12 Posh English Dog Breeds From Across the Pond
Today, English dogs are some of the most beloved breeds this side of the Atlantic, including nearly all terriers. Yes, fun fact! If you own a terrier, then your pooch probably has British roots, according to Mari-Beth O'Neill, current VP of Sport Services at the American Kennel Club, and experienced breeder of Manchester terriers and English cocker spaniels.
"Almost every terrier breed originated in England with the exception of the miniature schnauzer," O'Neill says. "They were used for hunting all kinds of game with a large amount during the Industrial Revolution, and even prior to that. These dogs were kept to help eliminate vermin from whether it be in barns or establishments."
These terriers led to the development of many other beloved breeds we know well in the U.S., but more on that later. Keep reading to discover even more about these cheeky breeds.
The English bulldog has been around for centuries—since 13th century England, in fact. Their beginning is more on the sad side, as they were originally used as bait in dog fights. But their stories took a turning point when blood sports with animals were prohibited in England. Facing extinction, breeders took it upon themselves to turn these fighters into lovers. And it worked! Soon, the bulldog became the national symbol of England and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886.
Today, the English bulldog is a beloved pup and also a very popular collegiate mascot in the U.S. Any Georgia, Drake, or Gonzaga alums reading?
English Cocker Spaniel
The English spaniel—known as the cocker spaniel outside of England—is O'Neill's current favorite dog breed. England is still pretty fond of them, too.
"English cockers are the most popular, or one of the most popular breeds in England," says O'Neill. "They just want to be with you—they want to be with their person."
So, what's this lovebug's backstory? Like other spaniels, the English cocker spaniel was originally meant to be a reliable hunting companion. Spaniels were originally split into two groups: land and water spaniels. Cocking spaniels were especially good at flushing woodcock, hence their name.
In 1946, the AKC recognized the cocker spaniel and the English cocker as two separate breeds, an important note for future spaniel owners!
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The word "king" is no joke! Cavalier King Charles spaniels were a mark of European nobility and royalty since the Renaissance period. It's said that King Charles II of England cared more about breeding spaniels than ruling Britain. (Same, if we're honest.)
The modern-day Cavalier King Charles spaniel is known for their flat face and small size, quite different from other types of spaniels in appearance. They typically can be found sporting one of four color patterns, all which used to signify a particular noble family.
Did you own a dog in college? We barely could take care of ourselves! But owning a Norwich terrier used to be quite the fad among Cambridge University undergraduates in the late 1800s. Makes sense—Norwich terriers weigh at most 14 pounds In the 1910s, the breed made its way over to the U.S. And Norwich terriers were amazing at catching dorm mice for students who didn't want unwelcome visitors disrupting their studies.
Norfolk terriers, while similar, originated as a variety of the Norwich terrier. They're so alike that they weren't recognized by the AKC as two separate breeds until the 1970s. Geographically, Norwich and Norfolk also overlap.
English Springer Spaniel
Birds never want to play hide-and-seek with an English springer spaniel. They'll lose! English springer spaniels were originally bred as hunting companions whose job it is to flush birds out of their low-ground hiding places, like brush or tall grass. After a long day's work, the springer spaniel would retreat to the family home and comfortably retire for the evening.
In recent years, their durability and keen sense of smell have made them one of the top picks for K-9 unit detection work in the U.S. Officer doggy, reporting for duty!
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
After blood sports were banned in England, they moved underground, and hybrid breeds started popping up as a result in order to optimize dog fights. The Staffordshire bull terrier—a cross between a bulldog and a terrier—was one of them.
When the breed made it to the U.S., breeders developed a taller, heavier version, dubbed as the American Staffordshire terrier (AmStaff). While bullie breeds still get a hard rap from time to time because of their histories, they are generally friendly and trustworthy companions.
Old English Sheepdog
Old? Hey! The Old English sheepdog may take offense to that. Turns out that by canine standards, the OES is not that ancient, popping up in the late 1700s. They're also not full English by blood, taking some ancestry from Scotland and Russia as well. AND they're not even really sheepdogs—OESes were employed primarily to work with cattle. Confused yet?
Well then, what is the truth? Old English sheepdogs are incredibly warm, both in personality and because of their fluffy coats. Today, Old English sheepdogs are iconic, definitely aided by the Beatles' song "Martha My Dear," written about Paul McCartney's former OES Martha!
O'Neill has a soft spot for Manchester terriers. After all, the breed was her first real introduction into showing a dog of her own. The Manchester terrier was the perfect choice, especially since her family had originally owned a Doberman pinscher. They may not look it in size, but Dobermans are actually a descendant of the Manchester terrier.
"For my ninth birthday, I got a Manchester," says O'Neill. "It had to be something I could pick up and carry. They're a great companion and very active, willing to participate in doing all kinds of different events for people."
The Standard Manchester terrier got its beginnings hunting small game and killing rats as a form of human entertainment (ew), but the toy variety—the variety that O'Neill used to breed quite successfully, we might add—was strongly desired by Victorian women who wanted a smaller dog back in the day.
Another terrier, who would've thought? The Yorkshire terrier (affectionately known as the Yorkie) was developed in the mid-1800s in the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Although their ancestors were more working class, the Yorkshire terrier was more of a fashionable lapdog for the English. With their long, silky coat, they fit into their fashionable companion role incredibly well. The first U.S. Yorkie was recorded by the AKC in 1885 and was named Belle.
Fox hunting became increasingly popular in Britain near the end of the Middle Ages after the deer population dwindled. Enter the English foxhound, bred specifically for their noses, endurance, speed, and agility.
Fox hunting made its way over to Colonial America and was a preferred pastime of George Washington and other Virginians. Washington was also key in developing the American foxhound, which is slightly slimmer and taller. Conversely, the English foxhound has remarkably stayed the same in stature and demeanor.
The English setter is believed to be the result of crossing a Spanish pointer and the springer spaniel. Their name does a lot of heavy lifting in telling this breed's history. The Setter was developed to "set" aka lay down quietly when they located game birds for their human hunting companion. Setters typically accompanied hunters that preferred to hunt with nets pre-firearms.
As a result of the introduction of firearms, future generations of setters were taught to point upright so that hunters could see the dogs from a distance. The English setter made its way to the U.S. in the 19th century and was further developed out of Pennsylvania.
Although bloodhounds as we know them today were perfected in Western Europe circa 1,000 years ago, they are quite an ancient breed with ties to the Mediterranean.
In Europe, they were frequent church additions and could be found at the local monastery in many parts of England and France. Their name comes from their historic nickname of "blooded hounds," meaning "aristocratic blood."
Today, the bloodhound has a sterling reputation as a scent tracker for police departments around the world. They will follow their trail until the end, a determination that professional technological scent devices can't match even today.