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11 Pairs of Dog Breeds People Confuse All the Time But Are *Not* the Same

Have you ever complimented someone’s Bichon Frise only to be told he was actually a Bolognese? How embarrassing! The thing is though, many dog breeds get confused for each other all the time. It makes sense, considering tons of dogs were developed by combining existing breeds together into something new. Plus, a lot of breeds come in wide color and coat varieties, leading them to masquerade as different dogs (for example, Golden Retrievers range from bright white to deep red). Grooming can also totally change a dog’s look. So stop beating yourself up! Check out these breeds people confuse all the time—but are not the same.

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How to Identify Dog Breeds

There are hundreds of dog breeds officially recognized around the world. The American Kennel Club recognizes 200 dog breeds as of this writing. The best way to identify each is to check out their breed standard and parent club. But, if you don’t have time to pull up possible breed standards for every pup you see, here are some clues to help determine what you’re looking at:

  • How tall is the dog?
  • How lean or thick is the dog?
  • What is the coat texture (curly, wavy, sleek, wiry)?
  • What is the coat coloring?
  • How long is the coat?
  • Is the dog friendly towards strangers or protective?
  • What shape is the dog’s tail?

Note that it may take some introductions to really figure out which breed you’re dealing with, since personalities are a big aspect of purebred dogs. Speaking of, this list focuses on purebred versions of each breed. Encountering a dog who resembles one type of dog but has a unique characteristic (like a German Spitz-style tail on an Australian Shepherd, who typically has no tail) means multiple breeds are at play.

1. Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes

identical dog breeds husky malamute
GlobalP/Sergey Nazarov

Siberian Husky

  • Height: 20 - 24 inches
  • Weight: 30 - 60 pounds
  • Personality: Social, Loyal
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double, white with black, brown, gray or red
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Alaskan Malamute

  • Height: 23-25 inches
  • Weight: 75-85 pounds
  • Personality: Playful, Obedient
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double, white with black, blue, gray, or red
  • Life Expectancy: 10-14 years

Huskies and Malamutes look eerily similar because they both evolved in areas with harsh winter climates. However, one was not bred from the other—they are distinct breeds! The main differences are Malamutes are larger, heavier dogs with spitz-style (curly-cue) tails. Huskies are slighter in size and typically have brush tails (straight). It’s also notable that Huskies can have blue eyes (or one blue and one brown eye), while Malamutes only have brown eyes. Both sled dogs excel at running and are social, but the AKC says Huskies go for speed and Malamutes are better at carrying heavy loads.

2. American Eskimo Dogs (Standard) and Samoyeds

nwbob/Iza Łysoń / 500px

American Eskimo Dog (Standard)

  • Height: 15-19 inches
  • Weight: 25-35 pounds
  • Personality: Intelligent, Social
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double, medium, white or white with biscuit
  • Life Expectancy: 13-15 years

Samoyed

  • Height: 19-24 inches
  • Weight: 35-65 pounds
  • Personality: Sweet, Adaptable
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double, long, white or white with biscuit/cream
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

A standard sized American Eskimo Dog looks a lot like a Samoyed. The key difference here will be coat and size. Samoyeds are larger than Eskies (the smallest they can be is about as large as an Eskie will get) and their coats are longer thanks to a dense inner layer of fur. Both breeds were used for work, though Samoyeds are categorized as working dogs and Eskies are in the non-sporting group. Eskies may have a more playful, goofy personality (they have a history as circus performers), while Samoyeds may be slightly more serious. Regardless, these two breeds are loving pets ideal for families.

3. Bearded Collies and Old English Sheepdogs

GlobalP/Simon Murrell

Bearded Collie

  • Height: 20-22 inches
  • Weight: 45-55 pounds
  • Personality: Willful, Friendly
  • Activity Level: Moderate to High
  • Coat: Silky; long; white and black, blue, brown or fawn
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Old English Sheepdog

  • Height: 21-22 inches
  • Weight: 60-100 pounds
  • Personality: Adaptable, Gentle
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Double; long; white and black, blue, gray or brown
  • Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

The key question here is, “How fluffy is this dog?” If the answer is, “Pretty fluffy,” you’re looking at an Old English Sheepdog. Bearded Collies probably have just as much fur, but it lays flatter and straighter and is silkier to the touch. While similar in height, Old English Sheepdogs are bulkier and can weigh almost twice as much. Both breeds evolved in the rough terrain of Scotland and Britain as herding dogs, making them intelligent and energetic pets.

4. Bichon Frises and Bolognese

Catherine Ledner/Giovanni Bortolani

Bichon Frise

  • Height: 9.5-11.5 inches
  • Weight: 12-18 pounds
  • Personality: Cheerful, Adaptable
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Double, curly, white or white with apricot or cream
  • Life Expectancy: 14-15 years

Bolognese

  • Height: 10-12 inches
  • Weight: 6-10 pounds
  • Personality: Affectionate, Calm
  • Activity Level: Low
  • Coat: Wavy, long, soft, white
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

We’re now entering tiny, fluffy white dog territory. It’s easy to confuse these buggers because they are all sweet companion pups with similar coat styles and personalities. To tell Bichon Frises and Bolognese apart, check out their size and coat style. This is easier if dog parents let their pups’ coats grow out. Bichons have puffy double coats (they’re the round, white puffballs you see at dog shows). Bolognese coats are much wavier, almost frizzy, yet soft to the touch. While Bichons are heavier than Bolognese, both have tails that curve over their backs and semi-floppy ears. If the pup in question has been trimmed down to a few inches, look to their personality for more clues. Bichons tend to be much more outgoing, playful and energetic.

5. Coton de Tulears and Maltese

Bigandt_Photography/Teap

Coton de Tulear

  • Height: 9-11 inches
  • Weight: 8-15 pounds
  • Personality: Charming, social
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Double, long, wavy, white
  • Life Expectancy: 15-19 years

Maltese

  • Height: 7-9 inches
  • Weight: 6-7 pounds
  • Personality: Sweet, elegant
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Silky, long, white or white and tan
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Two more small, white dogs! The Coton de Tulear and the Maltese have similar coats when grown out, though the Maltese’s tends to be silkier and straighter. Coton de Tulear coats - when long - are slightly wavy and puffy. Of the tiny pups we’ve covered so far, Maltese are definitely the smallest. They are companion dogs who may be slightly more reserved with new people. Take note of their tiny black noses and dark eyes! Both breeds are known for being affectionate, trainable dogs.

6. Beagles and Harriers

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Beagle

  • Height: 10-15 inches
  • Weight: 15-30 pounds
  • Personality: Friendly, Doting
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Smooth; short; many color varieties, typically black, white & tan
  • Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Harrier

  • Height: 19-21 inches
  • Weight: 45-60 pounds
  • Personality: Outgoing, adaptable
  • Activity Level: Moderate to High
  • Coat: Double; short; black, white & tan or red & white
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Both Beagles and Harriers are smaller than American Foxhounds (which can weigh up to 75 pounds), but it’s easy to confuse all three breeds because of their coat coloring. Beagles are best known for their short, smooth coats in black, white and tan. You can also find them in hues of tan, red, lemon and blue. Harriers, in addition to being almost twice as big as Beagles, come in fewer coat variations. Both are hounds with strong hunting instincts and prey drives who aren’t afraid to alert you to intruders.

7. Lakeland Terriers and Welsh Terriers

Catherine Ledner/Serova

Lakeland Terrier

  • Height: 13-15 inches
  • Weight: 15-17 pounds
  • Personality: Friendly, bold
  • Activity Level: Moderate to High
  • Coat: Double, wiry, short, variety of colors
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Welsh Terrier

  • Height: 13-15 inches
  • Weight: 18-20 pounds
  • Personality: Friendly, feisty
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Double, wiry, medium, black and tan
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Terriers are known for their confidence and scrappy personalities, and Lakeland and Welsh Terriers are no exception. These incredibly similar dogs have all the makings of traditional terriers, including the boundless energy. The differences are minute. Lakelands are smaller and come in a wider variety of coat colors, including blue, black, tan, red and wheat. Welsh Terriers are nearly always black and tan. These two were both bred in England and are believed to be descendents of Old English Black and Tan Terriers, as is the Airedale Terrier (a much larger dog). One noteworthy difference in personality is the Welsh Terrier may learn commands better; its history involves chasing down badgers and foxes. Lakeland Terriers were also bred to go after foxes as part of their sheep herding routine, so they tend to be a bit more free-spirited.

If you see a small terrier with a wiry white, black and tan coat, chances are you’re looking at a Wire Fox Terrier! They’re roughly the same size as Lakelands and Welshes and always have white in their coats.

8. Norfolk Terriers and Norwich Terriers

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Norfolk Terriers

  • Height: 9-10 inches
  • Weight: 11-12 pounds
  • Personality: Alert, Adaptable
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double; wiry; short; red, wheat or black and tan
  • Life Expectancy: 12-16 years

Norwich Terriers

  • Height: 10 inches
  • Weight: 12 pounds
  • Personality: Affectionate, Alert
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Double; wiry; short; red, wheat or black and tan
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Identical much? These dogs are basically twins. Bred to hunt rats and rodents, Norwich and Norfolk Terriers in fact used to be considered the same breed. The AKC finally accepted each as a unique dog in 1979. One of the only ways to tell them apart is their ears. Norfolk ears flop down and Norwich ears point up. 

9. Scottish Deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds

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Scottish Deerhounds

  • Height: 28-32 inches
  • Weight: 75-110 pounds
  • Personality: Loving, social
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Wiry; medium; double; black, blue or gray
  • Life Expectancy: 8-11 years

Irish Wolfhounds

  • Height: 30-34 inches
  • Weight: 100-120 pounds
  • Personality: Calm, brave
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Wiry, medium, variety of colors
  • Life Expectancy: 6-8 years

As some of the largest and most regal dogs in the canine kingdom, these hounds have many similarities. First of all, their names tell us a lot about them. Scottish Deerhounds have roamed Scotland’s highlands for thousands of years killing wild red deer. Irish Wolfhounds are just as ancient and were reliable, courageous wolf hunters. They tend to be slightly bigger than Scottish Deerhounds, though females of both breeds are smaller than males. To tell them apart, check out their coat colors. Irish Wolfhounds come in lighter hues like cream, silver and white.

10. Shetland Sheepdogs and Collies

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Shetland Sheepdogs

  • Height: 13-16 inches
  • Weight: 15-25 pounds
  • Personality: Playful, Friendly
  • Activity Level: High
  • Coat: Double, long
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Collie

  • Height: 22 - 26 inches
  • Weight: 50 - 75 pounds
  • Personality: Devoted, Athletic
  • Activity Level: Moderate to High
  • Coat: Smooth or rough; short or long
  • Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

The biggest discrepancy between Shetland Sheepdogs and Collies is size. If you come across a dog taller than 16 inches and it looks like a Collie, it’s probably a Collie. Shetland Sheepdogs, while they can have the same coloration and long, fluffy coats as Collies, are much smaller dogs. They may also be more excited to see you. Collies, on the other hand, are large, muscular canines who can have long, rough coats or short smooth coats. Both can come in many colors, like black, white, tan, blue merle and sable (which is a brown and black combination). 

11. Whippets and Italian Greyhounds

identical dog breeds italian grey hound whippet
Ilka & Franz/Chris Amaral

Whippet

  • Height: 18-22 inches
  • Weight: 25-40 pounds
  • Personality: Calm, Playful
  • Activity Level: Moderate to High
  • Coat: Smooth, short, variety of colors
  • Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Italian Greyhounds

  • Height: 13-15 inches
  • Weight: 7-14 pounds
  • Personality: Sensitive, Alert
  • Activity Level: Moderate
  • Coat: Smooth, short, variety of colors
  • Life Expectancy: 14-15 years

Like Shelties and Collies, it’ll be easier to tell these two apart if you see them side by side. Whippets grow larger than Italian Greyhounds, who rarely exceed 14 pounds and would rather be carried than walked. Both, however, are hounds who love to run (and can run fast). Italian Greyhounds may bark more than Whippets, and Whippets tend to prefer more outdoor playtime than Italian Greyhounds. Either way, you’re signing up for a doting companion who will love you lots.

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