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Capitalizing Dog Breeds

Whether you capitalize a dog's breed depends on the origin of the breed name.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
a dog in a towel

Although the website for the American Kennel Club and dog-specific publications such as Bark magazine and Dogster seem to capitalize all the words in breed names, the Associated Press’s rule for dog (and cat) breeds is to capitalize the part of the name derived from a proper noun and lowercase the part of the name derived from a common noun.

In the following examples, “English," “Yorkshire,” “Norwegian,” and “Bernese”  are all derived from proper nouns—the names of places—so they are capitalized in these breed names:

  • English mastiff
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • Norwegian elkhound
  • Bernese mountain dog

On the other hand, "mastiff" is derived from the Latin "mansuétus" for "tame or mild," "terrier" is derived from Old French "chien terrier" for "dog of the earth, land, or ground,” and “elkhound” is descriptive as is “mountain dog”—so those are all common nouns, which means those parts aren’t capitalized. 

And for some breeds, all the words in the name are all lowercase, such as “basset hound.” These hunting dogs were initially bred in France and Belgium, and “basset” means “low” in French, describing their lowness to the ground because of their short little legs. All the better to sniff for prey!

The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t give instructions that are as specific as those from the Associated Press, but refers writers to Merriam-Webster dictionaries, which appear to follow the same guidelines. 

Since styles seem to vary, if you’re writing about the Puppy Bowl, the best advice I can give you is to check the style guide for your publication, or if you’re writing for yourself, check a dictionary or choose a style you like and simply use it consistently. 

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Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

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