquially, it can also refer to mustaches.

These dogs were aptly given this name because one of their most distinctive features is their prominent jaw hair that resembles a human mustache.


Great Danes probably aren’t Danish.

ShutterstockThey’re probably not Danish.

With an average height of 30 inches and an average weight of 140 pounds, these powerful pooches live up to their title, but they’re probably not actually Danish.

It’s likely these gentle giants actually originate from Germany, where they held many different names over their long history. Some of the earlier names of this breed may have included “German Mastiff” and “German Boarhound.”

Great Dane Rescue suggests the label “Great Dane” came about when a famed French naturalist observed the dogs in Denmark and believed them to be a different, Danish version of the greyhound.


Read More:
15 of the biggest dog breeds in the world


Pit bulls may have gotten their name from a violent form of entertainment.

Stacy/FlickrThey’re not actually a naturally aggressive breed.

Like bulldogs, these dogs were likely previously bred to partake in aggression. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, pit bulls were originally bred to be aggressive so they could take part in the now mostly illegal practice of dogfighting.

This complicated history is believed to be one of the reasons why the breed is infamously and often unfairly stereotyped as always being overly aggressive.


Pointers can be identified by their behaviour.

Nadezda Nikitina/ShutterstockTheir name is pretty self-explanatory.

Not to be confused with other hunting breeds, pointers are a group of sport dogs named for their tendency to point at things. When these dogs first became popular in the 1600s, their pointing skills supposedly assisted their owners with finding the huntable game in areas where it was difficult to see.


Saint Bernards likely have inspiring roots.

Getty ImagesThey didn’t have an official breed name for hundreds of years.

According to The Smithsonian website, the breed name for these big dogs stems from their record of rescuing monks and other travellers in the Alps during several harrowing blizzards throughout the 18th century. St. Bernard Pass is the name of a large stretch that people crossed to get between Switzerland and Italy but sometimes would get lost in.

Supposedly, in the 18th century, the monks at St. Bernard hospice kept these dogs as companions but they later discovered the dog’s useful ability to find people who were stuck in the snow and help keep them warm during a rescue.

Of course, those who lived back then didn’t call these pups Saint Bernards. They technically didn’t have an official name for hundreds of years until some started calling them Barry Dogs as a tribute to one legendary St. Bernard who supposedly saved more than 40 humans in his lifetime.

In 1880, the Swiss Kennel Club finally settled on the official name we know today.


Pugs could have ties to a sweet term of endearment.

Zemlinki/FlickrThe reason for their name is still fairly speculative.

The etymology of the word “pug” is actually pretty sweet. In the 1560s, it was used as a term of endearment alongside “puggy.” In the past, “pug” has also been defined to mean “sprite,” which could be a nod to Puck, a mischievous fairy of Shakespeare’s creation.

Although there’s no definitive tale for how this word came to be the name of this tiny breed, the American Kennel Club officially recognised the breed with this title in 1885.


German shepherds may have been bred to herd sheep.

Wikimedia CommonsThey can do more than herd sheep.

This canine is likely named for its long history of assisting – you guessed it – shepherds. Their duty was to guard and herd sheep.

But the popular German breed was supposedly named in 1899 by Berlin veterinarian college student Max von Stephanitz, whose goal was to standardize shepherd dogs in the country. To this day, some farmers still use the dogs for herding purposes.

Now, this breed does more than just herd sheep. They’re commonly trained for military and police forces because of their obedient, hardworking nature.


Dachshunds’ name has nothing to do with hot dogs.

Wikimedia commonsThey were originally bred to chase badgers.

Dachshunds are hound-terrier mixes that were originally bred to chase badgers more than 600 years ago. So it makes sense that the German “dach” translates to “badger” while “hund” translates to “dog.”

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