Borzoi, dachshund, Keeshond, Schipperke, schnauzer and Weimaraner were among the breed names that tested the spelling wits of the 281 contestants on stage at the National Harbor outside Washington ahead of Thursday's finals.
"There were a lot of those," acknowledged the bee's official pronouncer Jacques Bailly, a classics professor in Vermont who won the championship in 1980.
"We love dogs," added executive director Paige Kimble, the 1981 winner, who explained the names had been picked off a study list of 1,500 words distributed to schools at the outset of the current bee season.
An American institution dating back to the 1920s, the National Spelling Bee has been clinched for the past six years in a row by young Americans of South Asian heritage.
Contestants hail from all 50 states as well as the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica and South Korea, as well as US military schools overseas.
This year's competition started Tuesday with a computer-based test. Advancing to the finals depends on both spelling accuracy and vocabulary knowledge.
Last year, Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old New Yorker who placed third in 2011 and 2012, took home the coveted bee cup and $30,000 in cash and prizes when he correctly spelled knaidel after a grueling 2-1/2 hour final elimination round.