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The 7 Types of Dog Breed Groups

Selecting the right dog breed for you and your family can be a difficult decision. The first step is to understand the seven main breed groups recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) to help narrow down your choices. AKC-recognized breeds are divided into these seven groups, which were derived from each breed’s origin and purpose:

#1: The Herding Group

Breeds in the Herding Group have been an integral part of every country’s use of livestock, and the herding dog still retains many of the physical characteristics and instincts for this work. Herding breeds have been bred to be intelligent, athletic, and diligent and are arguably the most trainable of all breeds, making them naturals for obedience work, agility, and herding trials. Through the years, responsible breeders have perpetuated the herding dogs’ natural instincts. They have evolved into independent but loyal dogs who are happiest when at work serving their owners. As long as they receive enough exercise and mental stimulation, herding dogs are wonderful, devoted pets who thrive on—and demand—human companionship.

Top AKC herding breeds include:

  • Australian Cattle Dogs
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Border Collies
  • Bouviers des Flandres
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgis
  • Collies
  • German Shepherd Dogs
  • Icelandic Sheepdogs
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis
  • Shetland Sheepdogs

#2: The Hound Group

Hounds were used throughout ancient history to hunt animals. While times have changed and few hounds today are used for hunting purposes, this instinct remains strong in all Hound Group breeds. The hounds are divided into two subgroups: sighthounds and scenthounds. The eyesight of the sighthound is excellent, and the scenting ability of the scenthound is very keen. Both hound types were selectively bred to hunt a wide variety of animals: Sighthounds were used to find and chase down large game such as deer, elk, moose, and wild boar; small hounds used scent to chase prey into the ground; and medium-sized hounds utilized both sight and scent for smaller game like rabbits and foxes.

Top AKC hound breeds include:

  • Afghan Hounds
  • Basenjis
  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Black and Tan Coonhounds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Borzoi
  • Dachshunds
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Whippets

#3: The Non-Sporting Group

A varied collection of breeds, the Non-Sporting Group comprises those dogs who no longer perform the duties for which they were originally bred. For example, the Dalmatian is no longer used to accompany horse-drawn carriages, and the Bulldog no longer functions as a bull-baiter. These breeds have all found a home in the Non-Sporting Group, which is one of the fastest-growing groups in popularity. Included are many well-known breeds that range in size, activity level, coat type, and origin, offering dog owners a choice of breeds to fit every taste.

Top AKC non-sporting breeds include:

  • Bichons Frises
  • Boston Terriers
  • Bulldogs
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Chow Chows
  • Dalmatians
  • French Bulldogs
  • Keeshond
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Poodles
  • Shiba Inus
  • Tibetan Terriers

#4: The Sporting Group

From the 1600s, sporting dogs have been developed to assist hunters in finding, pointing, flushing, holding, and retrieving game. Of the three types of sporting dogs—pointers, setters, and retrievers—many still perform the duties for which they were originally bred. Their unwavering loyalty to their families and remarkable trainability have helped them to become some of the most popular breeds for families. They have not been confined to using their skills just for hunting; these talented breeds also excel as therapy dogs, assistance dogs, and search and rescue dogs. Athletic and active, they are known for their good natures and enthusiastic attitudes, but they need plenty of exercise to keep them occupied.

Top AKC sporting breeds include:

  • Brittanys
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Cocker Spaniels (American)
  • English Cocker Spaniels
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shorthaired Pointers
  • German Wirehaired Pointers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Gordon Setters
  • Irish Setters
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Vizslas
  • Weimaraners
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

#5: The Terrier Group

The name “terrier” is derived from the Latin word terra, meaning “earth”—thus, the terrier is an earth dog. Terrier breeds come in all sizes. Developed especially to go to ground and burrow in the earth to chase and catch vermin like rats, foxes, badgers, weasels, and otters, the terrier was selectively bred for centuries to be a determined and tenacious dog.

Some of the terriers have distinctive double coats, consisting of soft undercoats and wiry jackets that require special grooming. Many are plucked or stripped by hand, which is a time-consuming process that gives them a unique appearance.

Top AKC terrier breeds include:

  • Airedale Terriers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Border Terriers
  • Bull Terriers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Norwich Terriers
  • Parson Russell Terriers
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Wire Fox Terriers

#6: The Toy Group

If you are looking for a lot of dog in a small package, a toy breed may be for you. The “toy” part of this breed’s group name refers to size only. These breeds have such spirit and strong personalities that often dominate larger dogs, and in some cases, people, if not properly trained. Many have descended from larger breeds of terriers or spaniels and still retain those inherent instincts. Others ruled the roost as prized lapdogs and royal companions. Despite their small size, they are vocal defenders of their homes and ideal pets for those with limited space.

Top AKC toy breeds include:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Chihuahuas
  • Chinese Cresteds
  • Havanese
  • Italian Greyhounds
  • Japanese Chin
  • Maltese
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Papillons
  • Pekingese
  • Pomeranians
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzu
  • Silky Terriers
  • Toy Fox Terriers
  • Yorkshire Terriers

#7: The Working Group

All domestic dogs were once bred with the purpose of serving humankind, with many breeds originally performing specific tasks for their owners. In every country, breeds were created to be draft dogs, hunters, and guardians. Many continue those duties today.

The medium to very large breeds that make up the Working Group are well known for their athleticism, strength, courage, and loyalty—all attributes that have made them invaluable to the people who rely on them. Working dog enthusiasts have been concerned with retaining these breeds’ versatility and function along with form. If you can provide a working dog with a job to do, you’ll have an enthusiastic partner for life.

Top AKC working breeds include:

  • Akitas
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Boxers
  • Bullmastiffs
  • Cane Corsos
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Dogues de Bordeaux
  • Giant Schnauzers
  • Great Danes
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs
  • Leonbergers
  • Mastiffs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Samoyeds
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Standard Schnauzers

Excerpted from Animal Planet™ Complete Guide to Puppy Care by Stacy Kennedy, © 2000, 2012 by TFH Publications, Inc.

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