The American Kennel Club (AKC) family has gained four new breeds! So make room for the Cirneco dell’Etna, the Boerboel, the Spanish Water Dog, and the Bergamasco. Um — the whats?

Okay, they may not be household names, but every breed has to start somewhere. But actually, all these breeds started a long time ago and far away …

The Cirneco dell’Etna

The Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced cheer-NAY-co) will be joining the Hound group. It dates back as far as 2,500 years ago on the island of Sicily, where the dogs hunted rabbits by scent and to a lesser extinct, sight, following the rabbit to its warren and barking or digging at it. Traditionally, a ferret would then be sent in after the rabbit.

The Cirneco resembles a small Pharaoh Hound, and the two breeds are undoubtedly related. Dogs resembling Cirnechi (plural form) are depicted on 5th to 3rd century BC coins from Segesta in Sicily. Legend has it that a thousand Cirnechi guarded an ancient temple dedicated to Adranos, and that the dogs could divinely discern — and attack — thieves and nonbelievers, while guiding pilgrims to the temple. The breed was virtually unknown outside Sicily until 1932, when a visiting veterinarian published an article outlining their poor outlook. They came to America in 1996.

Cirnechi are very affectionate, busy, and gentle. The breed is friendly to strangers and gets along well with kids, other dogs, and pets — but they do like to hunt and can be led away by rabbit trails or fleeing wildlife.

The Boerboel

The Boerboel (pronounced BUR-bul) is joining the Working group. His roots go back to Cape Town, South Africa, when the Dutch East India Trading Company established a trading post there, which we wrote about here. The settlers’ Bulldog-like dogs (Bullenbijters) crossed with later English settlers’ Mastiff and other Bulldog breeds, and also native African dogs, resulting in the Boerboel. The dogs protected the farm, livestock, and farmer from leopards, baboons, and other dangerous animals.

In the early 1980s, two fanciers searched Africa for authentic Boerboel dogs, eventually locating 250 and selecting 72 for registration. The breed has since spread throughout the world, but has been banned in at least one country as a fighting dog. This is a confident, strong-willed, and protective breed, aloof toward strangers. It is not a breed for a novice owner.

The Spanish Water Dog

The Spanish Water Dog is joining the Herding group. They trace back to the 12th century and were used for different jobs in parts of the Iberian Peninsula. In the northern coastal regions and fishing ports, they were all-purpose water dogs, jumping in the water to retrieve fishing tackle, nets, and mooring lines. In the central and southern regions, they herded and guarded sheep, goats, and cattle. They may have also hunted in both regions. Spain’s Industrial Revolution drove many dogs out of work.

In 1975, two breeders began an effort to revive the breed. They gathered dogs from all regions, but mostly gathered Andalucian herding dogs. By 1980, a breed club was established in Spain, and in 1985, the Spanish Kennel Club recognized the breed. This is an incredibly versatile breed; besides herding they are frequently used as search and rescue dogs, and as drug and explosives detection dogs; they have even been circus dogs. This is a high-energy and affectionate breed. He gets along well with other dogs and pets, but is naturally suspicious of strangers.

The Bergamasco

The Bergamasco is also joining the Herding group. His roots lay in nomadic herding dogs from Persia, which eventually settled in the Italian and Southern Swiss Alps. Initially, they were probably flock guardians, but as the flocks needed to be moved, they doubled as flock drovers, which encouraged a more biddable yet free-thinking and friendlier temperament. They were important components of sheep and goat farming until World War II, after which sheep and goat farming, as well as the dogs, declined.

In the 1960s, one person undertook a concerted effort to revive the breed. Now the dogs are once again used in the Italian and Swiss Alps as goat and sheep herders. The first Bergamascos came from Italy to the United States in the mid-1990s. Bergamascos are independent problem solvers, willing to be obedient unless they see a better way to accomplish a task. They are fun-loving and gentle with family and generally good with other dogs and pets. The impressive coat is made up of long, flat matted hair called flocks, which take some care, especially when forming.

If you’re looking for a dog unlike any in your neighborhood, check out these new kids on the block! Besides turning heads, you’ll be helping save a rare breed.

These four breeds bring AKCs roster of recognized breeds to 184. And more are on the way!

Do you own one of these new breeds? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about these dogs in the comments. And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.