Dogs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and personalities. With some weighing in under 9 pounds and others tipping the scales around 200 pounds, it's hard to believe they are the same species. However, even though dog breeds share a common ancestor, they each have very distinct characteristics.
What Are Dog Breeds?
Dog breeds are lineages of canines developed and bred to fulfill a specific purpose. These lines have distinct physical and behavioral characteristics, including size, body shape, coat length, color, temperament, and more. Selective mating among dogs with similarities has reinforced these traits and led to the nearly 500 unique breeds the world has today.
Types of Breed Groups
The American Kennel Club categorizes dogs into seven breed groups. Dog are divided into these groups based on their size, characteristics, and the original purpose for which they were bred. These seven breed groups include Herding, Hound, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Working.
- Herding Group: Breeds in the Herding Group were originally developed to herd livestock. These dogs are highly intelligent, athletic, alert, and energetic. Many modern herding dogs, such as the Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, and Miniature American Shepherd, continue to fulfill their purpose as herders today, whereas others are kept as family pets. Like the German Shepherd Dog, other herders have been trained for different roles like police dogs. Herding dogs come in a wide range of sizes, starting as small as the Shetland Sheepdog or Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and reaching over 100 pounds like the Beauceron.
- Hound Group: Hounds were bred to assist with hunting by pursuing game like birds, rabbits, deer, among others. These dog breeds tend to be independent and sharp with excellent senses. The group can be further categorized into scent hounds like the Beagle or Bloodhound who use their keen sense of smell to track prey, Sighthounds such as the Greyhound who excel in speed and sight to spot game, and all other hounds who use both scent and sight. The smallest hound is the Dachshund, while the largest is the Irish Wolfhound.
- Non-Sporting Group: The Non-Sporting Group is a collection of dog breeds that are so unique they don't fit into any other category. These dogs weren't intended to herd, hunt rodents, pursue prey, retrieve game, or complete a specific working task, yet they may not be small enough to classify as a toy breed. Many Non-Sporting dogs were bred as pets, so they will make great companions for the right owners. They range in size and personality from the small Coton de Tulear to the Dalmatian.
- Sporting Group: Dogs in the Sporting Group were developed to capture and retrieve game for hunters. They are eager to please, highly trainable, athletic, and loyal. Many also have a natural affinity for water. The group can be divided further into retrievers like the Labrador Retriever, spaniels such as the English Springer Spaniel, setters including the Irish Setter, pointers like the German Shorthaired Pointer, and other breeds, including the Vizsla, which may not fit into a specific type. Many sporting breeds continue to hunt with their owners, though many are kept solely as companion animals.
- Terrier Group: Dog breeds included in the Terrier Group were bred to catch rodents. They were forced to hunt vermin close to the group, so many have short legs and stocky bodies like the West Highland White Terrier. However, others developed long legs to dig rodents out of their burrows, such as the Irish Terrier. The group also includes "bully" terrier breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier. Terrier dogs are fearless, feisty, and often have a wiry coat. They can range in size from the small American Hairless Terrier to the "Kind of Terriers," the Airedale Terrier.
- Toy Group: The tiny Toy Group includes pint-sized breeds packed with personality. The dogs in this group are small, social, and adaptable. Many of these breeds were developed to serve as companions to humans, such as the Chihuahua, whereas some have been bred down in size from breeds of other groups. For example, there are several toy terriers, including the Toy Fox Terrier, Silky Terrier, and Russian Toy Terrier. The breeds within this group make great choices for owners with limited living space due to their size.
- Working Group: Finally, the Working Group includes dog breeds that were used for various practical tasks. Historically, some breeds rescued people like the Saint Bernard, guarded property like the Doberman Pinscher, or pulled carts like the Leonberger, among other jobs. Many still serve in these roles, but most are kept as pets in homes. In general, these canines are large, protective, and loyal to their owners.
Intentionally mixed breed dogs, known as designer dogs, are becoming increasingly popular. Potential owners seek mixes like the cockapoo, schnoodle, and chiweenie. There are also numerous Poodle crosses such as the goldendoodle, labradoodle, aussiedoodle, bernedoodle, and more. Though common, these mixes aren't defined as true breeds. The appearance and personality of the crosses can vary significantly, so there are no specific breed standards. However, there are hybrid clubs and registries for these dogs.
There are several canine clubs and organizations that register purebred dogs, however, the most popular is the American Kennel Club (AKC). These registries track a breed's lineage, and the clubs use this information to help protect the future of purebred dogs and ethical breeding practices. Registration is not required for all purebred dogs, but it may be necessary if you'd like to breed your dog or participate in dog shows or competitive sports like agility. In order to join a registry, both dam and sire must be registered dogs. Your breeder will provide you with the necessary information so you can get your pup registered if you wish.
Dog Breed Standards
Breed standards are a set of qualities recognized as "ideal" for any given breed. These are "the characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function for which it was bred," as stated by the American Kennel Club. These standards include attributes like body structure, size, proportions, facial expression, coat colors, temperament, among others.
Most breeders and canine experts find value in having breed standards in place. They can help ensure a dog can complete their breed's purpose and eliminate unhealthy or dangerous breeding techniques. Even if you don't intend to show your purebred dog, it can be helpful to review their breed standard when researching breeders.
Find the Right Dog Breed for Your Household
Each dog breed has a rich and long history. Learning about the purpose behind the breed can give prospective and current pet owners a better understanding of which traits they can anticipate or why their dog might engage in certain behaviors. For example, does your Rat Terrier chase the cats? Do you want to find a breed that's protective of your family? These could be breed-related behaviors.
It can be hard to pick just one with so many breeds to choose from. Consider the size, activity level, temperament, grooming needs, and other factors before settling on a breed. The perfect breed for you is out there.