Purebred Basics

posted: 05/15/12
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Breeds are divided into seven breed types, each with its own unique characteristics and history.

Since the first arranged dog breeding, humans have been gradually creating the most diverse species in the world: Canis familiaris, the domestic dog. Diversity in dogs existed even in prehistoric times, with distinct types of families, or "breeds," arising among their wolf ancestors 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.

Today the American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 breeds. These breeds are divided into seven breed types, each with its own unique characteristics and history.



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The sporting group comprises some of the most popular breeds, including pointers, setters, retrievers and spaniels. Both routinely in the top five breeds, the Labrador retriever and the golden retriever together account for nearly one-quarter of the more than 1 million dogs registered with the AKC every year.

Alert, active and intelligent, sporting dogs have historically been used by hunters to locate, flush or retrieve game from land or water. Many sporting dogs are still used as hunting companions today, although their gentle natures and high level of trainability have also earned them the reputation of being among the best family dogs. These same traits often lead to some of these animals being recruited into service positions, either as helper dogs for the disabled or as bomb and drug sniffers for law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, the sheer popularity of some of the sporting breeds, most notably cocker spaniels but also Labrador and golden retrievers, has led to a rise in health and behavioral problems. Some indiscriminate breeders have inflamed congenital problems by careless overbreeding, and have created unstable temperaments through simple neglect. Be especially careful in finding a reputable breeder of these dogs.

AKC List of Sporting Breeds

American Cocker Spaniel

American Water Spaniel


Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Clumber Spaniel

Curly-Coated Retriever

English Cocker Spaniel

English Setter

English Springer Spaniel

Field Spaniel

Flat-Coated Retriever

German Shorthaired Pointer

German Wirehaired Pointer

Golden Retriever

Gordon Setter

Irish Setter

Irish Water Spaniel

Labrador Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


Spinone Italiano

Sussex Spaniel



Welsh Springer Spaniel

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

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The hounds are the original hunting dogs, many predating by far the gun-assisting hunters in their sporting group. There is a great deal of diversity, both behavioral and physical, within this group, a history of hunting assistance often being the only common bond among some of the hound breeds. In size, they range from the tall and lanky Irish wolfhound to the short-legged dachshund. A hound by origin only, the dachshund might seem to be out of place in this group, as its background as a digger accustomed to chasing foxes and badgers underground would more logically make it a terrier.

For the most part, these breeds originally assisted hunters in the field with either excellent scenting abilities or exceptional speed. Scent hounds such as bloodhounds, beagles and foxhounds have historically aided hunters by following the scent trails left by their quarry. Today the slow, prodding bloodhound is commonly used by law enforcement to track fugitives or missing persons. Some of the oldest breeds of domestic dogs are the speedy sight hounds. Saluki and pharaoh hounds, in particular, can trace their origins back to antiquity. Images of dogs closely resembling these breeds are depicted on the walls of the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs.

Apart from their hunting skills, most hounds make excellent pets. Reliable, sturdy and possessing excellent stamina, they make great companions for adults and children alike. Even the famous racer, the greyhound, has proved to be a popular family pet. Those seeking one out, however, are cautioned when choosing a dog bred for the racetrack. A retired racer should be tested with small children or other pets, as some of these dogs make a habit of chasing them as they had chased mechanical rabbits in their earlier career.

AKC List of Hound Breeds

Afghan Hound

American Foxhound


Basset Hound


Black and Tan Coonhound




English Foxhound



Ibizan Hound

Irish Wolfhound

Norwegian Elkhound


Petit Basset Griffon Vend???(C)en

Pharaoh Hound


Rhodesian Ridgeback


Scottish Deerhound


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A diverse group skilled in a number of disciplines, most working breeds are robust, intelligent and headstrong, often unsuitable for novice owners. Made up of guardians of livestock and property, police dogs, sled dogs and rescue dogs, these workers come in all shapes and sizes, from the standard schnauzer to the Great Dane. But for the most part, these are large, powerful dogs. The Akita (Japan), the komondor (Hungary), the Portuguese water dog, the Newfoundland, the Saint Bernard (Switzerland), the Alaskan Malamute, and many more make this group a veritable United Nations of dogs.

Without the right training, some working dogs can be difficult to handle, even dangerous. Very bright and rather determined breeds such as Rottweilers, Dobermans and Akitas have become extremely popular, even trendy. Motivated by rising inner-city crime rates and by the rather twisted notion that owning a powerful dog somehow enhances one's social standing, all too many people have invested a lot of money in acquiring one of these dogs, but sometimes nothing can convince some of these dogs that not all strangers, especially children, pose a threat.

AKC List of Working Breeds


Alaskan Malamute

Anatolian Shepherd Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog

Black Russian Terrier



Doberman Pinscher

German Pinscher

Giant Schnauzer

Great Dane

Great Pyrenees

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog




Neapolitan Mastiff


Portuguese Water Dog


Saint Bernard


Siberian Husky

Standard Schnauzer

Tibetan Mastiff

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Feisty is the word most often used to describe terriers. From the Latin terra, for earth, most terriers were originally bred to "go to ground" after burrowing vermin, larger rodents and even foxes. These fiery little dynamos would dig up underground dens and burrows while barking furiously, forcing the inhabitants out where hunters awaited. Some breeds were even bred to finish the job themselves. Let loose in your backyard, a terrier can build an entire golf course in a day -- the 18 holes at least.

Too large to go to ground, the popular Airedale terrier puts its strength and stubborn streak to use as a surprisingly ferocious watchdog. Like most terriers, this "king of terriers" has little time for other dogs, and if not properly supervised may engage in some street brawling. If it weren't for the fact that most terriers, such as the cairn and the Norfolk, are fairly small, their tenacious nature and boundless energy would make them hard to control.

Due to some unscrupulous breeders and unmindful owners, a few breeds within the terrier group have developed rather notorious reputations. The crossing of bulldogs and terriers for the express purpose of creating fighting dogs has produced several dog breeds that can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Combining the taut muscles and compact power of the bulldog with the tenacity and aggressiveness of the terrier, some controversial bull terrier breeds have been involved in some highly publicized biting incidents, several involving small children. When these dogs bite, they don't let go. Unfortunately, these incidents tarnish the reputations of what can be friendly, stable, even calm pets. But without the right training and socialization, and in irresponsible hands, these can be dangerous dogs.

AKC Complete List of Terrier Breeds

Airedale Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

Australian Terrier

Bedlington Terrier

Border Terrier

Bull Terrier

Cairn Terrier

Dandie Dinmont Terrier

Glen of Imaal Terrier

Irish Terrier

Kerry Blue Terrier

Lakeland Terrier

Manchester Terrier

Miniature Bull Terrier

Miniature Schnauzer

Norfolk Terrier

Norwich Terrier

Parson Russell Terrier

Scottish Terrier

Sealyham Terrier

Skye Terrier

Smooth Fox Terrier

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Welsh Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

Wire Fox Terrier

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Courtesy of Laura Lewis

Luckily for the toy breeds, providing companionship for humans has counted as suitable employment through the ages. This has ensured the survival of the breeds without practical skills, such as the Chihuahua, pug and Pomeranian. Many toy breeds, such as the miniature pinscher, the toy poodle and the English toy terrier appear to be miniaturized versions of larger breeds. Ranging between under 6 pounds (3 kilograms) in the tiniest Chihuahua and 20 pounds (9 kilograms) in the stockiest of pugs, these diminutive dogs have made for loving companions since they were first bred centuries ago. Later some toy breeds were the lapdogs of European royalty. Today their stature makes them excellent pets for people without a lot of extra space in their homes. And despite their tendency toward yappiness, they are considered the best dogs for novice owners, though their fragility can make them less than ideal pets for families with small children.

Toy dogs' love of attention serves them well outside of their loving homes, too. Loyal and intelligent, they are great at learning tricks, and many excel in obedience competitions.

AKC Complete List of Toy Breeds


Brussels Griffon

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


Chinese Crested

English Toy Spaniel


Italian Greyhound

Japanese Chin


Manchester Terrier

Miniature Pinscher






Shih Tzu

Silky Terrier

Toy Fox Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier

This is the catchall group for breeds that didn't seem to fit in elsewhere, from the cuddly Bichon Frise, a little too big to be considered a toy, to the striking Dalmatian and the stunning but difficult Chow Chow. Their individual skills, original purposes and temperaments are almost as varied as their origins.

The poodle is by far the most popular of the non-sporting breeds. A pampered, yet surprisingly active companion today, it once was a skilled truffle hunter. In more modern times, the poodle's intelligence and trainability saw it employed in show business, commonly in circuses.

The poodle's opposite may be the bulldog. The national symbol of England, known for its strength and determination, it has been out of work since bull-baiting went out of fashion in the late 19th century. It now serves only as a loving, albeit somewhat sedentary, companion.

AKC List of Non-Sporting Breeds

American Eskimo Dog

Bichon Frise

Boston Terrier


Chinese Shar-Pei

Chow Chow


Finnish Spitz

French Bulldog


Lhasa Apso




Shiba Inu

Tibetan Spaniel

Tibetan Terrier

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Corbis | Fast Fact: AKC

Non-existent in European registries, where most of these breeds are classified as working dogs, this group was created in 1983 by the AKC to honor what is one of the oldest of dog professions: herding livestock.

The sheepdogs and cattle dogs of the world are here, including the much-loved collie breeds and those royal favorites, the corgis. Unlike the livestock guardians that simply stand sentry, herding dogs actively round up cattle and sheep with frantic running, eye contact and aggressive barking.

Some of the more intelligent dog breeds belong to this group, including the popular German shepherd dog, perhaps most famous for its police work, and what is arguably the most intelligent of all breeds, the Border collies.

Although most of these are now simple companion dogs that have never even seen a sheep, the instinct to herd in some of them can be strong. Where no livestock exists, children and adults alike may be rounded up into corners or even tight circles by these serious, tireless workers. They require owners who are skilled at training and willing to give them "work" that rewards their instincts.

AKC List of Herding Breeds

Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Shepherd

Bearded Collie


Belgian Malinois

Belgian Sheepdog

Belgian Tervuren

Border Collie

Bouvier des Flandres


Canaan Dog

Cardigan Welsh Corgi


German Shepherd Dog

Old English Sheepdog

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Polish Lowland Sheepdog


Shetland Sheepdog

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In true mixed breeds, the dog's ancestry is next to impossible to predict.

If you can't decide between a shepherd, a setter, or a poodle, get them all -- adopt a mutt.

The world's most popular breed of dog is no breed at all. Mixed breeds, random breeds, mongrels, mutts or curs -- call them what you will, they make up the majority of the worldwide dog population. Rare is the country where dogs of mixed and usually unknown heritage do not outnumber their blue-blood, purebred relations. In true mixed breeds, the dog's ancestry is next to impossible to predict, although many people can't help but try to guess. That's part of the fun.

Because they're all related, all of the 400 or so breeds are capable of interbreeding. The millions of mixed-breed dogs around the world are a testament to that. Unfortunately, these are the dogs you're likely to find at the local shelter or dog pound, often the result of accidental breeding between two unsterilized dogs.

Often used interchangeably, the terms "mixed breed" and "crossbreed" have slightly different meanings. Unlike mixes, crossbreeds have clear roots -- often evident by looking back just one generation. Sometimes produced randomly, but most often planned by breeders, crossbreeds result from the mating or crossing of two dogs with a different but identifiable lineage. Two purebred dogs are sometimes deliberately crossed in hopes of creating a new breed such as the cockapoo, which is one part cocker spaniel, one part poodle. But despite what those who breed and sell crossbreeds might try to tell you, these are not, nor will they likely ever be, recognized as purebred dogs.

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