‘Behind The Breed’ is a new series here at Animals of the Pacific Northwest that looks at the histories and characteristics of different dog and cat breeds. While many rescue pets might not be purebred, knowing the general characteristics of different breeds can help you better understand what different dogs/cats need!
For dogs, there are over 340 breeds throughout the world and the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 192 breeds in the United States. Each breed will often have a breed standard, which is a description of how the breed should look and act. Standards include coat color, length, and texture, eye color, attitude, height, and much more. For dogs that will just be family pets, these standards don’t mean a whole lot but mean everything for show dogs.
As humans and dogs evolved over time, our relationship has changed and as we became more sophisticated, so did our dogs. Dog breeds and breed groups have evolved over time as specific breeds emerged to suit different needs and circumstances. Dachshunds were sometimes used to hunt badgers and other small game; Pomeranians were used as watchdogs; dogs like Bernese Mountain dogs worked with their owners on a farm.
Each dog breed belongs to one of the seven different breed groups and these groups are based on the different jobs that dogs have been bred for over the centuries. Different countries and kennel clubs (like the American Kennel Club and the Kennel Club in the UK) will have slightly different names for each group and even classify a few dogs differently. For the American Kennel Club, here are the groups, common breeds that belong to them, and what jobs they’ve done:
The breeds in the sporting group were bred to help hunters with feathered game like ducks, quail, and pheasants. Retrievers, like Labrador Retrievers and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, have helped hunters with waterfowl and are often great swimmers. Setters, spaniels, and pointing breeds are great in grasslands.
These dogs have also been bred to work closely with humans, as many have often worked with a specific human partner rather than a pack of other dogs. Because of this history, these dogs often love being around people and will usually have a great temperament! Additionally, they’ve been bred to work well with people, meaning that they’re easier to train than some other dogs and will sometimes work to please you.
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Labrador, Golden, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Weimaraners
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Clumber Spaniels, Spinone Italiano, Curly-Coated Retrievers
Hounds, as you might expect, have been used to hunt warm-blooded quarries like jackrabbits, raccoons, and antelope. While all hounds have been bred to hunt, there are two categories of hounds: scent hounds and sighthounds! Scent hounds use their powerful noses to follow anything from other animals to specific people. Sighthounds, on the other hand, are often sleek, long-legged, and have a broad vision to help catch prey.
Hounds are often loyal, loving, and wonderful family companions but they will usually need active families who are willing to work on training. Many hounds will still have strong hunting instincts so training may need to focus on voice control and the recall command.
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Basset Hound, Beagle, Dachshund, Irish Wolfhound
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Harrier, Norwegian Elkhound, Scottish Deerhound, Otterhound
Dogs in this group, as you might imagine, often work alongside their families/owners. Many of these dogs are large and were bred for guarding, rescue, police work, or sledding/hauling. The Alaskan Malamute, for example, is one of the oldest sled dogs in the Arctic and was bred to haul heavy loads at low speeds over long distances (like the Iditarod). Other dogs in this group have been used as guard dogs for livestock like sheep and goats.
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Newfoundland, Great Dane, Mastiff, Saint Bernard
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Komodor, Black Russian Terrier, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Terrier dogs have been bred to hunt underground and were appropriately named because ‘terrier’ means ‘of the earth’. These dogs are often pretty small and compact little dogs, as some have been used to help with fox control and others have been used to hunt rats. Like with hounds, there are two different types of terriers: the short-legged terriers and the long-legged terriers!
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Jack Russel Terrier, Bull Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Glen of Imaal Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Irish Terrier
These cute little dogs come in plenty of different shapes and coat types and have been specially bred to be companions to humans! These dogs are great lap dogs and are often affectionate and very adaptable to a range of lifestyles.
Some toy dogs do have issues with brachycephaly, a trait where their facial bones have been significantly shortened compared to the rest of the dog. Pugs, for example, deal with some severe brachycephaly and for dogs that deal with this issue, they often have difficulties breathing, eye problems, and problems keeping cool.
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Chihuahua, Pugs, Yorkshire Terrier (‘Yorkies’), Pomeranian
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Havanese, Chinese Crested, Brussles Griffon, Toy Fox Terrier
Dogs in this group are some of the most distinctive and intelligent dogs and have a peculiar sense of purpose. Herding dogs, as you might guess, have often been used to herd and guard all kinds of livestock. Many might refer to dogs in this group as ‘sheepdogs’ because they’re often associated with herding sheep but many of these dogs have also helped their owners with other livestock like cattle and reindeer!
In order to work well with their handlers with herding livestock, dogs in this group have been bred to be very intelligent and loyal. These dogs are often able to learn quickly and have amazing memories for commands! Nowadays, dogs in this group are great pets for active people/families that spend plenty of time outside. They have a lot of energy and would love to join you on walks or errands!
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Border Collies, German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog, Collies, Welsh Corgis
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Swedish Vallhund, Icelandic Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, Bouvier des Flandres, Briards
This group might also just be called ‘miscellaneous’, as the breeds in this group only have one thing in common: they’re all dogs. The non-sporting group is a patchwork of dogs that don’t belong or can’t be categorized in the other groups.
Breeds You Might Know in This Group: Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Poodles, Dalmatians
Breeds You Might Not Know in This Group: Bichon Frise, Tibetan Terrier, Finnish Spitz, Keeshond
There’s really no guarantee that dogs of certain breeds are going to act exactly alike or how they’re supposed to. Plus, many dogs (including many rescue dogs) are mutts, meaning they’re a combination of different breeds. Rooster, for example, is clearly a black lab but there’s a good chance he also has a little hound. He loves to swim after ducks and geese but he also loves following his nose!
For most people and families (in my opinion), there’s really no need to have a purebred dog, as rescues and mutts are just as great. But if you’re looking for a dog, knowing the general characteristics of different breeds can help you decide on what you’re able to deal with and the best kind of dog for you! If you live in a small apartment in a city and don’t work from home, a Saint Bernard, Border Collie, or large mutt that’s primarily those breeds like that may not be the best dog for you. And if you’re looking for a very active dog to go on long walks or hikes, pugs or other dogs dealing with brachycephaly may not be the best fit.