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Rare dog breeds in the UK

  • 2, May 2023
  • Read time: 8 mins

There are many different and unique dog breeds, some of which are familiar, others you may not have heard of before. If you're thinking of bringing a rare dog into your home, this guide provides information on the type of rare dog you may wish to consider.

Iris Setter standing in grass.

Rare dog breeds – what are they?

Different factors contribute to what makes a dog breed be considered "rare". This could be a genetic disposition or because they've not been bred in high numbers. In some cases, historical events have been the downfall of a breed. For other breeds, it's simply been a case of whether they have been considered fashionable at the time.

What dog breeds are rarest in the UK?

The Kennel Club defines a rare dog as a "vulnerable" dog due to their dwindling registration numbers.

Over 30 breeds made it onto their vulnerable list, with a further 8 on a watch list. We've listed 10 of these below.

While owning a rare dog may be seen as a fun novelty, it's important to understand the responsibility that comes with owning one. This is the case with any new dog that comes into your home, but there may be additional things to consider when they are a rare breed.

The number one golden rule is to always make sure you go to a reputable breeder.

10 rare dog breeds in the UK


Given their popularity, it may be a surprise to see these elegant and good-tempered dogs on the risk list.

Greyhounds have been revered throughout history. The Ancient Egyptians used them as domestic dogs, and they were popular as pets among Pharaohs and the upper classes. A boom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw them bred for the sole purpose of being used as racing dogs.

It's likely that numbers of greyhounds are lessening as the demand for them to be bred as racing dogs decreases. However, as many people choose to adopt from rescue centres, they are becoming increasingly popular as pets. Sweet-natured and docile, they do well in quiet homes where they can get a good amount of exercise and attention.


Thought to have been bred in a monastery by Belgium monks, the Bloodhound came into prominence in the Middle Ages and has been recorded in documents as early as the 1300s. Their sturdy shape and incredible ability to track scent meant they were used as hunting dogs, mostly seeking our deer or game.

Today, they’re more likely to be seen in search and rescue situations or pounding the streets with law enforcement. They don’t seem to be overly popular as pets, perhaps unfairly due to their name, which can sound a little intimidating. But in reality, these mild-mannered gentle giants are patient and loyal.

There’s no definitive reason as to why the Bloodhound has become a rare breed. Nevertheless, they are at risk, with just nineteen puppies registered in 2021.

Sussex Spaniel

Even though the spaniel breed is a popular choice as pets, very few Sussex Spaniels are registered by breeders each year. As their name suggests, they are native to the UK and were originally bred as gundogs.

As pets, they’re kind and affectionate and will love to demonstrate they’ve taken your instruction on board. Intelligence radiates from underneath their shiny, nut-brown coat, and they’ll happily join you on walks to put that intelligence to the test by exploring the world around them.

If you’re looking to welcome a Sussex Spaniel into your home, you’ll need to find a specialist breeder.


Often mistaken for Beagles, the Harrier has long legs that are the key to setting this ancient breed apart from other hound dogs. Recorded as early as the 13th century, the “hare hound” was bred for hunting, but as the popularity of the Foxhound grew, the Harrier fell out of favour.

Round, wide eyes and a playful character are enough to make anyone fall in love with a Harrier. They can be susceptible to separation anxiety due to being pack dogs but this can be helped if they’re brought into a home where spending time with each other is a priority. They’re extremely social and are happiest around lots of company.


This dog breed was bred to hunt. Their agility and ability to swim well meant they were able to handle chasing and catching otters, hence the name “Otterhound”.

As the re-introduction of otters into the wild increased, the need for Otterhounds lessened and the breed was at risk of disappearing entirely. However, a last-effort attempt was made to prevent their extinction by breeding from the final two packs.

Their friendly temperament makes them an ideal pet for an active family. They need a good amount of exercise and the chance to indulge their hunting instincts by exploring the outdoors.

Field Spaniel

Long floppy ears and a slightly curly coat gives this relatively new breed its friendly look.

Playful and full of joy, the Field Spaniel thrives when surrounded by good company – both of the dog and human kind! They love to run off all their energy, as well as be challenged by mental puzzles. Their long coats don’t require excessive grooming, and they are easily trained. A brilliant addition to a household that is new to owning a dog.

Irish Setter

The glossy chestnut-red hair of the Irish Red Setter is unmistakable against the backdrop of a green field. As the name suggests, they originate from Ireland, having been bred for hunting birds.

Their tall and slinky stature, combined with their intelligence, means they are frequently to be seen succeeding in the competition arena.

They’re known for being friendly with children of all ages and are a great choice for any family who can offer them the space and time they need to run off lots of steam. They’re highly energetic and eager to please.

Curly-Coated Retriever

Retrievers as a breed aren’t on the vulnerable list, but the curly-coated variety are. A hazy history means that we don’t know much about their origins, other than they were bred for to join their masters on hunts to fetch back small game animals.

Tight, curly hair gives them an almost poodle-like look which means they often get mistaken as a crossbreed. They’re perfectly suited for families, due to their playful nature, and are sensitive souls at heart. If you do manage to track one of these lovable dogs via a reputable breeder, you’ll find a forever companion.

Skye Terrier

Hailing from the Isle of Skye off the north coast of Scotland, this long haired, short-bodied breed stands out from crowd. Their sweet look belies an incredibly instinctual dog, which for centuries saw them being used as protectors of cattle, before their numbers began to dwindle in more recent decades.

If you’re looking to bring a Skye Terrier into your home, you’ll need to find a reputable breeder. They will need regular grooming, but other than that are pretty low maintenance. They’re happy with a few short walks a day and respond well to training when started early. Great to have around families, they also make a great companion for those who live alone.

Glen of Imaal Terrier

Also known as a “Glen” or “Glennie” Terrier, this lesser-known breed is rare due to low numbers bred per year. An indigenous species hailing from County Wicklow on Ireland’s east coast, their ability to sniff out small prey made them popular, if unlikely, hunting dogs.

Gentle in temperament and loyal in nature, they are extremely affectionate and playful. They don’t require a lot of exercise but do love to explore when out and about as well as enjoying digging. Keep them away from your prize flowerbeds!

Like the Skye Terrier, they make for great family pets or for people living on their own, as long as they’re able to enjoy a little daily outdoor activity. An excellent choice as a first-time pet.

What's the world's rarest dog breed?

It's difficult to pin down the world's rarest dog. Some are considered rare due to their low breeding numbers, others because external influences almost caused their extinction.

  • Mudi pronounced "moody", there are only around a thousand left on the planet. Their pointy, alert ears and obedient nature saw them being used as herding dogs on farms in their country of origin, which is Hungary. But as the agricultural demand decreased, so did the need to breed this dog, putting them on the rarity list
  • Lowchen – also known as "Lion dogs" due to their long manes, this toy dog breed was popular throughout Europe. However, their numbers became dangerously low following the Second World War. Thankfully, even though their numbers still remain extremely low, there has been an increased interest in breeding this sweet-looking, affectionate breed

What's the rarest dog colour?

Dogs come in all types of colours and patterns. Whilst there is no definitive “rarest colour”, there are a few which are highly unusual.

  • Piebald – though not one colour on its own, "piebald" or “pied” refers to when there is a mainly white coat accompanied by spotting of different colours appearing on the fur. A genetic mutation is the cause for these unusual markings
  • Blue-merle – you’d be mistaken for thinking that lightning has struck when looking at a Blue Merle dog. Slashes of blue-grey ripple down the fur, making for a striking looking dog, whatever the breed
  • Random patterns sometimes, markings can appear that give a dog a distinctive, almost human look. A black slash across the eyes, perhaps, that makes the dog look like they are wearing a superhero mask, or four white "socks" on a Golden Retriever. While these markings happen completely by accident, they're often celebrated as the thing that makes that particular dog particularly special

Insuring your dog

No matter the rarity of the breed, all dogs are at risk of experiencing a health condition or an accident at some point. Pet insurance could help should your dog be in the need for vet care, as well as provide peace of mind when it comes to the cost of care.

Start a pet insurance quote