Purebred Dog Groups

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Filed in Dogs, Getting a New Puppy/Dog

Have you ever wondered why you see so many sizes, shapes, colors, and coats among purebred dogs? The American Kennel Club recognizes 148 breeds, and more than 50 additional breeds exist that have not received AKC approval. Then there are the countless dogs we know and love who are mixed breeds.

Throughout the world dogs who have been allowed to breed according to their instincts have evolved into the same basic look: multi-colored coat, medium height, lean and lanky build, and straight tail. In contrast to the uniform results of this random breeding pattern, humans use selective breeding to produce purebred dogs, creating specific and diverse characteristics that they consider desirable for human needs and tastes. These dogs, when bred to similar dogs, produce off spring of the same type. As the breeding continues over generations, a new breed develops. Some dog breeds can be traced back for centuries while others are new to the scene and still await AKC recognition.

This effort to create diversity is the reason you have such a wide variety of dogs to choose from when deciding on the perfect dog for you and your family. A dog should fit the specific needs and taste of the person who will be caring for her. Some people prefer mixed breeds while others like the predictability of looks and temperament that a purebred dog offers. Selection of just the right dog is crucial to the successful integration of a dog into a family.

Breeds recognized by the AKC are divided into eight groups that reflect certain common traits and abilities such as herding, retrieving, hunting, size, coat, and disposition. Variance in looks can be startlingly different among dogs within a single group.

Looking at the different groups and the activities and behavior they share is a good way to start. Then you can narrow your choices down to one or two breeds that especially appeal to you. Think about what kind of dog fits with the life you lead and the place where you live. As you learn about the breeds, consider how much time and money you have to spend on grooming, training, and exercising your dog. Begin by reading the following summaries of the eight purebred dog groups.

Sporting Group

These dogs like to be in the water and to run in the woods. Even though you don't plan to hunt with your sporting dog, you'll like how easily he learns to bring the newspaper to you or retrieves a ball or Frisbee.

Dogs from this group have been known to find car keys lost in a snowdrift! Sporting dogs must have plenty of exercise, so you need to be willing to have a daily plan for him to get outside to run. Familiar sporting dogs are the Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, and Weimaraner.

Hound Group

Hounds have also been bred for hunting. They have a strong sense of smell and are good at tracking scents over long distances. Hounds exhibit great endurance, because they've been called upon to chase after their prey for hours in dense woods and rough terrain. Some breeds within this group make a loud and prolonged sound called baying. Before you choose a baying hound, be sure you and your neighbors can tolerate this unique characteristic!

Such diverse looking dogs as the Afghan, Bloodhound, Beagle, Dachshund, Greyhound, and Rhodesian Ridgeback belong to this group.

Working Group

These dogs are accustomed to having jobs to do, and they won't be happy if you don't put them to work. They learn quickly and make steady and capable family members. But they are large dogs, so a careful training program is necessary to help your working dog adjust to indoor living and human rules. These dogs perform well in dog obedience classes. Working dogs include the Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, German Sheperd, Rottweiler, and Saint Bernard.

Terrier Group

The terriers are well known for being feisty and smart. Because they were trained to hunt rodents, they don't get along especially well with other animals, including dogs. Terriers can be counted on to talk back to humans too, but they shine when you teach them tricks and ask them to show off what they've learned. Their wiry coats may require special grooming care by a professional.

We tend to think of these bright dogs as small, but the tall Airedale is a terrier. Other examples are the Bull, Cairn, Manchester, Scottish, and West Highland Terriers.

Toy Group

Tiny but mighty characterizes the toy breeds. They are great if your living space is small or you want a dog to snuggle in your lap. Their size minimizes such typical dog problems as shedding, messes, and cost of care, and it's easier to carry a small dog around with you. She'll even fit into your backpack or purse but be sure you leave a zipper or flap open so she can breathe! The miniature versions of breeds found in other groups are classified with the toys.

Popular toy breeds are the Chihuahua, Maltese, Pekinese, Poodle, Shih Tzu, and the Yorkshire Terrier.

Non-Sporting Group

Diversity in size, coat, personality, and appearance characterizes this group. There should be a breed type here to please just about everyone. Some of these sturdy dogs are little known while others are familiar to us all. This group includes the Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Dalmatian, Keeshond, Lhasa Apso, and the Standard Poodle.

Herding Group

This newest group was created in 1983 from breeds that had formerly been classed as working dogs. They have been bred to control the movement of animals, and they love to do their work. If a dog from this group isn't working as a herder, he'll try to herd you, your family, and the neighborhood dogs. So be aware of this trait if you have small children or if you frequent dog parks. They make intelligent companions and are highly trainable.

Among the herders are the Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Collie, German Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog, and the two types of Corgis.

Miscellaneous Class

This class comprises the breeds that are currently under development for recognition by the AKC. Nationwide interest and support of the dog allows a breed to be put in this classification. Once the AKC is sure the breed is healthy and growing in numbers, it is placed in a group appropriate to its characteristics. The Jack Russell Terrier and Polish Lowland Sheepdog are two of the four breeds now in this category.

In 1998 the American Kennel Club initiated an audit program of DNA testing to ensure the accuracy of bloodlines of all AKC registered dogs. This means that any breeder who is dishonest in his claims about a dog's health or lineage can be discovered and stopped from operating the kennel and selling dogs that don't meet AKC standards. So, if you decide that you want a purebred dog, you can be sure that he'll not only please you but that he will be the sound and healthy dog you were promised.

You can check out the purebred dog breeds and names of breeders at The American Kennel Club. Another good site for breeds and breeders is DogBiz.

If you'd like to find out more about mixed breed dogs, the North American Mixed Breed Registry.

Margaret Cullison is a freelance writer, who in past years has provided lodging for numerous dogs, cats, hamsters, rats, lizards, parrots, and snakes. She currently lives in the East Bay area of Northern California with a Burmese cat named Kona.

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