Lots of dog breeds are adored for their unique looks and personalities. But did you ever wonder where these traits come from?
Most dog breeds’ full lineages are hard to trace exactly, as pups have been our personal companions for thousands of years. But there are plenty of myths and stories out there that explain why dogs are the way they are, and legends make these breeds more mysterious and fun to think about.
Here are eight dog breed traits that are steeped in folklore.
1. Fairy Riders And The Corgi’s Saddle Marks
You may have noticed that Pembroke Welsh Corgis have a stripe of white fur that circles around their backs and shoulders.
Well according to Welsh legends, the Corgi wasn’t bred into existence. These dogs came from the lairs of fairies and elves.
The white strip on its back was proof of this, as that marked the spot where fairies tied their saddles to ride Corgis into battle.
Historians say Corgis are descended from dogs brought to Wales by the Vikings, which isn’t quite as magical, but it’s still pretty cool.
2. Circus Dogs And The Golden Retriever’s Trainable Nature
Golden Retrievers are very helpful and loyal. They love humans, and they also love learning new tricks to please their people. That need to perform for us had to come from somewhere.
As the story goes, Golden Retrievers are descended from Sheepdogs who performed in a Russian circus. These dogs were bought by a man named Lord Tweedmouth–which is hilarious–and used for hunting.
This was the accepted Golden Retriever origin story until 1950, when Lord Tweedmouth’s notes were made public. Turns out, the original Golden Retriever ancestor was bought from a cobbler.
That’s not quite as interesting as joining the circus, but we love our Goldens just the same.
3. Tasting The Sky With The Chow Chow’s Blue Tongue
Scientists have found that the Chow Chow is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, but legend has it that they are even older–as old as creation itself.
One of the most unusual characteristics of the Chow Chow is their blueish-black tongue. There’s a Chinese legend that says that the Chow Chow’s tongue turned its odd color when the dog licked up a few drops of the color of the sky as it was being painted.
Some dogs will eat just about anything.
4. Gypsy Travelers And The Bedlington Terrier’s Hunting Ability
Some myths have a grain of truth to them. The Bedlington Terrier’s exact origins are hard to find, but one theory is that they are descended from dogs who followed gypsies from town to town.
These dogs were great at hunting and hard to spot due to their small size. So they would sneak on to estates as gypsies passed by and hunt on the grounds.
Rather than being angry, local squires were impressed by the dogs’ ability to rid the land of rats, badgers, and vermin. So they got some pups of their own and bred the Bedlington Terrier to excel at what they already did best.
5. Hunting Tragedy And The West Highland White Terrier’s Coat
West Higland White Terriers come in any color you like, so long as it’s white. But breed lore says there’s a good reason for it.
As the story goes, Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch was hunting foxes in the 1800s with one of his wheaten-colored Cairn Terriers. In an unfortunate accident, he confused his dog’s coat with a fox’s coat and accidentally shot his pup.
He was devastated by this and vowed to only breed white pups who could never be confused with a fox. Now they’re all white, and pretty hard to get mixed up with a fox.
6. Buddha’s Kiss And The Shih Tzu’s White Spot
You may have noticed that some Shih Tzus have a white spot on their coat on top of their head. The legend of this spot goes all the way back to Buddha.
The story goes that Buddha was walking along the road with his dog when several robbers came upon him. They intended to rob and murder him, but Buddha’s dog transformed into a lion and chased the robbers off.
When the robbers were long gone, the lion changed back into his normal pup self, and Buddha picked him up and kissed him on the head. The place where Buddha kissed the pup turned white, and that’s where the Shih Tzu gets their spot.
7. Chinese Writing In The Pug’s Wrinkles
Pugs are known for their squished faces and wrinkly foreheads. But if you look closely at a pug’s wrinkles, you might notice shapes and patterns.
Chinese legend says that master breeders loved the wrinkles of a pug’s forehead because they looked like Chinese characters and symbols for “good luck.” Wrinkles that were especially prized seemed to form the Chinese characters for the word “prince.”
So next time you meet a pug, see if you can read their forehead. They might just be a good luck charm.
8. The Monkey, The Lion, And The Pekingese’s Unique Looks
If you’ve seen a Pekingese, you might have thought that it looks a bit like a little lion with a monkey’s face. Well you’re not the only one who’s thought that.
According to legend, a lion once fell in love with a marmoset–a kind of monkey. But lions are pretty terrifying to monkeys. So the lion asked Buddha to shrink his body, but let him keep his lion heart.
Buddha did this, and the lion and the marmoset fell in love and had children, which is why the Pekingese looks like a lion-monkey. Love transcends some of the weirdest barriers.
Do you know any legends about your pup’s breed? Do any of these stories ring true for your dog? Let us know in the comments below!