There are over 300 recognized dog breeds in the world today, from tiny Chihuahuas to giant Mastiffs. With such diversity, prospective dog owners may feel overwhelmed when deciding which breed is right for them. Understanding the different groups that breeds are classified into can help simplify the process.
The major kennel clubs including the AKC (American Kennel Club) and UKC (United Kennel Club) organise breeds into seven groups based on their original purpose or function. For example, breeds developed to hunt game by scent are classified as hounds, while breeds meant to herd livestock are in the herding group. Some groups are based less on an original common function, and are more of a catch-all for breeds that don’t fit well elsewhere. Knowledge of the groups provides insight into the typical traits, temperaments, and exercise needs of breeds within each category.
The origins of dog breeds trace back thousands of years to when early humans began domesticating wolves and breeding them for specific jobs. Selective breeding over generations led to the many specialised breeds we recognize today. While domestic dogs have changed significantly from their wolf ancestors, they retain many instincts and behaviours reflecting their purpose or role.
In this guide, we will provide an overview of the seven major breed groups recognized today. Understanding their background and typical characteristics will aid any prospective dog owner in finding their ideal canine companion.
Working Dog Breeds
The Working Group consists of strong, intelligent, and highly trainable breeds that were developed to perform various jobs from guarding property to pulling sleds. These dogs have ample stamina and make excellent companions for active owners. This group includes some of the most well-known and popular breeds.
Guarding breeds are Working dogs bred to use their imposing size and protective instincts to defend people and property. Their intimidating appearance and suspicious nature tend to deter intruders. Examples of guarding breeds include:
– Doberman Pinscher – Known for its intelligence, loyalty, and fierce protective instincts. Needs substantial exercise and training.
– Great Dane – Its massive size and deep bark serve as effective deterrents to would-be intruders. Despite its size, quite gentle and loving.
– Rottweiler – A powerful breed with strong guarding instincts. Devoted and obedient when properly trained and socialised.
Draft or cart dogs were bred to have the strength and stamina to pull carts, wagons, sleds or other conveyances. Today they excel at weight pulling competitions and activities. Examples include:
– Bernese Mountain Dog – A large, sturdy breed able to haul heavy loads with its considerable power and endurance. Docile and affectionate.
– Siberian Husky – Famous sled dog of the Arctic. High energy and endurance. Retains strong desire to run and pull. Requires ample exercise.
– Saint Bernard – Historically used to haul carts and find lost travellers in the Alps. Gentle nature despite its strength and size.
Service breeds in the Working Group assist humans with important jobs like search and rescue. Their intelligence, athleticism and trainability are unmatched. Some examples:
– Boxer – Originally used as guard, war, and messenger dogs. Today excels as seeing eye, therapy, and search and rescue dogs. Fun-loving and energetic.
– Great Pyrenees – Utilised to guard livestock in mountainous regions. Powerful but patient, devoted to its family. Excellent at avalanche rescue.
– Newfoundland – Its strength and swimming abilities were invaluable for water rescues. Remarkably sweet natured and gentle.
The Working Group offers some of the most versatile, trainable, and powerful breeds. Their energy and exercise needs vary but regular activity is a must. With proper socialisation and handling, even the largest guarding breeds can become devoted family companions. Those seeking an active canine partner would do well to consider one of these multi talented breeds.
Terrier Dog Breed
The Terrier Group contains breeds originally developed to hunt and kill vermin and small prey. Terriers are tenacious, energetic, and often possess an assertive personality. Their compact size makes them ideal for travelling into burrows and dens to root out foxes, rodents, and other quarry. Today, terriers excel as watchdogs, pets, and in dog sports.
Hunting terriers were bred to pursue prey, driving it out of its hiding spot for a hunter to dispatch or kill. Their feistiness and speed made them adept at this role. Some examples include:
– Jack Russell Terrier – Fearless when hunting foxes, possessing incredible stamina. Their energy and drive require lots of exercise and stimulation.
– Dandie Dinmont Terrier – Developed to hunt otters and badgers in Scotland. Brave and persistent. Curious and lively companion.
– Cairn Terrier – Used by Scottish farmers to control vermin. Spirited and alert. Devoted to family yet may be reserved with strangers.
– Wire Fox Terrier – Known for fearless fox hunting skills. Energetic, intelligent, and playful. Needs daily mental and physical exercise.
While retaining much of their terrier temperament, companion terriers were bred more for their engaging personalities versus hunting skills. They thrive as watchdogs and family pets. Examples include:
– Yorkshire Terrier – Originally used for catching rats and mice in clothing mills. Today a popular companion is prized for its confidence and spirit.
– Scottish Terrier – Developed to hunt vermin on Scottish farms. Spunky and independent but very loyal to family. Requires consistent training.
– West Highland White Terrier – Hunted rodents in Scotland. Friendly and cheerful. Needs daily exercise and mental stimulation. Responds well to training.
Terriers are feisty, lively dogs bred to fearlessly pursue small quarries. They are energetic and assertive by nature. When properly trained and socialised, terriers make wonderful watchdogs and upbeat companions. Their determination and speed can translate well to agility and obedience competitions also. Those looking for an outgoing, spunky canine will find an excellent match in the Terrier Group breeds.
Sporting Dog Breed
The Sporting Group includes breeds developed to assist hunters by locating, flushing, and retrieving upland game birds. With their excellent scenting skills, athleticism, and eagerness to please, sporting dogs make ideal hunting companions and family pets. This group contains some of the most popular breeds worldwide.
Retrievers specialise in locating downed birds and returning them undamaged to the hunter. Their soft mouth grip and innate desire to fetch make them naturals for this role. Popular retriever breeds include:
– Labrador Retriever – Prized for its versatility, even temperament, and aptitude for learning. Excellent hunting dog, guide dog, and family companion.
– Golden Retriever – Known for its eager-to-please attitude, intelligence, and remarkably gentle nature. Outgoing and playful.
– Chesapeake Bay Retriever – Bred to hunt waterfowl in cold conditions. Fearless swimmer. Intense energy level and protective instincts call for extensive training.
Spaniels were developed to quarter ground in search of birds, flushing them out for hunters to shoot. They are active, eager hunters but also gentle companions. Examples of spaniels include:
– English Springer Spaniel – Excel at flushing and retrieving upland game. Affectionate, playful family companions. Require regular exercise.
– American Cocker Spaniel – Originally used by English hunters for woodcock hunting. Intelligent, happy dogs that thrive on human interaction.
– English Cocker Spaniel – Skilled bird-flushing partner with endless energy and enthusiasm. Devoted pets but need ample exercise.
The Sporting Group offers some of the best bird-hunting and retrieving breeds. Most are active, sociable dogs that need regular exercise and mental stimulation. For those seeking an energetic partner that lives to play and work, a sporting breed may be the ideal choice. With proper training, they make wonderful hunters, competitors, and household pets.
Herding Dog Breed
The Herding Group consists of breeds historically utilised to herd and drive livestock. Developed for their intelligence, athleticism, and natural herd-tending instincts, herding dogs thrive when given a job to do. Their energetic natures demand regular activity and mental stimulation.
Traditional herding breeds were indispensable helpmates on farms, using their focus, smarts, and agility to move cattle, sheep, reindeer and other livestock. Some examples include:
– Border Collie – Considered the premier herding breed. Highly intelligent and intensely focused on their task. Require extensive daily exercise and training.
– Australian Cattle Dog – Developed to herd cattle across the rugged Australian Outback. Tireless, fearless worker with a weatherproof coat. Needs a job to do.
– Shetland Sheepdog – Hardy and agile herder of sheep and ponies originating from the Shetland Islands. Affectionate and loyal family companion. Vocal watchdog.
– Cardigan Welsh Corgi – Utilised in Wales to herd cattle and sheep. Intelligent and active. Makes a devoted but vocal pet.
Multipurpose Farm Dogs
In addition to herding, some breeds served multiple functions on homesteads acting as guardians and all-purpose workers. Examples include:
– Old English Sheepdog – Not only herded sheep and cattle but guarded them from predators. Fun-loving and adaptable. Requires frequent brushing and grooming.
– Collie – Skilled Scottish herding dog equally valued for protecting and bonding closely with children. Intelligent, sensitive and eager to please.
– German Shepherd – Developed to tend flocks then later served as military and police dogs. Versatile, courageous, highly trainable. Needs extensive activity.
Herding breeds are self-motivated dogs that excel when given a job involving their natural skills. Their energetic natures demand sufficient exercise and training. With proper handling, herders make loyal companions while maintaining their strong work ethic and readiness to take on tasks.
Toy Dog Breed
The Toy Group contains small dog breeds developed primarily for companionship and indoor living. Portable and adaptable, toy breeds thrive as pampered house pets and constant companions. Their diminutive size makes them suitable for city living.
Lap Dogs were bred to be ultimate companion dogs, providing affection and enjoying close contact with their owners. Their small size allows them to be easily carried and sit comfortably on their owner’s lap. Some examples include:
– Chihuahua – Named for the Mexican state where it originated. Bold, sassy personality in a tiny, highly portable package. Can be wary of strangers when not socialised.
– Havanese – Developed as a companion dog for the Cuban aristocracy. Affectionate, happy, and energetic. Makes a friendly family pet that enjoys being pampered.
– Pomeranian – Descended from large sled dogs but bred down to become portable indoor pets. Vivacious, extroverted, and crave companionship. Continuous coat care is needed.
– Maltese – Prized by royalty as a lap warmer and companion. Gentle and affectionate. Adaptable to indoor living. Require regular brushing and grooming.
Other toy breeds charmingly combine small stature with an upbeat attitude and lively spirit:
– Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – Known for their gentle, playful nature and affectionate personality. Thrive on human interaction. Excellent therapy dogs.
– Papillon – Derived its name from its distinctive butterfly-like ears. Alert, energetic and highly intelligent. Excel at agility and competitive obedience.
– Pug – Originally cherished by Chinese emperors before becoming popular across the globe. Charming, mischievous, and thrive on human companionship.
Toy Group offers pint-sized companions perfect for urban living. What they lack in size, they make up for in affection and personality. While small, toys still need daily exercise and play. For those seeking a portable furry friend, the Toy Group has the ideal indoor-sized options.
Hound Dog Breed
The Hound Group contains breeds developed for hunting by scent. Utilising their powerful noses and sustained speed, hounds relentlessly track their quarry. Today they excel at search and rescue, as beloved pets, and in the field during hunting season.
Scent hounds tenaciously follow a scent with their nose to the ground. Some tracking down rabbits and other small game while larger breeds pursue deer and bear. Examples include:
– Basset Hound – Originally tracked rabbits and hare. Patient, determined and devoted companions. Require regular exercise to prevent obesity.
– Beagle – A small yet mighty rabbit hunter. Energetic, cheerful and playful. Needs daily activity and substantial fencing.
– Bloodhound – Utilises its legendary sense of smell to track escaped prisoners and missing persons. Kind, dignified temperament.
– Dachshund – Developed to hunt badgers and other prey into underground dens. Lively, affectionate and clever. Stubbornness may require extra training.
Sighthounds pursue prey by sight rather than scent. Their lean builds and explosive speed allow them to spot and run down fast-moving quarries. Examples include:
– Greyhound – Known for its speed and ability to spot prey at great distances. Serene, gentle nature despite its racing heritage. Thrives with regular opportunities to run.
– Saluki – One of the most ancient breeds, valued by Middle Eastern nomads to bring down gazelle and hare. Aloof with strangers but devoted to family.
– Scottish Deerhound – Historically the embodiment of a “gentleman’s hound” valued for its speed, athleticism and loyal spirit.
Hounds are driven by scent and sight to tenaciously pursue prey. When not on the hunt, most settle into mellow and patient companions. Their strong hunting instincts call for training, exercise, and secure fencing. Those seeking a tireless canine partner will find an ideal fit among the hounds.
Companion Dog Breed
The Companion Group contains breeds prized for their friendly, outgoing personalities and ability to form strong bonds with people. These dogs thrive when treated as beloved house pets and constant companions.
Classic Family Dogs
Some of the most popular companion breeds are renowned for being tolerant, gentle, and eager to please – making them ideal family dogs. Examples include:
– Golden Retriever – Known for its intelligence, cheerful nature, and readiness to assist people. A highly versatile breed that excels as a service dog.
– Labrador Retriever – An affectionate, patient breed valued for its adaptability. Thrives as a guide dog, therapy dog, and loyal family companion.
– Bulldog – Originally a bull-baiting dog but later bred to be a mellow, amusing companion. Patient and protective of family members.
Devoted Lap Dogs
Other companion breeds were developed as affectionate lap dogs and constant companions to royalty. Their small size makes them portable. Examples include:
– Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – Prized for its gentle, soothing temperament. Content to be a lap warmer and faithful shadow to its owner.
– Maltese Dog – Affectionately known as the “Maltese Lion Dog” for its courageous yet gentle nature. Adaptable indoor companion who craves attention.
– Chihuahua – World’s smallest dog breed with a huge personality. Can be feisty with strangers but deeply devoted to its person. Thrives on being close to their human.
Some companions have an enduring reputation for being cheerful, amusing pets that lighten the spirit. Their playful natures delight owners. Examples include:
– French Bulldog – Known for its fun-loving, mischievous personality. Thrives when able to be near its owners and entertain them. Surprisingly athletic.
– Papillon – Alert and lively breed whose fringed ears resemble a butterfly. Intelligent and eager to please. Excel at learning tricks.
– Basset Hound – Originally bred to hunt rabbits but gained fame as a mellow, patient house pet. Charmingly lumbering and thoughtful.
Companion Group contains diverse breeds united by their friendly temperaments and desire to closely bond with people. They thrive when treated as true family members.
With over 300 recognized breeds, choosing the ideal dog for your lifestyle may seem daunting. While individual needs vary, general knowledge of the major breed groups provides helpful insight into a breed’s typical temperament, energy level, and care requirements.
The Herding Group offers energetic, driven breeds who need ample exercise and mental stimulation. Sporting dogs excel at fieldwork but also make upbeat, playful companions. Hounds and Terriers require training and secure fencing due to strong instincts to track prey or hunt vermin. The Working Group provides intelligent, powerful breeds meant for jobs like guarding and search and rescue.
For those seeking smaller pets suited to apartment living, the Toy and Companion groups offer breeds developed just to be doting, affectionate friends. And the diverse Non-Sporting breeds run the gamut in terms of size, energy, and purpose.
While every dog has a unique personality, their breed heritage offers clues into behaviour, traits, and needs. Do your homework to find the group and breed most compatible with your lifestyle. Then visit shelters, breeders, and rescues to match with a specific dog. The right canine companion for you is out there waiting! Let the journey begin.