How many different dog breeds are there in the world?

You might think that "how many dog breeds are there?" would be a question with a pretty black and white answer. After all, we know how many different kinds of bears there are, and how many different elephants. And dog breeds are controlled by human beings, so how hard could it be to keep track of them?

Quite hard, actually. We know how many types of elephants and bears there are because those animals are big, and because they come in different genuses and species. Despite all their variety, dogs come in only one species: Canis familiaris, the domestic dog. And yet within that one species, there are a seemingly endless number of different sizes, colors, nose shapes, body types, coat lengths, ear shapes, personalities, and talents; so many that it's sometimes hard to believe that a chihuahua and a great Dane are essentially the same animal. And yet because a chihuahua and a great Dane could have perfectly viable offspring (provided they can get past the access problem) they're genetically the same animal.

How many breeds of dog depends on who you ask

So we call different types of dog "breeds" rather than species or subspecies, and because there are an infinite number of variables and dog breeders can select for whatever variables they want, it's next to impossible to obtain a complete list of all the world's different breeds. If you're a breeder, you could theoretically produce an animal that looks and behaves differently from other dog types and call it your own "breed." Sell enough people on the qualities you've bred into that animal, and you can start your own breed club. There really isn't any governing body that can definitively tell you that your breed isn't really a breed. Well they can, but just because they say so doesn't make it so.

There are plenty of isolated places in the world where people have been breeding a certain type of dog — sometimes for centuries — and yet that dog exists in such small numbers that it still hasn't been recognized by a national breed association. 

We can somewhat ballpark it, though. Of all the world's breed associations, the world's largest is the Federation Cynologique Internationale, or World Canine Organization. According to Breeding Business, Federation Cynologique Internationale recognizes 344 dog breeds in 10 groups, which include dog types like sheep and cattle dogs, sight hounds, terriers, pointers, and toy dogs. By contrast, the American Kennel Club only recognizes 202 different breeds, so whether or not a breed really qualifies as a breed is clearly at least somewhat subjective. So let's just go with the Federation Cynologique Internationale's number and add to that dozens or maybe even hundreds of unrecognized breeds. And remember that even if we did come up with a precise number today, by tomorrow it might no longer be accurate.