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.
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. 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.
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. They require owners who are skilled at training and willing to give them "work" that rewards their instincts.
The hounds are the original hunting dogs. 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.
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. Even the famous racer, the greyhound, has proved to be a popular family pet.
The Akita (Japan), the Komondor (Hungary), the Portuguese water dog, the Newfoundland, the Saint Bernard (Switzerland), the Alaskan Malamute, the Bernese Mountain dog (Switzerland) and many more make this group a veritable United Nations of dogs. 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. Without the right training, some working dogs can be difficult to handle, even dangerous.
Feisty is the word most often used to describe terriers. 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. Unfortunately, these incidents tarnish the reputations of what can be friendly, stable, even calm pets.
Luckily for the toy breeds, providing companionship for humans has counted as suitable employment through the ages. This has ensured the survival of 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. 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. This breed's 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.
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.
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.