Dog Breed Selection, Part 2

Let’s take a look at the other four groups.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) has split all of their recognized dog breeds into seven different groups based on their traits. Understanding the traits that these different groups have can give us insight into what areas we should focus on in training, issues that might arise in training, and how much exercise and stimulation a dog might need. In the last blog entry, we covered three dog breed groups: toy dogs, hounds, and terriers. Today we will cover the herding dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs, and non-sporting dogs.

Herding Breeds

From the border collie to the Belgian malinois, the herding group is full of brain power! All of the dogs in this group were originally bred to herd livestock. This requires a high level of intelligence, and herding dogs have a reputation for being too smart for their own good. Because they had to work all day, these breeds also tend to have lots of energy and stamina. This high energy level means that they are best suited for active homes. Intelligent, high energy dogs that become bored can start to create “jobs” that are not appropriate for them to have, such as digging and destructive behavior. These breeds also tend to have very high prey drive, which means that care should be taken when introducing them to small animals. Car chasing is another common manifestation of this in herding breeds.

‚ÄčAll of our dogs are members of the herding group, and we love having dogs that are always ready to go. Their obedience training as well as their physical energy outlets (agility, mondioring, and other dog sports) allow them to have a happy, fulfilled life. 

cattle dog
Temper the Australian Cattle Dog.

Working Breeds

This group of dogs has quite a bit more variety than the herding group. Newfoundlands for water rescue, Dobermans for protection, Siberian Huskies for sledding, Great Pyrenees for livestock guarding…the working group is quite a diverse bunch! One common trait for all of these breeds is that they need both physical and mental stimulation every day. The energy level that many of these breeds have is relatively high, and they need some type of job to keep their minds busy. This could be anything from daily obedience training to trying out dog sports. Many of the dogs in this group also have very strong instincts that should be taken into consideration when training. Huskies were bred to pull, so they may require some extra time and patience for loose leash walking. Dobermans and Rottweilers were bred to have a strong protection instinct, so socialization is very important.

Me chilling with Nanook, the Siberian Husky!

Another trait that this group shares is that they are all pretty large. While there are some medium sized breeds, such as the Standard Schnauzer and the Portugese Water Dog, this group also contains the largest of all breeds, the Mastiffs and Great Dane. Because these breeds grow so large, it’s even more important to start training at a young age. Jumping up, mouthing, and pulling on the leash can very quickly become major issues when your puppy is 65 pounds and growing, so be sure to teach your puppy manners as soon as he comes home.

Sporting Dogs

This diverse and energetic group of dogs includes the setters, retrievers, and spaniels. Many of the breeds in this group were bred to work long hours in the field, and they tend to have big engines that keep them ready to go long after most dogs would be tired. These breeds often have to work far away from their handlers in the field, and that behavior of moving out and away from the handler can be prevalent in some of these dogs. Other traits that make them excellent bird dogs, such as an eagerness to scent and higher levels of prey drive, will need to be managed in a pet dog. Furthermore, with the retriever breeds, you may notice some overeagerness in the chewing department. They are famous for having a “soft mouth” with birds, but many retrievers have an obsession with having something in their mouth at all times, and this can lead to nuisance chewing if appropriate outlets are not given.

Sansa, a Hungarian Visla.

As a general rule, dogs in the sporting group are very social with dogs and people. They were bred to work in environments where they would work around multiple different people and work in teams with other dogs, and this led to the development of dogs that are generally happy to make friends wherever they go. This doesn’t mean that socialization is not important with these breeds! In fact, it may mean that you need to spend a good bit of time teaching your puppy that you are more interesting and important than meeting and greeting every person or dog that they see.

Non-Sporting Dogs

Last but certainly not least are the non-sporting dogs. This is the most diverse of all the breed groups, and it contains all of the dogs that don’t quite fit into the other categories. Being that these dogs have such varied backgrounds, compared to their non-sporting peers as well as the other groups, it’s important to look at the individual history of your breed of choice. Dalmations were bred as coach dogs, and their job was to run underneath a horse drawn coach to help deter stray dogs and highwaymen. This suggests two things: the breed has high energy demands and they may be reserved with strangers. The Shar Pei has history as a fighting breed, so care should be taken with dog introductions and with socializing young Shar Pei puppies.

Koko and Brody, standard poodles.

Some of the dogs in this group had some very unique original jobs. The Tibetan Spaniel, nicknamed the lion dog, is a small breed that was kept by monks in Tibetan monestaries. They were prized companions, but were also watchdogs, and their alerts would let the Tibetan Mastiffs at the monestary know when they should be on the look out for intruders. This means that owners of this firey little breed should be prepared for having a dog that is fairly vocal. Overall, the breeds of the non-sporting group have a pretty epic history, and deciphering their original jobs can give us insight into what traits a breed might have and what challenges we might face in training.

Talk to Your Breeder or Rescue

When you are looking at getting a new dog, ask some good questions of your breeder or rescue organization.

  • What do they think are the best and worst aspects of the breed? 
  • How would they describe the ideal home for this breed?
  • What are the most demanding aspects of owning the breed?
  • What temperment do the dog’s parents have?
  • How can you set yourself up for success when you take a puppy of this breed home?

Educate yourself as much as you can on your breed of choice. Reputable breeders and rescues will want you to be well informed, as getting a new dog is a 10-15 year commitment. They want both you and your new dog to have a very happy, healthy decade or two as a team. Some good resources also include the local or national chapter of the breed club, local owners of the breed, and trainers who are familiar with the breed and their needs.