7 Canadian Dog Breeds That Are as Sweet as Maple Syrup

We cannot fully appreciate Canadian dog breeds without acknowledging the Indigenous people who bred and lived with them over centuries. Groups like the Tahltan First Nation of northwestern British Columbia and the Thule Inuits who migrated into Canada from Alaska roughly 2,000 years ago relied heavily on dogs for survival (and friendship). According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, there are only seven dog breeds native to the land of maple syrup. Sadly, two of these breeds went extinct in the 20th century. Regardless, Canadian dog breeds all share a zest for life outdoors and the determination of canines who’ve weathered North American winters for a very long time.

Extinct Canadian dog breeds

It’s impossible to find two of Canada’s native dog breeds, no matter how hard you try. The first, Salish Woolly Dogs, died out around the year 1900 (the earliest evidence of them dates back 4,000 years!). The second, Tahltan Bear Dogs, are believed to have gone extinct around 1980.

Easily recognizable by their long white coats and curly-cue tails, Salish Woolly Dogs were medium-sized pups who are today compared to American Eskimo Dogs and Japanese Spitzes. They lived in large packs (12 to 30 dogs) along Canada’s western coast and were fed raw salmon to keep their coats healthy. A few times a year, Coast Salish women trimmed down these coats and used their wool-like fur to make blankets. During the summer, it’s believed Salish Woollys lived by themselves on small islands around Vancouver Island and the San Juan Islands. This doggy paradise gave Salish Woollys big independent streaks, a trait common among all Canadian dog breeds. The Coast Salish people appreciated the wool supplied by Salish Woolly Dogs so much that when a pup died, they were buried wrapped in a wool blanket. As European settlers displaced Indigenous groups around Canada and fancy machine-made blankets from England gained popularity in the 1800s, the Salish Woolly Dog population plummeted.

The Tahltan Bear Dog’s story is slightly different. Used in hunts by the Kaska, Tagish, Tahltan, Tlingit and Sekani people, these dogs were indispensable. They’d hunt bears in groups, despite being only about as big as Fox Terriers! While one Tahltan Bear Dog distracted a bear, several others would go after it from behind. This was especially effective in deep snow when the bear struggled to move but the dogs frolicked easily. It’s unclear exactly what led to their extinction, but it could be linked to a distemper outbreak among dogs in the 1940s, the use of guns instead of canines during hunts, or a combination of these and the many other influences European settlers had on Indigenous populations during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Canadian Kennel Club says there were only six left in 1975 and the last remaining Tahltan Bear Dog passed away in 1979.

How to keep Canadian dog breeds happy

The best thing you can do for your Canadian dog is give it plenty of time outdoors in wide open spaces. These dogs have spent hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years acclimating themselves to a life in the wilderness. Sure, Labs could be poster dogs for American suburbia these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re content sitting on the couch all day. Before embarking on a journey with a Canadian dog breed, make sure you’re able to offer your pup this type of lifestyle.

18 French Dog Breeds That Have Us Saying Oui, Please!

canadian dog breedss canadian inuit dog
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1. Canadian Inuit Dog

Height: 19-28 inches

Weight: 40-88 pounds

Personality: Determined, active

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Seasonal

Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Back, oh, 2,000 years ago, the Thule culture of Inuit people in arctic Canada and their Canadian Inuit Dogs were thriving. The pups protected their people, hunted for food to share and helped everyone get around by running sleds. Today, there may be as few as 279 Canadian Inuit Dogs in existence. Extremely hard-working and active, these dogs aren’t great with kiddos because of their strength and pack mentality. They can become gentle, affectionate companions if given plenty of space to run and play.

canadian dog breeds labrador retriever
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2. Labrador Retriever

Height: 21-25 inches

Weight: 55-80 pounds

Personality: Outgoing, Fun-loving

Activity Level: High

Coat Type: Double, short length

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

Recognize this familiar face? Labs are literally the most popular dog breed in the United States today. They make great family pets because of their social nature and high intelligence. As friendly smarty pants, you’ll also see many Labs train to become successful therapy dogs. Get ready for an energetic breed who needs lots of playtime, exercise and interaction with their fam. They got their start as water dogs in Newfoundland (not Labrador, oddly enough) helping hunters retrieve birds and waterfowl.

canadian dog breeds landseer
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3. Landseer

Height: 22-30 inches

Weight: 100-150 pounds

Personality: Gentle, territorial

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 9-14 years

Some argue Landseers are just black and white versions of Newfoundlands, while others maintain they are their own unique breed. The truth may be somewhere in between. Europeans settling in Canada in the 1800s were fascinated by black and white Newfies and bred them with foreign breeds like Pyrennean Shepherds to produce Landseers. Their even temperament and penchant for protecting their family members at a moment’s notice make them great pets—as long as you give them space to roam.

canadian dog breeds newfoundland
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4. Newfoundland

Height: 26-28 inches

Weight: 100-150 pounds

Temperament: Friendly, Loving

Activity Level: Low

Shedding Factor: Moderate to High

Life Expectancy: 9-10 years

When Canadian fishermen needed saving from frigid waters, Newfoundlands were there for them. These big dogs are strong swimmers with semi-webbed paws. Whether saving drowning men or lugging the day’s catch off boats, they were integral to Canada’s fishing industry. Today, they make loyal, sweet family companions. Early socialization and training ensures this friendly disposition sticks—and teaches giant Newfies how to handle their large bods.

canadian dog breeds nova scotia duck tolling retriever
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5. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Height: 17-21 inches

Weight: 35-50 pounds

Personality: Smart, affectionate

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are one of the most expensive dog breeds you can own, in part because they used to be relatively rare in the U.S. In Canada’s Nova Scotia province, however, they were abundant in the 19th century where they were used in bird hunting. Also known as Tollers, these energetic pups would mimic the movements of foxes to scare ducks into the air. Today, they’re loved for their lively dispositions and they make excellent family pets.

canadian dog breeds salish woolly dog
Courtesy of The New York Times & University of Victoria/W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council

6. Salish Woolly Dog

Size: Small to Medium

Personality: Sweet, lively

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 10-20 years

Status: Extinct since the early 1900s

Full disclosure: All of the stats we have about Salish Woolly Dogs are estimates since they are extinct and very few records of these dogs exist. What we do know is that Salish Woollys were sheared a few times each year by Coastal Salish women to produce blankets. Hakai Magazine paints a picture for us of these pups happily exploring their island homes then resting calmly as their coats were trimmed, even keeping the women company during weaving. With this kind of lifestyle (and a diet of fresh salmon), we imagine these pups could live well into their late teens.

canadian dog breeds tahltan bear dog
@Tahltan Bear Dogs/Facebook

7. Tahltan Bear Dog

Height: 12-16 inches

Weight: 9-18 pounds

Personality: Brave, intelligent

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Status: Extinct since 1979

We’re doing some more guesswork for another extinct breed! Based on the evidence that exists about Tahltan Bear Dogs and their fearless hunting tactics, we have to assume their energy levels were high. We do know that they were small dogs who lived and worked alongside the Tahltan people, among other indigenous groups, in Canada for thousands of years. Loyalty and affection must be their prime traits, after the bravery it takes to tackle bears.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...