The Fiver: Bark, I Say, Bark, Old Chap – Five Most Famous British Dog Breeds from the UK


Some studies suggest that there are over 100 million dog owners and over 300 breeds in the world. In the United Kingdom, the Kennel Club recognizes over 200 separate breeds. Since this article is only about five of them, though, I’m focusing on a few breeds that are some of the most famous or ones that you may not know actually originate in Britain.

1. Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever began its breed history in Scotland in the 18th century when it served as a companion for duck hunters. Hunters needed a dog that could retrieve waterfowl over land covered in ponds and rivers, so breeders began to mix retrievers with water spaniels, giving the resulting dogs their golden colour. Training setters and pointers didn’t work out so well, so breeders turned to the golden retriever to that could retrieve the ducks over a greater distance. The Kennel Club first accepted them for registration in 1903 as “Flat Coats – Golden” and were recognized as “Retriever (Golden and Yellow)” in 1911. Physically, Golden Retrievers in Britain have a shorter and wider muzzle as well as rounder and darker eyes than their American counterparts.

2. Bulldog

Known better as the English Bulldog, the first mention of the breed occurred in 1500 and was spelled “bondogge” or “bolddogge”. The first modern spelling is referenced in a letter from 1631 or 1632. The name originates not from anything to do with the dog’s appearance, but its use in the blood sport of bull-baiting. The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 put this practice to an end in the United Kingdom, and the first single breed club, The Bulldog Club was formed in 1878. Physically, bulldogs are characterized as short and stocky with thick folds of skin on the brow as well as a short muzzle with drooping lips and an under bite. They are also an incredibly popular mascot with two football clubs and two rugby teams in Britain utilizing them as well as numerous teams in America, Australia, and Canada. Winston Churchill’s defiance in the face of Nazi aggression earned him the nickname “The British Bulldog.” They can be very friendly, though also very stubborn.

3. Corgi

The Corgi is a Welsh invention with two distinct breeds named for the counties from which they originate, the Cardigan and the Pembroke. The differences between the two breeds mostly involve their size and length, with Cardigans being the larger of the two and Pembrokes being lower-set and more suited for practical work on a farm. Not many historical documents exist concerning the origin of corgis, and popular Welsh myth was that they served as the riding mounts for fairies. Corgis were largely used on farms, often to help wrangle sheep and cattle, and the first ones shown in 1925 came straight off the farm. The image of the Corgi has become synonymous with the royal family, who has owned dogs of the breed for seventy years, and especially with Queen Elizabeth II, who has owned 30 during her lifetime. Both Cardigans and Pembrokes are very affectionate and intelligent, making them easily trainable.

4. West Highland White Terrier

Known also as the “Westie”, the West Highland White Terrier wsa first mentioned in Scotland sometime during the reign of James I and the breed appears to originate from the separate efforts of George Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll, and Dr. Americ Edwin Flaxman, the latter of whom noticed the female he was breeding managed to produce white puppies regardless of who the father was. Later on, Edward Donald Malcolm, the 16th Lord of Poltalloch, developed the breed after one of his reddish-brown terriers was mistaken for a fox and shot. As the breed became well-known, he did not wish to be associated with them and asked them to be renamed from the “Poltalloch Terrier”, with the West Highland White Terrier name first appearing in 1908. Their personalities can vary widely as some are incredibly friendly and others may be solitary and possessive. The dog’s popularity may be in part to its use in the film The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby, which caused some controversy as the original Greyfriars Bobby was actually a Skye Terrier.

5. Jack Russell

These dogs were named for the Reverend John Russell, who bred a tan and white terrier named Trump he felt was ideal for fox hunting. The dogs were recognized as a separate breed in the 1850s and after Russell’s death, two men continued breeding the dogs who became known as Jack Russell terriers in the pastor’s honor. IN appearance they tend to be fairly small, weighing 14-18 pounds and generally all are predominantly white with tan markings. Having been bred for fox hunting, Jack Russells are very tenacious and have the tendency to be very intelligent. They are also highly energetic dogs and require a lot of exercise and play. If they don’t receive this on a regular basis, they have a tendency to become easily bored and may turn destructive to your favorite slippers, towels, or couch pillows if let on their own too long. Some of the most famous members of the breed include: Nipper, who was the subject of a painting of a dog looking at a record player utilized by EMI and HMV; chef Rick Stein’s terrier Chalky, and Eddie of the American show Fraiser.

What’s your favorite British dog breed? Let us now in the comments!


  1. avatarShanan Kingsbury says

    My fave English dog breed is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. My Staffy is the coolest dog in the world. I think they and pit bulls are the only dogs with a sense of humor, as well as just being really funny when not even trying to be! She’s so sweet, protective and loyal. I know why they are called “nanny dogs”….she’s great with my 2 yr old neice and 10 month old nephew :-) BTW, I was really excited to see all of your books at Brits – my local British goods store here in Lawrence, KS.

  2. avatar says

    I cannot believe – simply CANNOT – that the Scottish (or Aberdeen) Terrier didn’t even make your so-called “top five” list. This is a clear foul. It smacks of favoritism towards retrievers (obviously), and I call the judging into question. The Scottie is the NOBLEST of breeds, with an honored pedigree so intertwined with Gaelic history that it bears the proud name of Scotland itself.

    Perhaps this was a miscount. If not, it smacks of Sharp Practice.

  3. avatarSusan Dorris says

    Number one in my heart will always be the Rough Collie. I’ve been owned by two collies and they’ve made my life extraordinary.

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