A Puppy for Christmas: Dog Breed Basics 101
Dogs were originally bred to perform specific “jobs,” such as hunting, herding, and guarding. Some breeds were specifically developed to be companions (so called “lap dogs”) for humans. Of course, all breeds served this latter role to differing extents. To best perform these tasks, breeders selected for physical, mental, and temperamental qualities best-suited to the requirements of the “jobs” for which these dogs were bred.
What follows is an overview of the typical qualities, needs, and propensities of groups or types of dogs. It is not the traditional AKC grouping, but one that instead groups dogs based on the qualities desirable for the jobs they were to perform. It is important to remember that within breeds there is considerable variability; dogs are individuals and their behavior is a combination of inherited characteristics, history and early experiences, and training (or lack thereof).
Our goal in providing this information is to help you find the breed or breed mix best-suited to your lifestyle, needs, expectations, and experience.
(e.g., Afghan, Basenji, Borzoi, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Pharoah Hound, Saluki, Scottish Deerhound, Whippet)
Sighthounds were bred to hunt by seeing, following, chasing, and wearing down large game…without direction from humans. Thus, they have a strong prey-drive and may not fit well into homes with cats and other small critters. They are very independent and therefore difficult to train. While couch potatoes overall, they do require daily, vigorous exercise.
Because they were bred to chase, they cannot be off-lead except in a secure, fenced area. Many of them are classed as “giant breeds,” and because of their large size, they may not do well with small children or elderly persons. However, many are known to be gentle and sensitive. Many, like the Afghan and Borzoi, require regular brushing.
SCENT HOUNDS – Small/Medium
(e.g., Beagle, Dachshund, Foxhound, Harrier, Treeing Walker Hound)
Bred to track, follow, and find prey in groups they communicate with one another vocally. Persistent vocalizing is a common behavior among these hounds. They have a strong pack mentality, and will follow their noses wherever. Thus, they require secure fencing and restraint on lead. Like most hounds, they are independent and difficult to train. They also have high energy levels well into adulthood.
SCENT HOUNDS – Large
(e.g., Black & Tan Coonhound, Bloodhound, Coonhound, Redbone, Plott Hound)
Like their smaller relatives, the large scent hounds track and follow prey via scent. They usually work singly or in pairs ranging widely from their human companions and alerting their location and “find” vocally.
Larger scent hounds tend to be slower, mellower, and more independent than their smaller relatives. Many of these dogs (e.g., Bloodhounds) are big and heavy, which makes them less suitable for small children and elderly persons. As with all the hounds, their natural tendency makes them more environmentally-oriented than people-oriented.
(e.g., Flat Coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shorthair, Brittany, English Setter, Standard Poodle, Irish Setter, Rhodesian Ridgeback)
These dogs were bred to flush and retrieve birds under the direction of their human guardians. Because they were bred to work with people, they tend to be very attentive to people and to train rather easily. However, since they were bred for great stamina, they are very energetic and require extensive daily exercise. Many of them are highly vocal.
(e.g., Airedale, Boston Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Fox Terrier, Parson Russell, Kerry Blue, Rat Terrier, Mini Schnauzer, Scotty, Wheaton)
Bred to find, follow, dig out, and kill small game (often larger than themselves) without instruction from their humans. While terriers vary in size and coat, they all have similar temperaments: very independent, high energy, feisty, and status-seeking. These are frequently 100 lb dogs in rather small packages.
Many are known to be dog aggressive. Many are not good with cats and other small critters, nor are they particularly well-suited to small children. These dogs require firm (but do not respond well to “force,” which indeed is not suggested for any dog) human leadership. This group is frequently referred to as the dogs with an “attitude.”
(e.g., Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Bearded Collie, Border Collie, Collie, German Shepherd Dog, Shetland Sheepdog)
Bred to manipulate and protect livestock either independently or as a partner with their human guardians. These are very high energy dogs, and while they are generally quite people-oriented, they also have an independent streak.
These dogs need jobs to do, and if under-exercised and/or bored, they will find things to do, and those things will not always to acceptable to their humans (e.g., rounding up kids in the neighborhood, destructiveness). These dogs excel at obedience, agility, flyball, and, of course, herding. They need supervision around small children as they have a strong tendency to chase and nip, behaviors well-suited to their role as herders, but problematic for people.
(e.g., Akita, American Eskimo dog, Boxer, Briard, Doberman, Chow, Malamute, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, St. Bernard)
These dogs were bred for jobs that required independent thinking: protecting herds and property, pulling carts and sleds, water and snow rescue. These dogs generally require substantial exercise, training, and mental challenges to keep them tractable and happy. Dog-to-dog aggression is rather common in this group.
(American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier)
Bred as fighting dogs, they typically are especially athletic, have a high pain tolerance, and a strong prey-drive. Historically, any aggression toward humans was not tolerated, thus is not inherently a part of these breeds. These dogs were frequently family companions and were extensively handled by humans before, during, and after fights.
Now largely kept as companions, there are those breeding for aggression toward humans (so-called “guard” dogs) and for fighting, which is still legal in some states, and on-going even in those where it is illegal. While frequently good family dogs, their high prey-drive makes them largely unsuitable for homes with cats and other small critters.
They are frequently dog aggressive. They require strong leadership and consistent training. They also require substantial, regular exercise. Unfortunately, pits have developed a bad reputation because of some badly bred dogs, media hysteria, and breed bans in some U.S localities and foreign countries. Beware that there is a growing list of insurance companies that will not insure domiciles in which a pit bull resides. (Note: several insurance companies will also not insure homes in which Akitas, Chows, and Rottweillers are kept).
TOY (A.K.A. LAP DOGS)
(e.g., Bichon Frise, Cavalier, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, French Bulldog, Lhasa Apso, Min Pin, Papillon, Pekinese, Pomeranian, Min & Toy Poodles, Shih Tzu, Yorkie)
These little ones were bred to be companions/lap dogs. If well-socialized and trained, they make most pleasant companions. If not, they can be “holy terrors” – yappy, snippy, and nippy. Because of their size, many guardians do not provide training and tolerate bad manners. These breeds generally live quite long lives and thus geriatric issues can become time-consuming and financially over-whelming.
It is important to remember that regardless of breed or breed mix, all dogs are individuals and should be viewed as such. There are herding dogs who are quite mellow and/or disinterested in herding.
There are sight hounds and pit bulls who do well with cats and other small creatures. When choosing a dog, it is wise to be aware of the general propensities of specific breeds and/or groups of dogs.
However, your final choice should be based on the individual qualities and characteristics of a specific dog. Dogs are quite flexible and adaptable, and with socialization and appropriate training can fit well into a variety of homes, lifestyles, and circumstances.
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