three pharaoh hound dogs standing together outside on grass

12 African Dog Breeds You May Not Know Exist

Did you know that there are more than 350 dog breeds recognized worldwide that originate from all over the globe? Every type of dog was bred for a purpose - be it for companionship, herding, guarding, hunting and beyond. Looking at Africa specifically, here are 12 African dog breeds you may not have known exist.


Africanis dog

The Africanis is a recently acknowledged landrace dog breed from South Africa that developed naturally and without much human involvement. Their exact ancestry is unknown but they likely descended from ancient wild hounds, pariah dogs, and possibly sighthounds (like Greyhounds). Because of this, the Africanis has more breed variation than most, especially regionally.

Africanis dogs are typically medium-sized with light builds, long muzzles and short coats. Many describe their looks as a mix of Greyhound, terrier and dingo. They come in nearly every color and color combination, though the most common are fawn, brown, brindle and black with white markings. Most have black on the outside of their tail, which is believed to be primitive and their most distinctive characteristic.

Despite unknown exact origins, the Africanis has almost always been associated with human settlements. It's believed they were used for herding livestock, guarding property and hunting. Today, many have owners and are employed to do the same tasks. There are also lots of feral Africanis dogs that wander freely around villages in South Africa, most of which are friendly.

In 1998, the Africanis Society was founded to preserve the breed and its natural development, rather than perfect it based on a standard. The only standards are to mitigate genetic disorders. Other names the Africanis is known by include the Bantu dog, Zulu dog, Tswana dog, Umbwa wa ki-shenzi, the Khoekhoe dog among others. 

Aidi (Atlas Mountain Dog)

Aidi Dog or Atlas Mountain Dog

The Aidi, also known as the Atlas Mountain Dog, is a canine believed to have originated (unsurprisingly) from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. This area spans modern day Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Some think it actually originated from the eastern Mediterranean coast and migrated west with the ancient civilization known as Phoenicians, who existed between 1550 BC and 300 BC. The exact origins are unknown but it's believed to be centuries old and have descended from Great Pyrenees and pariah dogs.

The Aidi has primarily been to guard livestock, people and property from wildcats, jackals, other predators and intruders. For example, it was employed by Berber tribes to protect them at night (this is where it's alternative name of Berber comes from). Despite living in hot and dry climates, the Aidi has a thick and long double coat to protect it from predators and extreme weather. In addition, the Aidi can be useful in hunting thanks to their skills in the field, scenting abilities and bravery In fact, the Aidi and Sloughi (described below) often hunt together, with the Aidi locating game by scent and the Sloughi chasing it down. 

Today, the Aidi is most common in Morocco, which holds the standard under the Fédération Cynologique Internationale and recently formed a club to preserve and protect the breed. But they are also found in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Though the Aidi is a skilled guard and hunting dog, it's become a popular companion and house pet. They likely will need training and socialization given their guarding instincts, but their intelligence makes them relatively easy to train.


Armant Egyptian Sheepdog, Ermenti, Chien de Berger Egyptian, Egyptian Shepherd Dog and Hawara Dog

The Armant is a rare herding and guard dog from Egypt, named for the town of Armant (their supposed place of origin, or at least where they appeared to be most common). It's also known as the Egyptian Sheepdog, Ermenti, Chien de Berger Egyptian, Egyptian Shepherd Dog and Hawara Dog. It's believed that the breed descends from Briards (and possibly other European dogs) brought over by Napoleon in the late 1700s, who then were crossed with local canines. Two other theories pose that the Armant developed over centuries from ancient Egyptian farm dogs and that the breed originated around the 1900s.

The Armant is medium-sized, standing around 21 to 23 inches at the shoulder and weighing 50 to 65 pounds. They are hardworking and fearless, bred to herd and guard property and livestock (and willing to defend to the death). They have a coarse, shaggy, medium-length coat that protects against bad weather and predators. Their guarding instincts can make them weary of strangers, so training and socialization is recommended. However, they are loyal to their people and can make great family dogs.

The breed is uncommon and not well known, thus is not recognized by the AKC or the United Kennel Club. It does, however, have recognition from other breed clubs including The American Rare Breed Association and the Fédération Cynologique.


Azawakh dog

The Azawakh originated in West Africa and the Sahel zone, specifically in the border region between Mali and Niger known as the Azawakh Valley. They were first owned by the Tuareg nomads of the area and called idii n' illeli (which translate to "sighthound of the free people"). Azawakhs guarded property as well as livestock and hunted local animals like hare, antelope and wild boar. As gun use increased and game stock decreased, the Azawakh became more of a companion dog.

These ancient dogs have keen eyesight, high stamina and a build that allows them to excel in hunting. They are tall and lean with long legs that give them the ability to work on tough and uneven terrain (like desert sand). They are fast, agile sprinters thanks to several aerodynamic characteristics. They also have short, fine coats that come in a variety of colors to help withstand high temperatures.  


Basenji dog

The Basenji is one of the oldest dog breeds with artifacts from 3000 BC showing them as companions to Egyptians. But they were very likely around before that, as early ancient art depicted dogs resembling the breed and paleontologists say the first domesticated dogs looked like Basenjis. Furthermore, it's likely that one of the oldest cultures in Africa, the Pygmies, had Basenjis. Because of all this, it's believed that the breed was established in Africa and brought up the Nile to Egypt.

As such, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale places the Basenji in the Spitz and primitive types. In fact, it's considered a basal breed, which means it predates and influenced modern breeds. DNA analysis in 2021 placed the Basenji in the Asian spitz group. Interestingly, the Basenji possesses only two copies of the AMY2B gene, similarly to huskies, dingoes and wolves.

Basenjis were used originally as versatile hunters thanks to their strong eyesight, keen sense of smell, speed and acceleration. They are also known as skilled at jumping up vertically, as they were taught to leap up and down to locate prey in the African grasslands.

The breed remained isolated to Africa for thousands of years until it was introduced to the West in the late 1800s. It took another several years before a breeding program was set up in England in the 1930s. By the 1940s, Basenjis were imported to the U.S. where local breeding programs were established and the AKC formally recognized the breed.


Boerboel dog

The Boerboel is a dog from South Africa developed to defend the family and property. Its name comes from the Afrikaans or Dutch word for "farmer" ("Boer") and bull ("boel"). The breed's exact origins are unknown but believed to come from native African species and mastiff-type breeds brought to South African by European settlers in the 1600s. Bullmastiffs also may have been introduced to the Boerboel breed in the early 1900s, after they were imported to guard diamond mines.

Early Boerboels (known as Boer Dogs) were used to hunt large game and guard property. After further refinements, the Boerboel arose as a specialist in protecting against predators. They are very strong and large with broad heads and powerful jaws - males are as tall as 27 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 180 pounds. But in spite of their size, they are also agile. They have dark-colored skin to defend against the sun and sunburn, as well as short but dense coats to withstand high temperatures and protect against predators. 

Given their background in protection, it's easy to think Boerboels are aggressive but this is generally not the case. They are watchful but also smart and sensitive since they needed to distinguish friend from foe. In fact, many are successful therapy dogs and have an affinity for children, making them great family dogs. That being said, socialization and training goes a long way with the breed. The AKC officially recognized the Boerboel as part of the working group in 2015.

Coton de Tulear

Coton de Tulear dog

The Coton de Tulear originates from Madagascar, which lies around 250 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa. The breed was named for the the seaport town of Tulear and is French because of French colonialism. Their white, fluffy coat is one of their distinguishing characteristics, said to be soft as cotton (or "coton" in French). Although exact origins are unknown, they are considered part of the Bichon family and believed to have descended from a Spanish breed called the Bichon Tenerife. One origin theory is that small white dogs (possibly Malteses) survived a shipwreck, lived in the wild and mated with local dogs. No matter who the exact ancestors are, it's believed they arrived in Madagascar in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Originally bred to be a sailor's companion, the Coton de Tulear would provide rodent control and entertainment on ships (and were sometimes used as barter). Eventually, though, they became lapdogs, especially to the nobles. Madagascar's aristocrats adored the Coton de Tulear so much that it became known as "the Royal Dog of Madagascar" and they passed laws prohibiting ownership by lower classes.

For centuries, the breed was almost exclusively found on the island until French travelers discovered it in the 1960s. They then exported the breed to Europe, where it instantly became popular, and soon after it arrived in North America. The United States of America Coton de Tulear Club was founded in 1993 and the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed in 2014.


Greyhound dog

The Greyhound is one of most ancient canines with prehistoric evidence of the breed in Egyptian depictions from 8,000 years ago. Art from the time period features Greyhound-like dogs with slender bodies and exaggeratedly pointed faces and ears. They are believed to have mingled with Ancient Egyptians and been closely associated with Anubis, the jackal god. There is also a connection to Ancient Greeks (as they are mentioned in The Odyssey) and belief that the Greeks brought Greyhounds to Europe, where they became widespread by the ninth century. They didn't arrive in North America until the 1500s, though, when Spanish explorers ventured overseas.

There are a few theories about where the name "Greyhound" came from. One is that it was a mistaken translation of the German word "Greishund," which means ancient or old dog. A second theory is that gray was the original color of the breed. Yet another theory is that the name comes from the Old English word “grei” (meaning "dog") and “hundr” (meaning "hunter"). 

For thousands of years, Greyhounds were used for hunting and coursing. They were developed to locate, chase and capture the speedy animals of the Egyptian deserts. Their hunting technique is to outrun prey, as they are the fastest dog in the world reaching speeds up to 45 miles per hour. But they were also considered godlike and noble, long associated with royalty (and even legally only allowed to be owned by English upper class from the 11th to 14th century).

In the 18th and 19th century, the Greyhound was carefully bred into its modern form and in 1885, the AKC officially recognized the breed. As Greyhound racing arose in the 1920s, their use in hunting declined. Eventually, racing fell out of favor and became illegal in many places, leading the way for a recent rise in rescuing retired racing Greyhounds.

Pharaoh Hound

Pharaoh Hound dog

The Pharaoh Hound is another ancient breed, with lineage dating back more than 5,000 years as evidenced by Egyptian depictions. These dogs migrated with their humans from Egypt to the Phoenician colonies, where the breed was preserved for thousands of years. It's believed that seafaring Phoeneician traders brought the Pharaoh Hound around the ancient world, like Malta where they were celebrated (eventually to be named the national hound in 1979 ). There, Pharaohs were used to hunt rabbits and became known as the Maltese Rabbit Hound or “Kelb tal-Fenek” (meaning dog of the rabbit). They also could retrieve birds if needed, as well as herd goats and sheep on Malta's sister island, Gozo.

Pharaoh Hounds had to be fast, work on rocky terrain and chase for hours. Their build lends to these needs as they are lean but athletic, strong yet aerodynamic. They also have keen vision, hearing and noses. Maltese hunters and farmers prized these hounds and protected them until the 1960s when they finally made their way to England and the U.S. Because of this, the modern Pharaoh Hound still resembles the ancestral dogs depicted in Egypt thousands of years ago. 

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Rhodesian Ridgeback dog

The Rhodesian Ridgeback originated in southern Africa, specifically Rhodesia (which is around modern Zimbabwe). They are named for their place of origin as well as the distinctive ridge along their back, made of fur growing backwards from the rest of their coat.

These hounds were originally bred to track and defend against lions, which is why they are also less commonly known as the African Lion Hound. They were developed by crossing native ridged Khoikhoi dogs with European breeds brought over by Dutch colonists, many of which were tall. These included Greyhounds, Bloodhounds, Mastiffs, Great Danes and various terriers. The addition of the Khoikhoi bloodline allowed for protection against native pests, like the tsetse fly, and an ability to navigate Africa's terrain and conditions.

In the late 19th century, Rhodesian big-game hunter Cornelius van Rooyen crossed ridged Greyhound-type dogs with his lion dogs. He found that the resulting offspring were versatile and skilled in many tasks on top of confronting lions. These included defending against predators like leopards and baboons, hunting fleet-footed game such as antelope and guarding the home from intruders. They also were (and still are) devoted family dogs.

The first Rhodesian Ridgeback standard was written in 1922, when big-game hunting was on the decline and the breed faced extinction. Luckily, several dogs made their way to the U.S. in the 1930s, leading the way for the breed's revival and formal recognition by the AKC in 1955. Today, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are loyal pets but because of their origins, they tend to need training and socialization.


Saluki dog

The Saluki is another one of the oldest breeds, possibly dating back to 7000 BC. Although the exact origins are unknown, it can be traced back to ancient Egypt with evidence found in tombs (both through depictions and mummifications). Their name is thought to come from the ancient middle eastern cities of Saluk or Seleucia. Salukis were developed to be skilled hunters of gazelle, hares and other quick-footed animals. Their extreme speed allowed them to outpace game, which they would hold until their hunting companions caught up.

The breed was treasured and highly valued for their looks and hunting skills, especially by nobles (including Alexander the Great). It was nicknamed "El Hor," meaning "the noble one," as well as the royal dog of Egypt. In fact, all other dogs were considered unclean but the Saluki was allowed to sleep in their owner's tents. In addition, it was prohibited to cross a Saluki with another breed, allowing the breed to remain intact for thousands of years. Despite this, there is great variation among the breed as different tribes would select dogs best suited for their specific hunting needs rather than looks.

Around the early 1900s, Salukis made their way west and the AKC officially recognized the breed in 1927. Breeders continued to ensure that the standard allowed for all the variations that had arisen over the years, which is why you can see such a wide range of colors among Salukis. The breed is not very popular and numbers have decreased in their native lands, though many places are attempting to protect and preserve it. 


Sloughi dog

The Sloughi is another older dog breed that dates back centuries, though exact origins are unknown. What is known is that they are native to North Africa and were one of the two beloved sighthounds of the indigenous population known as the Berbers. Records from the 8th to 7th millennium BC show similar sighthounds in the region, as does evidence from ancient Egyptians. They are also believed to have been hunting companions of Egyptian nobles and nomadic chiefs. The Sloughi was developed to hunt wild boar and pigs, gazelle, foxes, hares and other fast critters in the distinctive North African terrain and environment. Their lean and athletic build, along with high speed and stamina, allowed them to excel in this.

In the late 19th century, the Sloughi made its way to Europe, becoming particularly popular in France. The breed nearly went extinct during the World Wars but was saved afterwards by dedicated breeders. The first Sloughi came to the U.S. in 1973 and the American Sloughi Association (ASLA) was founded in 1989. The breed wasn't recognized by the AKC until 2016 and it remains rare in the country. Today, most Sloughis can be found in Morocco and North Africa.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.