25 European Dog Breeds with Remarkable Histories

Ah, Europe. The culture. The history. The dogs! Europe boasts some of the world’s oldest dog breeds. Sure, there’s evidence of domesticated dogs in China thought to be 15,000 years old. But many of the European dog breeds on our list have been around since before the Roman Empire, which we consider just as noteworthy. In fact, not one dog on our list was bred in the last 200 years. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to be an old soul to enjoy a European dog breed. Quite the contrary! These are energetic, athletic dogs ready to work.

Commonalities among European dog breeds

With a few exceptions, the breeds on our list are pretty big dogs. Most evolved to excel at specific jobs (using the word “evolved” instead of “bred” feels more accurate because many simply changed over time to match the climate and circumstances in which they found themselves). Hunters and herders are all over this list. These types of dogs were responsible for keeping livestock in check and protecting farms from predators. You can thank a few breeds for delicious European cheese and chocolate!

It’s worth noting many of the European breeds on our list would have gone extinct after World War I and II. In post-war Europe, dog breeding wasn’t exactly a priority. While the world rebuilt itself, some small groups of dog lovers decided to devote a few decades to nursing numbers back to health. We have these breeders to thank for many of the dogs on this list!

Who’s included

Looking for your favorite English and Irish dog breeds? What about German Shepherds and Belgian Laekenois? You’ll find those on our other location-specific lists. Here, you’ll meet charming pups from France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Malta and Portugal!

Eek—Is My Dog Sleeping Too Much?

european dog breeds barbet
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1. Barbet (france)

Height: 19-25 inches

Weight: 35-65 pounds

Personality: Cheerful, tireless

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Non-shedding

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

For a dog breed that just debuted at Westminster this year, Barbets are incredibly popular and make excellent family companions. Their calm demeanor and willingness to learn new commands quickly make them great friends to kids. Bred in France back in the 1700s to retrieve birds during hunts, these dogs know how to work hard before they play hard. Like many European breeds, they would’ve gone extinct after the world wars had it not been for a dedicated group of people working hard to keep the breed alive.

european dog breeds basset hound
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2. Basset Hound (france)

Height: 13-15 inches

Weight: 40-65 pounds

Personality: Mellow, charismatic

Activity Level: Low

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 12-13 years

In French, bas means “low.” So, it makes sense that a short-legged hound bred in France in the sixth century would be called the Basset Hound. The Basset Hound Club of America says these hunting dogs are calm and affectionate, yet driven when it comes to tracking scents. Bassets are also known for their cat-like tendencies and penchant for lounging indoors. This doesn’t mean they love long days alone, though!

european dog breeds beauceron
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3. Beauceron (france)

Height: 24-28 inches

Weight: 70-110 pounds

Personality: Intelligent, powerful, loyal

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate to High

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

Beaucerons are not for inexperienced dog owners or the faint of heart. These loyal companions are strong, smart and surprisingly sensitive. They’ve been sheep herders in France since the Middle Ages and are known for their watchdog skills. Get ready to keep a Beauceron mentally and physically stimulated tous les jours. Their nickname is the Bas Rouge, or “red stocking” dog, because their feet are often a redder hue than the rest of them.

european dog breeds bergamasco sheepdog
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4. Bergamasco Sheepdog (italy)

Height: 22-24 inches

Weight: 57-84 pounds

Personality: Independent, mellow

Activity Level: Low

Shedding Factor: Non-shedding

Life Expectancy: 13-15 years

Don’t be fooled by the shockingly shaggy coat on a Bergamasco Sheepdog: It’s actually non-shedding and low-maintenance. The Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America says puppies have fluffy coats until they turn one, then their “coarser ‘goat’ hair and fuzzy ‘wool’ begin to appear.” At this point, you’ll have to separate the fur into mats. Salute! You’re done and don’t have to brush your Bergamasco ever again. Hiding beneath this coat is a relaxed, happy dog known for guarding sheep in the Italian Alps.

european dog breeds berger picard
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5. Berger Picard (france)

Height: 21-26 inches

Weight: 50-70 pounds

Personality: Athletic, stubborn

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 12-13 years

The Berger Picard (pronounced bare-ZHAY pee-CARR) is perhaps the oldest dog breed in France. Believed to have been brought to the Picardy region in northern France by central-European Celts centuries ago, Berger Picards developed into reliable herding dogs with minds of their own. These dogs need lots of space to run freely and should be trained early to curb any unruly or stubborn behavior. You also may recognize the breed as the star of the movie Because of Winn Dixie.

european dog breeds bernese mountain dog
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6. Bernese Mountain Dog (switzerland)

Height: 23-28 inches

Weight: 70-115 pounds

Personality: Calm, friendly

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: High

Life Expectancy: 7-10 years

Do you like Swiss cheese and chocolate? Thank a Bernese Mountain Dog. These pups have been assisting dairy farmers in Switzerland for centuries, keeping cattle in check and protecting everyone from predators. Sure, they shed a ton, but their thick coats keep them warm while plunging through snowdrifts. These affectionate companions make excellent family pets and their size and demeanor make you popular with everyone you meet on walks.

european dog breeds briard
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7. Briard (france)

Height: 22-27 inches

Weight: 55-100 pounds

Personality: Protective, sweet

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

A dog named after Brie cheese? Oui, s’il vous plait! Briards hail from the Brie region in northwest France. Since the 700s (not a typo, they’ve been around that long) when these dogs worked in fields and fought in battle, they’ve been named the Official War Dog of the French Army. Like most herding dogs, Briards need lots of space for running and working. They thrive when given jobs to do (even if that job is hiking alongside its family).

european dog breeds brittany
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8. Brittany (france)

Height: 17-21 inches

Weight: 30-40 pounds

Personality: Loyal, lively

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Known for being super smart canines, Brittanys are loyal and energetic dogs who love hanging out with their families. Developed centuries ago in western France, these dogs are skilled at hunting all types of birds. They train well and love to please. Don’t keep Brittanys indoors for too long! They love to frolic outside and are eager to play and be in on the action.

european dog breeds finnish lapphund
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9. Finnish Lapphund (finland)

Height: 16-21 inches

Weight: 33-53 pounds

Personality: Calm, friendly

Activity Level: Low to Moderate

Shedding Factor: Moderate to High

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Say hello to a remarkably sensitive, friendly dog from the tundra of Finland. Finnish Lapphunds are spitz-like pups who have spent hundreds of years corralling reindeer during the day and snuggling up to dogs and people to stay warm at night. They don’t need much vigorous exercise, which makes them ideal dogs for seniors and homebodies. But don’t skip socialization! Finnish Lapphunds thrive when introduced to new faces early and often.

european dog breedsfinnish spitz
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10. Finnish Spitz (finland)

Height: 15 - 20 inches

Weight: 20 - 35 pounds

Personality: Happy, Social

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 13-15 years

These super affectionate, smiley dogs are descendants of Russian spitz-style dogs brought into Finland a few thousand years ago (no big deal). Finnish Spitzes are adept hunting dogs and can mesmerize birds with their howls (which means they’re fairly vocal at home, too). With a reddish-orange coat and boundless energy, these are excellent family pups.

european dog breeds great pyrenees
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11. Great Pyrenees (france)

Height: 25-32 inches

Weight: 85-110 pounds

Personality: Calm, sweet

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Seasonal

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

If you’re looking for a big, calm, sweet dog, look no further than the Great Pyrenees. Hundreds of years ago, these canines developed serene patience patrolling the Pyrenees mountains, protecting livestock from predators and weathering cold winters. In their elegant, pure white coats, the Great Pyrenees Club of America says they also guarded castles in 15th century France.

european dog breeds greater swiss mountain dog
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12. Greater Swiss Mountain Dog (switzerland)

Height: 23-29 inches

Weight: 85-140 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, social

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Grooming Requirements: Minimal

Life Expectancy: 8-11 years

Similar in color to Bernese Mountain Dogs, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs have a shorter coat and more lively disposition. These are hard-working dogs—and have been since Julius Caesar’s time. In the 20th century, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America says the Swiss Army used them as draft dogs in World War II. Today, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are rare, which may be why they’re väldigt dyr (very pricey).

european dog breeds ibizan hound
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13. Ibizan Hound (spain)

Height: 22-28 inches

Weight: 45-50 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, loyal

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Low to Moderate

Life Expectancy: 11-14 years

Attention all Ibizan Hound owners: Invest in a tall fence. These perros can jump up to six feet in the air! They have intense energy and love running, playing and yes, jumping. Ibizan Hounds are thought to be descendants of Egyptian hounds brought to Spain’s Balearic Islands roughly 3,000 years ago. Since then, they’ve hunted rabbits and become loyal family pets.

european dog breeds italian greyhound
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14. Italian Greyhound (italy)

Height: 13-15 inches

Weight: 7-14 pounds

Personality: Sensitive, alert

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 14-15 years

This is one of the few toy dog breeds on our European list. Italian Greyhounds are companion animals through and through. They love to nestle on your lap as they’ve been doing since the Italian Renaissance (and before, if you count the time their ancestors spent in laps of luxury during the Roman Empire). Brush their teeth often and dress them in sweaters come wintertime.

european dog breeds karelian bear dog
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15. Karelian Bear Dog (finland)

Height: 19-24 inches

Weight: 44-50 pounds

Personality: Confident, independent

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Activity Level: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 11-13 years

Not only do Karelian Bear Dogs resemble bears, but they were also bred to hunt them! This daunting task turned them into confident, fearless dogs. Today, they are one of the most popular breeds in their native Finland and have been utilized as search and rescue animals. Unfortunately, they prefer hunting to playing with kids, so don’t go this route if you want a family-friendly pet.

european dog breeds lagotto romagnolo
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16. Lagotto Romagnolo (italy)

Height: 16-19 inches

Weight: 24-35 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, lively

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Non-shedding

Life Expectancy: 15-17 years

Lagotto Romagnolo dogs look like curly teddy bears ready to cuddle! This Italian water breed was popular during the Renaissance for its hunting and guarding skills, not to mention its ability to sniff out tartufi (truffles). The Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America says you can find these pups in many Renaissance paintings, making it clear people during that time valued this sweet-natured family pet.

european dog breeds maltese
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17. Maltese (malta)

Height: 7-9 inches

Weight: 6-7 pounds

Personality: Sweet, elegant

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Maltese pups are affectionate animals who can proudly say they’ve been around for millennia. In fact, The American Kennel Club says there are references to tiny “Melitaie” dogs as far back as the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Aristotle even gave them a shout out as “perfectly proportioned” dogs! Despite their lengthy reign as a status symbol for wealthy people, Maltese are happy to roll around and be as dog-like as any canine.

european dog breeds neapolitan mastiff
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18. Neapolitan Mastiff (italy)

Height: 24-31 inches

Weight: 110-150 pounds

Personality: Sweet, protective

Activity Level: Low

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 9-10 years

Look. At. That. Face. Neapolitan Mastiffs are known for their droopy jowls and thick folds. Like Maltese, these dogs have easily been around for a few thousand years. Originally, a Neapolitan Mastiff’s job was guarding large estates in Italy. While they still make excellent guard dogs today, The United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club says at their core, they’re sweethearts who simply want the best for their people.

european dog breeds papillon
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19. Papillon (france)

Height: 8-11 inches

Weight: 5-10 pounds

Personality: Happy, outgoing

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

Now, if you want a tiny dog who thinks it’s as big as a Mastiff, check out Papillons. Their name is French for “butterfly,” and one look at their ears tells you how they earned that title. It’s rumored Marie Antoinette owned a Papillon. Many noblewomen of that time were all about tiny companion dogs as status symbols. Don’t expect these pups to sit idly by while you go about your business! They want to play and be in on the action.

european dog breeds portuguese podengo
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20. Portuguese Podengo (portugal)

Height: 22-28 inches (large), 16-22 inches (medium)

Weight: 44-66 pounds (large), 35-44 pounds (medium)

Personality: Loving, alert

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Portuguese Podengos are rascals who love their family—especially kiddos—and can be slightly stubborn when it comes to training. Get ready for lots of personality, whether you meet a large-sized (Podengo Grande) or medium-sized (Podengo Medio) pup, though Podengo Medios tend to be more energetic. Bred as hunters as early as 700 B.C., today they learn commands well and will happily play with you anytime, anywhere.

european dog breeds portuguese water dog
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21. Portuguese Water Dog (portugal)

Height: 17-23 inches

Weight: 35-60 pounds

Personality: Smart, athletic

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Hypoallergenic

Life Expectancy: 11-13 years

According to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, these curly pups have been accompanying fishermen along Portugal’s coast since the 1200s. These are athletic dogs who love to help out wherever they can (and have been known to be good at water rescues!). Though hypoallergenic, they do require frequent grooming sessions and baths if your pup regularly gets into muddy waters. If you want an adaptable, sweet dog who loves kids, the Portuguese Water Dog is for you.

european dog breeds pyrenean shepherd
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22. Pyrenean Shepherd (france)

Height: 15-21 inches

Weight: 15-30 pounds

Personality: Playful, affectionate

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 17-19 years

Pyrenean Shepherds come in smooth-coated and rough-coated varieties. Call us crazy, but we think both are equally cute. Like the Great Pyrenees, these dogs are known for their herding skills in the Pyrenees mountains (the two breeds have actually been known to work together). Pyrenean Shepherds are incredibly intuitive and pick up on owner energy easily. They train well, play hard and love tons.

european dog breeds spanish water dog
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23. Spanish Water Dog (spain)

Height: 15-20 inches

Weight: 30-50 pounds

Personality: Active, protective

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Hypoallergenic

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Lo and behold, another curly-haired water dog! This time, from Spain. While they love to play with their families, Spanish Water Dogs will be very wary of strangers. Like Portuguese Water Dogs, they’ve been around forever and are avid swimmers. Some owners let their hypoallergenic coats grow long and cord them, while others occasionally trim (but don’t brush if you want to keep those curls).

european dog breeds st bernard
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24. St. Bernard (switzerland/italy)

Height: 26-30 inches

Weight: 120-180 pounds

Personality: Charming, watchful

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Seasonal

Life Expectancy: 8-10 years

The Saint Bernard Club of America has been singing this breed’s praises since 1888, but the dogs have been around for something like 500 years. Saint Bernards lived and worked at a monastery and hospital founded by Bernard de Menthon in the Italian and Swiss Alps. The dogs assisted with rescue missions and served as loyal companions to monks. Today, their personalities aren’t much different. (Oh, also get ready for lots of drool.)

european dog breeds swedish lapphund
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25. Swedish Lapphund (sweden)

Height: 16-20 inches

Weight: 30-45 pounds

Personality: Playful, obedient

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

As a herding dog, Swedish Lapphunds excel at agility training and love being part of a team. The AKC says these dogs worked and lived closely with the Sami people of Lappland (northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northwest Russia). Their vocal personalities were excellent when it came to guarding homes. Swedish Lapphunds have fluffy, black coats that should never be trimmed (let that fluff grow). They’re pretty rare today, so count yourself lucky if you meet one!

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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...