While every dog is unique and has its own personality, appearance, and preferences, it also falls under its breed category as designated by the American Kennel Club (AKC). These distinctions are most clear when referring to purebred dogs, but mixed dogs with an ancestry limited to just two or three breeds may also have appearances and personalities that closely align with one particular group.
The seven types of dog breeds, or breed groups, are based on the "jobs" that the dog breeds originally held, such as herding, sporting, hounds (bred for use in chasing down prey), or toy dogs, which are small breeds often referred to as lap dogs.
In many official AKC dog shows, including the National Championship, dogs compete first within their specific breed for best of breed, and then within their breed group for best of group—for example, Best Hound, Best Terrier, Best Working Dog, etc—and then the seven dogs winning best of their groups compete against each other for the coveted title of Best in Show.
With more than 190 dog breeds and varieties registered with the American Kennel Club, the various breed groups have grown quite large, and include a diverse range of canines. Still, all breeds within a group are related in terms of their original "purpose," even if their appearances are very different.
Here are the seven types of dog breeds, their histories, and what pet owners can expect when taking one of these four-legged friends home. While your dog is of course an individual, you can get a feel for what its personality and appearance will be like as an adult by referring to the characteristics of its specific breed as well as breed group.
A quick note about training. While dogs do have breed tendencies, all will require positive training to help them reach their full potential and to fit most happily into any home.
01 of 07
Dogs in the Sporting Group were bred to be a hunter’s best sidekick; their purpose is to assist with finding, flushing, catching, or retrieving feathered game such as pheasants or ducks. Human hunters rely on these canines' help with retrieving upland game birds or waterfowl.
There are four basic types of sporting dogs: spaniels, pointers, retrievers, and setters. Some of the breeds in this group, such as retrievers, are especially adept at swimming and specialize in waterfowl like ducks, while setters, spaniels, and pointing breeds are known experts in hunting quail, pheasant, and other game birds in the grasslands.
While these breeds may be known for performing multiple tasks to aid the hunter, each has its own specialty. Typically, pointers and setters identify and mark game by "pointing," which means striking a distinctive pose with body held still, one front paw raised, and snout pointing in the direction of the bird being hunted. Spaniel breeds typically flush game, which means to find the birds and frighten them into lifting off in flight, which allows the hunter to them take aim and fire. Retrievers are breeds used to recover dead and wounded game, especially from the water.
All of the Sporting Group dogs are characterized by their naturally active and alert personalities, stable temperaments, as well as their hunting instincts both in the water and out in the woods. Sporting dogs make lovable, well-rounded pets, and are the perfect addition to active families, as these energetic, alert dogs will require plenty of exercise and time spent outdoors.
Some of the most popular sporting dog breeds include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shorthaired pointers, and the Irish setter, but there are many other breeds in this group.
Take a closer look at some dog breeds in this group:
02 of 07
Originally, the Sporting Group also included hounds. However, in 1930, the American Kennel Club introduced the Hound Group to include dogs that have specifically been bred to pursue warm-blooded quarry, such as rabbits, raccoons, or even antelope, in contrast to sporting breeds, which generally are used to hunt birds.
Though hounds all share their astute hunting skills, this group encompasses a diverse array of breeds, some of which rely more heavily on scent to track game and some of which rely more on vision and speed. Scent hounds, which include bloodhounds, beagles, and Basset hounds, are sometimes used for service purposes, such as tracking escaped convicts or search-and-rescue work. Sight hounds, which include greyhounds, whippets, Afghan hounds, and the Irish wolfhound, are known for their speed, making them popular racing dogs as well as hunting companions.
While it’s difficult to make generalizations about such a diverse group of dogs, generally, the charming, affectionate dogs in this group will make loyal companions and family pets, and some will require more vigorous exercise than others. According to the American Kennel Club, "members of the Hound Group possess strong prey drives and often will stop at nothing to catch their quarries." They can be stubborn dogs, however, and may be prone to wandering away from home while following a scent if not kept secured in their yard.
Take a closer look at some popular hound dog breeds:
03 of 07
While they might resemble adorable toys, the dogs in the Toy Group are just as much canine as their larger cousins in the other breed groups. Some of the most popular members of this large group include Chihuahuas, pugs, Maltese, Pomeranians, miniature pinschers, and Yorkshire terriers.
In existence for centuries, the toy breeds were bred for the purpose of serving as companions for their families. These small, easily portable dogs can be most often found sitting in the lap of their humans—or being carried around in arms, purse, or bag. Ideal for apartment living or anyone with limited space, these dogs still have big personalities.
The breeds categorized in the Toy group tend to be affectionate and easily adaptable to their family’s environment. They are intelligent, sociable, and full of energy. Despite their small stature, many do have strong protective instincts and big personalities. Some can be high-strung, however, or difficult to housebreak.
Take a closer look at some of the toy breeds:
04 of 07
A group for dogs that don’t quite fit in anywhere else, the Non-Sporting Group encompasses a variety of breeds with jobs that don’t satisfy the requirements of the other six groups. The AKC originally registered dogs as either Sporting or Non-Sporting, and over time, hounds and terriers were separated from the Sporting Group while Toy and Working dogs developed from the Non-Sporting. There was eventually a separate category to distinguish Herding dogs from Working dogs.
The Non-Sporting Group are all the dogs that remain, and thus have a variety of sizes, functions, and history. Most of these dogs make generally good house dogs and watchdogs, but with breeds ranging from the French bulldog to the poodle, their differences are so vast that it makes it difficult to generalize their individual traits. Some other popular breeds in this group include Dalmations, Bichon Frises, and Boston terriers.
Read more in-depth information about some of the breeds that make up the non-sporting group:Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
The Working Group dogs split off from the Non-Sporting Group, due to their roles of performing specific jobs related to guarding property or performing rescues. Arguably the hardiest breeds in the canine community, dogs that are categorized into the Working Group have historically been responsible for tasks ranging from pulling sleds and carts to guarding flocks and homes.
While the appearances and jobs of the dogs in this group vary, most are powerful and intelligent, and can be relied on to perform rescues and any other tasks to protect their families. These dogs include farm and draft animals, security, police, and military dogs, as well as guide and service dogs. As such, they make dependable, loyal pets with incredible intelligence and energy. However, due to their large sizes, powerful bodies, and protective personalities, it is very important to properly socialize and train dogs in these breeds.
Some of the most popular breeds in the Working Group include St. Bernards, boxers, huskies, Great Danes, giant schnauzers, and Bernese mountain dogs.
Find out more about some of the working group breeds:
06 of 07
Categorized by the AKC in 1983, the Herding Group includes the breeds with possibly the most straightforward task. Once included with the Working Group dogs, the Herding Group now includes 30 breeds in a wide variety of sizes, from the corgi to the German shepherd. Other popular herding dogs include Australian shepherds, border collies, Old English sheepdogs, and collies.
Herding dogs have historically been bred to gather, herd, and protect livestock, including sheep, cattle, and goats. These four-footed shepherds work closely with their humans, often relying on hand signals along with spoken commands to perform their duties. Today, many herding breeds are also used as service dogs, police dogs, or in the military.
The intelligence and natural responsiveness of these dogs makes them highly trainable. Additionally, they tend to be affectionate and loyal companions. Most of these breeds are happiest in homes that can provide lots of exercise, structure, and clear instruction about expected behavior. Because they are usually very intelligent, they will often become bored and need mental stimulation, as well as physical. Due to their herding instincts, these dogs can sometimes attempt to herd small children, other household pets, or even adult members of their families, however.
Learn more about some of the Herding Group members:
07 of 07
The vast majority of the dogs in the Terrier Group originated in the British Isles and evolved with particular duties based upon the geography of their specific area, including killing vermin and guarding their family’s home or barn. Most of these dogs were bred for tasks such as hunting small animals including rats, otters, and badgers. Some of the most popular terrier breeds include miniature schnauzers, Scottish terriers, Airedales, Jack Russells, and Westies, or West Highland White terriers.
There are a few variations of terriers; short-legged terriers, such as cairn terriers, were bred to pursue rodents underground, while terriers with long legs, such as fox terriers, are able to dig out these creatures rather than burrowing in after them. “Bull” breeds, such as bull terriers, were once created for bull baiting and dogfights, but, happily, are now some of today’s go-to companion dogs.
All of these dogs share the common trait of self-confidence and courage, as they are determined to do what it takes to locate their quarry, no matter the terrain. Dogs in the Terrier Group tend to be energetic and feisty. While they do make lovable pets, they tend to have strong personalities and some breeds may require special grooming. They can also be prone to barking and may be destructive if left alone with nothing to do.
Learn more about some popular terrier breeds:
What dog breeds should not be shaved?
Any dog breeds with a double coat—huskies, terriers, German shepherds, etc.—should never be shaved.
What types of dog breeds have curly tails?
So many! The list includes Basenji, Akita, shiba inu, Chow Chow,
Norwegian Buhund, Samoyed, Finnish Spitz, and Pomeranians.
What dog breeds howl?
Among the dogs that howl are several hound breeds, beagles, Alaskan Malamutes, basset hounds, bloodhounds, American Eskimo dogs, and huskies.