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Image: Cane Corso dog
Bruce Harkins for AKC
Muscular and intelligent, the Cane Corso is native to Italy. The breed is one of three being newly recognized by the American Kennel Club.
TODAY.com
updated 6/29/2010 10:49:31 AM ET 2010-06-29T14:49:31

Three exotic strains of pooches that put the “wow” into bow-wow are being recognized by the American Kennel Club — allowing them to strut their stuff at AKC-sanctioned breed competitions in the U.S., including next February’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The AKC announced exclusively to TODAYshow.com that the Icelandic sheepdog, the Cane Corso and the Leonberger will be added Wednesday to the list of 164 breeds already registered with the organization.

“It’s great: We’re adding three new dogs to our registry,” AKC spokeswoman Christina Duffney told TODAYshow.com. “As of Wednesday, they’re able to compete in shows and take part in any AKC activity.”

Old dogs, new recognition
Though new to the AKC, the three breeds have been around for centuries.

The Icelandic sheepdog, for example, arrived on that island nation with the Vikings, who settled there more than 1,000 years ago. The breed — part of the spitz family, which includes chow chows and the American Eskimo — was used to herd sheep, cattle and horses. Revered in their homeland, Icelandic sheepdogs are regarded as one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, but are only now getting formal AKC recognition.

The lion-maned Leonberger, named after the town of Leonberg, Germany, from which it hails, has been part of that country’s culture since the 1800s. Its exquisite long fur made it popular with German artists, who often used Leonbergers as models. Despite their large size, they’re considered cuddly and get along well with children and other family members.

But the Leonberger is more than just a pretty, friendly face — they’re athletic and have been used as water rescue dogs and been trained to jump out of helicopters.

The third newly recognized breed is also the rarest. In fact, the Cane Corso was nearly extinct until a small group of breeders brought it back in the 1980s. It’s a member of the mastiff family, and as such, it’s a muscle-bound dog that was highly prized in its native Italy for hunting difficult prey such as boar and fighting alongside soldiers in ancient battles.

But these days, the Cane Corso isn’t overly fierce. They’re known to be very attached to their owners and families, and they’re intelligent and easily trained.

Just being a distinct type of dog is not enough to be called an official AKC breed, Duffney said.

Breed all about it
How long it takes for a breed to obtain AKC certification depends on a number of factors. “There’s not a set number of years. You never really know how long it’s going to take,” Duffney said.

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It’s required that there be an official organization for the breed, and recognized standards such as size, coat and temperament.

AKC recognition benefits families who are choosing a pet, Duffney said. “You can get a dog that has specific qualities that are going to work with your family.”

For example, as a new mom with a 4-month-old son, Duffney said that if she were to get one of new breeds, it would probably be the Leonberger, which gets along with small children so well that its nickname is the “nanny dog.”

“That’s the great thing about a purebred dog,” Duffney said. “There’s one for everyone.”

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Explainer: AKC welcomes new dog breeds

  • The American Kennel Club is welcoming a trio of new breeds to join the 164 already in its registry. The Icelandic Sheepdog joins the Herding Group, while the Cane Corso and the Leonberger are new entrants in the Working Group. Click “next” to see photos of all three.

  • Icelandic Sheepdog

    Brynhildur Inga
    Iceland’s only native dog, the Icelandic Sheepdog has been portrayed on the country’s postage stamps — and now the breed is one of three new ones officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.

  • Cane Corso

    Bruce Harkins for AKC

    Muscular and intelligent, the Cane Corso is native to Italy. The breed joins the AKC registry in the Working Group.

  • Leonberger

    AKC
    Leonbergers are so gentle and fond of children that they are often referred to as “nanny” dogs. They require daily brushing.

Photos: America’s Most Popular Dogs

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  1. America's top dogs

    A dog may be man's best friend, but which dogs does America love best? The American Kennel Club revealed the leaders of the pack.

    Shih Tzu
    The Shih Tzu may be sweet and playful, but it is not afraid the stand up for itself – its name means "lion." The portable pooch with the flowing double coat is believed to have descended from crossing the Lhasa Apso with the Pekingese. Lively and friendly, it makes a great therapy dog. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Poodle

    Smart and active, the Poodle is a star student in obedience training. Poodles were America's most popular breed from 1960 to 1982.

    One reason for the poodle's popularity is that it comes in three size varieties. The standard is the oldest; the miniature may have been used for truffle hunting, and the toy was often in circuses. Today, the breed's main jobs are water retriever and companion. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Dachshund

    Known for its long, low body, the Dachshund comes in three different coat varieties (smooth, wirehaired or longhaired) and two sizes (miniature or standard). The breed fell out of favor during World War I, but then grew more popular.

    Dachshund means "badger dog" in German.They were first bred in the early 1600s to dig badgers out of their burrows, eliminating them as pests. Today their playful personalities make them excellent pets. (Stephen Morton / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Bulldog

    Known for their shuffling gait and massive head, Bulldogs make fine family pets because of their gentle dispositions and strong bonds with children.

    The name "bull" came from the dog’s connection with bull baiting, an inhumane sport. When it was outlawed, fanciers eliminated the breed's fierce characteristics. Today bulldogs make excellent family companions, playmates and therapy dogs. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Boxer

    The Boxer loves to be with people, especially children, even though it was first developed in Germany in the 19th century for dog fighting. The athletic dog stood on its hind legs and batted at its opponent, appearing to "box."

    Boxers caught on in the late 1930s, when people began importing them to America after World War I. During wartime they served as couriers and seeing-eye dogs; today, they make trusted family companions. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Beagle

    Originally developed to hunt rabbits, Beagles make good family pets due to their upbeat personalities, compact size, and easy-care coats. Their name may derive from the French "be’geule," referring to the baying voice of the hounds when pursuing game.

    Beagles put their noses to good use for everything from finding contraband to sniffing out bedbugs. Snoopy, the most famous beagle of all, starred in newspaper comics for nearly 50 years. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Golden Retriever

    Its friendly temperament and striking golden color make the Golden Retriever one of America's favorites. The breed originated in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1800s and was used mainly for hunting.

    A hard worker, the Golden Retriever makes an ideal guide, assistant and search-and-rescue dog. Goldens also often do police work. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Yorkshire Terrier

    Yorkshire Terriers offer big personalities in a small package. Named for the English county of their origin, they were used in the 19th century to catch rats in clothing mills. Eventually they became pets of European high society.

    Today Yorkies make great companions for all ages, due to their loving personality and convenient size. Many serve as therapy dogs in hospitals and nursing homes. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. German Shepherd

    Both a fearless guard dog and a loving family pet, the German Shepherd Dog lost some popularity after World War II but has since regained it, becoming America's second-favorite dog in 2009.

    The breed originated in Germany in 1899, used as a herding and farm dog. Today it is the world’s leading police, guard and military dog. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Labrador Retriever

    For the 19th year in a row, America's favorite purebred is the Labrador Retriever, due to their even temper and trainability.

    The breed originated in Newfoundland and was used to help fishermen and hunters. Today this versatile dog works with police and military, detects narcotics, guides and assists, performs search and rescue, and makes a devoted family pet. (American Kennel Club) Back to slideshow navigation
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