If you ask someone to name a few American breeds, chances are they’ll come up with the Boston Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Foxhound and perhaps the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. However, the United States has produced several breeds that are virtually unknown except in certain regions or to dog fanciers who have gone out of their way to find something special.
Here’s a quartet of made-in-America breeds: a tiny, lovable lap dog; a super-sized shepherd; a feisty, fiery ratter; and a southern jack-of-all-trades.
Kyi-Leo – Little Lap Lion
An American breed with a very un-American sounding name, the Kyi-Leo has been around since the 1950s. Its development began when Irene Helstrom of San Jose, Calif., received a pair of Lhasa Apso–Maltese crossbreeds from a San Francisco family. A small, black-and-white Lhasa Apso male joined her household about the same time. A few years later, another Lhasa Apso–Maltese cross was added. Helstrom used these four dogs and their offspring to create the shaggy lap dog she desired.
Teddy Roosevelt Terrier – Short and Sassy
Could any breed sound more all-American than the Teddy Roosevelt Terrier, which carries the name of the 26th president of the United States? However, this breed’s predecessors probably came from England, and it’s not certain that Roosevelt actually owned one.
Some historians believe English miners and other working-class immigrants brought their terriers with them when they moved to the United States in the early- to mid-1800s. Others claim that working terriers already existed in the New World, citing writings by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, which contained the word ‘fyce.’ Small, determined, vermin-exterminating dogs were termed “feisty” or “fiesties,” shortened to “feist.”
Shiloh Shepherd – Familiar Face
When Tina Barber came to the United States from Germany as a child, she carried in her memory the image of an extraordinary German Shepherd Dog her grandmother had trained for protection work. Once she mastered English, Barber visited GSD breeders and eventually went to work in a kennel. In 1962, she struck out on her own. She had no desire to change the German Shepherd Dog breed, but she wanted to preserve the type that had impressed her as a child.
Black Mouth Cur – All-purpose Ace
The true meaning of “cur” is a jack-of-all-trades working dog, skilled in herding, hunting and guarding. Early curs were a type rather than a breed, but they evolved into breeds as owners bred for traits to better suit them for particular jobs and adapt them to particular climates and conditions.
Historians credit the Celts with the introduction of curs. Some 2,650 years ago, the Celts emanated from Assyria, spread across Europe and populated the British Isles by 500 to 100 B.C., bringing along livestock and dogs. They dwelled in hundreds of small tribal units, and farmed with the help of their dogs. After William the Conqueror invaded Britain in 1066, the victorious Normans took particular delight in ridiculing anything British. “Cur” became an insult synonymous with mutt or mongrel.