Many of us grew up with a certain breed of dog, or at least a certain “type” of dog. We became very comfortable and familiar with this type of dog and when we became adults thought we’d try something a little different. So instead of the labs we grew up with we went out and got a German shepherd or instead of the cocker spaniels our parents had we decided a boxer might be fun.
Then reality hits.
Why does my 7 month old shepherd bark at everyone who comes to my house? Why does my boxer jump on EVERYONE??
The truth is, every dog is an individual but the breed, or breeds, that make up your dog absolutely has an influence on his or her behavior. Because of this it behooves us to learn as much as possible about the breed we think we want to “try out” BEFORE we actually acquire one of our own.
The American Kennel Club recognizes 175 different breeds of dog and divides them between 7 groups and one miscellaneous class. Each group has its own general behavioral characteristics. These are, in my opinion, the most important factors to consider before buying or adopting a puppy or dog since it is your dog’s behavior more than how he looks with which you will live for the next 8-15+ years.
The Working Group. This group includes breeds such as the boxer, Siberian husky, rottweiler and great dane. These dogs are powerful, energetic dogs with a desire to perform a job. Typical jobs include water rescue, sled-pulling, draft work and guarding property. These inclinations should be harnessed through appropriate training and adequate exercise. These dogs are NOT meant to be couch potatoes. They are bred to work and that’s what they want to do! If you put these dogs to a task you will see them shine. If you want a calm, low-energy, friendly-with-strangers kind of dog you should look elsewhere. These dogs need a LOT of EARLY (before 12 weeks old) socialization to ensure appropriate interactions with strangers as they have been bred to be aloof and protective of their families and territory. This can be accomplished and the result can be a wonderful dog, however their socialization and training cannot be procrastinated or ignored!
The Terrier Group. The breeds that this group consists of include the American Staffordshire terrier, miniature schnauzer and fox terrier. Terriers are highly driven dogs with high energy levels and unmatched tenacity. This can make living with one challenging if you are unprepared. These dogs are extremely intelligent but often score poorly in intelligence tests because they are motivated differently than a labrador or border collie. Terriers are not motivated, initially, by a desire to make their people happy. Rather, they are fantastic puzzle solvers and have always been bred to work independently. This makes them amazing hunters of vermin but can make for a frustrating house dog if not given enough mental and physical exercise everyday. Many terriers remain high energy dogs well into their senior years (I know a Jack Russel terrier who, at 11 years old, will still play fetch until you make her stop). I, personally, adore terriers and will always have at least one in my family. They are not for everyone, though, so if you are considering bringing one into your home be sure you are prepared to be engaged and active with your dog for the next decade at least.
The Sporting Group. These are, by and large, the most popular breeds of dog. The labrador retriever, the golden retriever and the cocker spaniel are common family pets. These dogs love to be with people. All the time. They wake up in the morning and seem to ask “What can I do for you today?”. As endearing as a lab or golden puppy can be they also have certain behaviors that are not so precious. They are extremely oral, meaning that they put anything and everything they can into their mouths; especially as puppies and adolescents (4 months – 2 years). When we consider why these dogs are bred we discover why they are so “mouthy”. They are retrievers. They are supposed to pick things up with their mouths. They hunt, they retrieve, they jog, they play and always with a smile. Sporting dogs make wonderful family pets and take to training easily. That said, they remain very “puppy-like” for several years. Many labrador owners have told me that their dogs did not mature fully until 5 or 6 years of age. If you want a dog who is unfailingly happy to see you and (when socialized as a puppy) loves strangers almost as much as his own family then a sporting dog might just be for you.
The Herding Group. Shepherds, whether Australian, Belgian, German or otherwise, are driven to herd and seldom differentiate between cattle, sheep or a group of children. Using their mouths to nip at the heels of their charges they encourage the group to move in a certain direction or stay together. If that group happens to be your kids and their friends this can pose a potential problem. All too often parents misunderstand the herding instinct of these breeds and accuse a dog of biting when the behavior they have witnessed was actually herding, not aggression. This is not to say that a herding breed cannot be taught to control that instinct when around children but it takes training and dedication to do this successfully. The herding breeds require more socialization before the age of 12 weeks than many other breeds since they’ve been bred to guard livestock and territory. If you don’t want them barking at and charging every guest who visits your home you’d better be ready to make sure they meet and receive yummy treats from at least 100 different people before they are 12 weeks old. These dogs are highly intelligent and will work untiringly for hours if conditioned to do so. I don’t recommend more than 45 minutes of physical exercise per day for any house-dog but over exercising a herding breed can be particularly dangerous. When you build endurance in a highly driven dog you are creating a working machine. If you, then, require that machine to sit dormant at home with little or nothing to do you are bound to run into trouble. Adequate exercise (30-45 minutes/day), plenty of mental exercise (puzzle toys, training, performance sports such as agility or treiball) and a crate will keep these dogs happy and out of trouble…for the most part.
The Non-Sporting Group. This group is a hodge-podge of greatly varying breeds including the chow-chow, dalmatian, poodle and bulldog. Due to the wide variety between the breeds included in this group it is extremely difficult to make any generalizations. When considering a breed from this group it is best to research the individual breed by reviewing breed clubs, talking with owners of the breed both locally and online and visiting with dogs from your breed of choice to form your own opinion.
The Hound Group. This group can be divided into two sub-groups: sight hounds and scent hounds. All hounds are hunting dogs and are built to pursue prey over long distances. Sight hounds such as greyhounds, Rhodesian ridgebacks and basenjis are built to chase, catch and kill prey such as rabbits while scent hounds such as beagles, fox hounds and blood hounds are meant to follow their prey and alert a hunter to the prey’s location. In general, hounds can be challenging to train since they find so many things more interesting than whoever happens to be holding their leash but you can achieve success through careful, humane training and a little patience.
Sight hounds are generally aloof even with family members and do not appreciate the attention of strangers. They are lean, fast and love to chase anything that moves. Teaching a sight hound a reliable recall can be challenging but should be a high priority to prevent the dog becoming lost in the pursuit of a rabbit or squirrel. Unless a sight hound is raised with cats or other small animals they tend to see these pets as prey. If adopting a rescued racing greyhound it is crucial to find out if the dog has been tested with cats/small animals if you already have other small pets at home. These dogs are some of the most stunning in the world and if you ever have the chance to watch one stretch out into a full run you will never forget the sight. It is breathtaking.
Scent hounds are often labeled as stubborn or stupid. They are not stupid although a case could be made for their stubbornness. I, personally, prefer to call it tenacity. These dogs, once on a scent, will track until they find the source or until they collapse from exhaustion. This means that they should never be allowed off leash in an unfenced area. The risk of losing the dog is simply too great. Another thing to strongly consider is the scent hound’s long bark or “bay”. Make sure you experience this sound INDOORS before committing to getting one of your own. If you can’t stand the thought of hearing that sound when a firetruck drives by or the doorbell rings, find another type of dog. Unlike sight hounds, scent hounds are generally very friendly with people including strangers and find a special joy in children.
The Toy Group. Toy dogs were bred for a simple purpose: to warm the laps and hearts of their owners. They do this very well. These tiny companions come in a variety of shapes; from the chihuahua to the shih tzu to the pomeranian. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has grown in popularity in recent years due to it’s bright-eyed “puppy” face and boundless affection toward people. Small dogs should be trained to be mannerly just as is expected of larger dogs but their training is often ignored completely. These dogs still need socialization early in life (first 12 weeks), especially breeds like the chihuahua which can be extremely fearful and react aggressively toward strangers if not properly socialized. It should also be mentioned that just because these breeds are small enough to pick up they should not be constantly carried. This can be a tremendous detriment to their behavior. They should be taught to walk on a leash, be comfortable in a crate and come when called. If you decide to own a small breed of dog, be an advocate for her and don’t allow strangers to pick her up. As Dr. Ian Dunbar said, “Putting your hands on a dog is a privilege, not a right.” Ask them to greet your dog in the same way they would greet a labrador or a great dane; have your dog sit and then allow the person to pet your dog politely. Remember that they may be small but they are still dogs and will behave as such.
I hope you’ve found this brief summary of the different types of dog helpful and informative. I will, again, point out that all dogs are individuals and not all members of a breed will strictly adhere to typical breed traits. To learn more about specific breeds visit www.akc.org.