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Discovering 20 Dog Breed Nicknames (and Their Meanings)

Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.


Why Do Dog Breeds Have Nicknames?

Dogs have always stolen our hearts, and it's therefore not surprising giving them cute nicknames, on top of their regular call names. Some colorful nicknames though were specifically crafted with certain dog breeds in mind.

This is because, when it comes to dogs, variety is the spice of life. Did you know that dogs are the most varied species on earth?

Think of any other animal that comes in so many different shapes, sizes and colors! Humans certainly got very creative tinkering with genetics when it comes to dogs.

Firstly, it was done out of need. Humans needed dogs to fulfill a variety of tasks. They needed partners they could rely on. Some dogs flushed birds out of bushes, others chased and killed, and some others barked to alert the presence of prey animals or dangerous intruders.

Later on, as there was less need for work, but an increased need for companionship, humans started selectively breeding for certain looks. Several dog breeds were given a standard to adhere to, with show lines gradually distancing themselves from working lines.

While there are many theories about the origins of the domesticated dog, the fact remains that dogs have greatly influenced the human species. Because of this, dogs now play an amazing range of roles in our society.

Many of these nicknames stem back from a dog's ancient work history, while others derive from their characteristic looks or personality traits.

It's therefore certainly interesting discovering how certain dog breeds have gotten their nicknames in the first place and the history behind them!

Boston terriers are known for their tuxedo coats and friendly personality.

Boston terriers are known for their tuxedo coats and friendly personality.

1) The American Gentleman

The Boston terrier is American almost as much as Boston Cream Pie. Originally bred in England, but stabilized in the USA, more precisely in Boston, this breed was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1893, granting this breed the title as the first US dog breed to be recognized.

The American Gentleman nickname, therefore, derives from the fact that this breed was crafted in the USA, but also because of its formal markings and reputation for being a very gentle dog, with a happy-go-lucky personality.

2) The Apollo of Dogs

The Great Dane has been nicknamed the Apollo of dogs. Apollo was a powerful Greek deity that has been recognized as the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more.

Just like Apollo, Great Danes are known for having a strong, noble character and we can't deny this breed's stately grace and elegance!

3) The Bark Lion Sentinel Dog

The Lhasa Apso was called "Abso Seng Kye," which in Tibet means “bark lion sentinel dog.”

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This nickname derives from the fact that Lhasas guarded Tibetan temples and monasteries, barking to alert the humans of any potential intruders, while the large Mastiffs guarded outside.

Lhasa apsos are a very ancient breed that has been known to exist at least since the year 800 A.D. They lived for many centuries in isolation along with Tibetan Buddhists along the Himalayan Mountains.

They, therefore, have a rich history of spiritual significance in Tibet and have been associated with the Dalai Lama.

4) The Beauty, Brains and Bird Sense (BBB)

This nickname represents the Gordon setter. Indeed it has been the old motto of the Gordon Setter Club of America for a long time.

The beauty refers to this breed's glistening black coat with tan markings, making it a very handsome dog. The brains refers to this breed's high intelligence. Bird sense refers to this breed's ability to hunt down birds.

5) The Butterfly Dog

The papillon dog breed deserves the title of the "butterfly dog."

This nickname is inspired by this breed's pretty large ears which resemble the outspread wings of butterflies. Indeed, the word "papillon" means butterfly in French.

Fun fact: a Papillon with dropped ears is called a "Phalene", which in French means "moth".

Pointers have been precious, versatile dogs to those fortunate to own them.

Pointers have been precious, versatile dogs to those fortunate to own them.

6) The Cadillac of Bird Dogs

The Pointer has long been nicknamed the “Cadillac” of bird dogs. This is due to the fact these dogs grew tremendously in popularity with the use of guns.

These dogs were prized for their speed and stamina to go all day in the hunting field, holding their position as birds rose into the sky and the guns went off.

7) The Carriage Dog

The Dalmatian is referred to as the carriage dog because of its history. Also known as the English Coach Dog, Dalmatians back in time were often allowed to run beside horse-drawn carriages.

Their role was a protective one, considering that horse-drawn carriages were often used for the wealthy. Afterward, they were used for guarding horse-drawn firetrucks, which is why they are often considered the best mascots for fire departments.

Did you know? As Dalmatians started being used more and more by firefighters, they gained the new nickname "the Firehouse dog."

8) The Chrysanthemum-Faced Dog

This peculiar name is used to depict Shih-Tzus. It derives from the fact that, in this breed, the hair on the face seems to grow in every direction.

You might not notice this in the well-groomed specimens in the show ring, but more in dogs who are clipped short.

As the hair starts growing, you'll see hairs sticking up from the nose and in front of the eyes, just like a chrysanthemum with petals growing in all directions!

9) The Dutch Barge Dog

The Keeshond earns the title of the Dutch barge dog. Originating in Holland, these medium-sized dogs with a pretty silver and black coats, are granted this nickname because they were frequently seen on barges (small cargo vessels equipped with living quarters for the captain and his family) traveling through the many canals and rivers of The Netherlands.

Their main job was working as watchdogs on docks where barges or other types of boats were docked.

Due to their lovely bright and cheerful personalities, they were often also nicknamed the "Smiling Dutchman."

10) The Gamekeepers' Guard Dog

As one may imagine, a gamekeeper had to pay a lot of attention to his surroundings, watching for poachers invading farmland, woodland and moorland, but no worries, here comes the bullmastiff!

Bullmastiffs indeed were purposely bred by 19th-century gamekeepers to help them guard large English estates.

Did you know? While many bullmastiffs today come in a fawn coat, back in the olden days when poachers abounded, the brindle coat was preferred as it worked best for camouflage in the forest at night.

Weimaraners have many "ghostly" traits.

Weimaraners have many "ghostly" traits.

11) The Grey Ghost

Also known as the silver ghost, the Weimaraner has obtained this nickname from its overall appearance.

Firstly, you have their coat. Weimaraners are indeed blessed with a grey coat which reminds people of ghosts.

And then you have those spooky-looking eyes. Weimaraners are known for having eyes in the shades of light amber, gray or blue-gray.

Finally, another feature that makes these dogs even more "spooky" is the fact that when the dog's pupils are dilated as may happen when excited, the eyes may appear almost black as explained in the American Kennel Club breed standard.

12) The Gargoyle of the Estate

This nickname refers to the Neopolitan mastiff. A gargoyle is simply a feature of Gothic architecture featuring creatures carved out of stone.

Neo mastiffs are known for their fierce, imposing looks and gargoyle-like head. These looks made them the perfect guardians acting as a deterrent to home intrusion.

13) The Heart of a Lion

The Bedlington terrier earns this nickname courtesy of its past history as a fearless and fierce hunter and killer of rats.

They are basically lions dressed up in lambs' clothing, considering their close resemblance to sweet, innocent lambs.

This breed's unique appearance along with its fearless demeanor has owed them the description of dogs with “the head of a lamb” and “the heart of a lion.”

14) The Iron fist in a Velvet Glove

This nickname was earned by the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. These exuberant Irish farm dogs are friendly and happy but retain that typical "stubborn" trait just to remind us that they are terriers at heart.

According to the American Kennel Club, these dogs are blessed with a hard-muscled body, covered with a soft coat the color of ripened wheat.

Their hard muscles and soft coat, therefore, have earned them the nickname of " iron fist in a velvet glove."

15) The Jumping Up and Down Dog

The jumping up and down dog is the basenji. Most people may know these dogs by other nicknames, such as "the barkless dog" or "the soundless dog, due to the fact they don't typically bark—they emit more like yodel-like sounds, but this nickname derives from this breed's distinctive behavior.

Not many know that the basenji's African name is m'bwa m'kube m'bwa wamwitu" (now try to pronounce that!) meaning the “jumping up and down dog."

Of course, the next question is why are they called this way? Turns out, this ancient breed originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa was selectively bred for hunting and flushing animals into nets for their hunters.

Their nickname, therefore, derives from this dog's ability to leap high over the many tall grasses of his native land so as to take a quick peek around, checking for prey while airborne.

On top of jumping up and down, basenji are known for standing on their rear legs, in a meerkat-like manner.

The Airedale terrier is the biggest terrier

The Airedale terrier is the biggest terrier

16) The King of Terriers

The Airedale terrier is known as the king of terriers. Terriers come in many different sizes, but the Airedale wins the top spot as the largest of the terrier breeds, with males measuring 23 inches at the shoulder.

17) The Little Captain

This is the nickname for the Schipperke. This nickname derives from the fact that these little black dogs were used for guarding the boats sailing the canals between Brussels and Antwerp.

These dogs are also nicknamed black devils or "Tasmanian black devils," due to their mischievous, lively and curious nature.

18) The Monkey-Like Terrier

Affenpinscher in German means “monkey-like Terrier.”

Also known as the “diablotin moustachu" in France, which translated means "the little devil with a moustache," this wiry-haired dog was selectively bred for ridding kitchens, granaries and stables free of rodents.

This nickname was crafted in reference to this dog's monkey-like facial expression. Star Wars fans, on the other hand, argue that these dogs look more like little Ewoks.

19) The Multum in Parvo

This Latin phrase simply means “a lot in a little" and refers to the lovely pug. These dogs indeed are often considering big dogs in small packages.

Pugs are known for being small, compact and muscular dogs, brimming with personality. They're smart, curious and mischievous and many pug owners think they're they make the perfect house dog.

A smiling Samoyed

A smiling Samoyed

20) The Smiling Dog

This nickname refers to the Samoyed's upturned mouth corners which so closely resemble a smile.

Interestingly, this trait was selectively bred for, so to keep these dogs from drooling. While most dogs drool without any problems, things can get more complicated in areas with a cold climate since any doggy drool would quickly turn into icicles!

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli

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