Dog Breeds: groups, characteristics and qualities.
Preparing to own a dog is a massive undertaking which requires much thought. It can be a most enjoyable and fulfilling experience, but you must remember that all dogs are potentially dangerous. Dogs have been bred for centuries to carry out different purposes and there are many breeds to choose from so it is worthwhile taking some time to find a breed that will fit in with your environment and lifestyle. Not all dogs make good family pets, while others don’t particularly like children, yet others make excellent working dogs and are used by police or search and rescue teams.
Although different breeds have certain characteristics you should remember that every dog is different and can behave uncharacteristically from their breed stereotype. Also training and socialising is very important as any dog has the potential to become aggressive if it is ill-treated, not trained properly, encouraged to be aggressive, or if the dog finds that aggression is a successful way to get what it wants.
As I mentioned above, different breeds have different assets and over the centuries they have been selectively bred to maintain or improve certain qualities that make them better able to carry out certain tasks. The UK Kennel club, where pedigree dogs can be registered, divides dogs into seven groups according to similar characteristics or purposes. A pedigree dog is an offspring of a dam and a sire of the same breed, while crossbreeds display a mixture of their ancestor’s traits. If you are planning on getting a crossbreed it is helpful to know what breeds have been mixed or what breeds the parents are as this will help to work out it’s temperament and whether it will be suitable for you.
1. Hound Group:
The breeds in this group were originally bred for hunting and they either use sight or scent to do it. However, due to selective breeding and their purpose as hunting dogs, the hunting instinct is never far below the surface. These dogs are very active and require a considerable amount of exercise. Scent hounds traditionally hunt in packs.
Qualities and characteristics of the sight hounds: (e.g.: Whippets and greyhounds.)
- Keen eyesight
- Fastest and tallest of their number
- Dignified demeanour
- Streamlined body shape
- Graceful movements
Qualities and characteristics of the scent hounds: (e.g.: Beagles and Bloodhounds)
- Great physical stamina
- Single-minded determination
- Solid build
- Robust constitution
- Sound in health and temperament
2. Gundog Group:
These dogs were originally breed and trained to find live game. There are four sub-categories in this group, namely spaniels, retrievers, pointers and setters. Retrievers mainly find and return game that has already been killed. Pointers stand in front of their quarry with their nose and body rigidly still and so directing the hunter to the quarry. Setters tend to crouch in front of game and preventing it from escaping, allowing the hunter to catch the game in a net. These dogs make good family pets and companions due to their temperament. (e.g.: Labradors)
Qualities and characteristics of a gundog:
- Intelligent, many people consider them to be the most intelligent breed.
- Wide variety of uses
- Relatively easy to train
- Long puppy-hood; they must expend their youthful energy constructively. This is especially true of retrievers and pointers.
- Require company and purpose
- Strong active, outdoor dogs, especially setters which need plenty of patience to train them into obedient adults.
- Kind natured, particularly Spaniels
3. Terrier Group:
These dogs were also bred for hunting but they were mainly used to hunt or flush out vermin. The breed name: terrier comes from the Latin “terra” meaning earth and refers to their ability to go underground in order to reach vermin, mainly by flushing them out of their burrows or holes. They are mainly country dogs, except the Manchester Terrier, and they are nearly all British or Irish: their names often refer to the places where they originated (e.g.: West Highland White Terrier). Some terriers were bred to fight, such as the Bull Terrier, and so they can be considered more dangerous than others as they developed tough and hardy qualities. They are small dogs but they can pursue and challenge much larger quarry. There is a slight disagreement as to whether terriers are good family dogs or not. This is because they were originally bred to hunt vermin and in some cases kill them, so they have some undesired qualities: they can bark or yap. This was originally a good quality to frighten vermin out of their holes, now it can be irritating and a warning of more dangerous actions. They are also very independent and can be difficult to train. However when they were bred for bull fighting (or other types of fighting) they also had to live with humans so any dogs that were dangerous towards humans were destroyed. Therefore they tend to have a better temperament around people and are surprisingly good with children. (e.g.: Border Terrier)
Qualities and characteristics of terriers:
- Hardy and tough
- Eager to be involved
- Fiery, or feisty temperaments
- Propensity to dig
- Not very obedient
- Bark and yap
- Can nip
4. Utility Group:
Utility means fitness for a purpose. This is a diverse group of miscellaneous breeds which are generally classed as dogs of non-sporting origin. Many of the breeds in this group were originally bred for a purpose that is now redundant due to technological advances or other reasons: the Dalmatian was used as a coach dog, the Poodle as a duck dog and the chow-chow as a herder. Due to the variety of this group they aren’t really any common characteristics, but they have a good reputation of being good companions and outstanding show dogs. (e.g.: Dalmatian)
5. Working Group:
These dogs have been selectively bred to guard, herd, hunt, haul and to be used in search and rescue teams. Because of their involvement or ability to do such tasks they are considered heroic canines and excel at their line of work. They are generally very large with considerable strength and due to this fact alone they need to be trained properly and be under firm control. They can be difficult to manage and require proper socialising to ensure they are comfortable with strangers and other dogs. They are considered unsuitable for most families. (e.g.: Great Dane)
Qualities and characteristics of working dogs:
- Considerable strength
- Fast reactions
6. Pastoral Group:
This is a relatively new group and used to be part of the working group until that group became too large. Pastoral dogs are generally smaller than working dogs and lack their protective instincts. The breeds in this group are mainly bred for herding and work with cattle, sheep, reindeer and other similar animals. They normally have a weatherproof, double coat to protect them from the elements when working in severe weather conditions. They need to be stimulated otherwise they become bored and destructive. They also have strong guarding instincts so they need to be thoroughly socialised to make them well integrated in the family and comfortable with strangers and other dogs. (e.g.: Border Collie)
Qualities and characteristics of pastoral dogs:
- Relatively easy to train
- Excel at obedience work
- Quick to learn and obey
- Good at problem solving and decision making
7. Toy Group:
These dogs were initially developed as a status symbol for rich people, considered to be a luxury item without a purpose. They were meant to provide pleasure and ease the lifestyle of rich people. They are sometimes called lapdogs because they were used for warmth as they sat on their owners laps; a dog’s body heat is about 100.2-102.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Some dogs have been placed in this group due to their small size rather than other characteristics. They are generally small and can feel defensive because everything around them is so much bigger, so they can bark a lot out of fear. Also they are quite fragile which can be an issue with large families. Many people spoil them, or allow bad behaviour, such as nipping, because it has little effect and they think that it is cute. However, spoilt dogs can become protective towards their owners and therefore aggressive towards strangers. Many people have them as pets because they don’t need much exercise and are relatively cheap to look after, but some of them are not very good with children. Also they are meant to be extroverted companions and not untouchable ornaments: they need love and attention. (e.g.: Chihuahua)
Qualities and characteristics of toy dogs:
- Love attention
- Appealing appearance
- Good at learning tricks
- Friendly personalities
- Picky eaters
- Forceful personalities
- Good watchdogs
- Can retain strong hunting instincts
- Can be yappy
The group descriptions above present some of the general qualities and characteristics of the different types of dogs. However, individual breeds vary again and when you are deciding on which dog to get you must take into account your situation, such as where you live (town or country?) how big your family is and how old any children are, as all these things can affect what breed would suit you: some dogs don’t like children others are small and fragile so may be at risk in large families. However, it is vital to remember that each dog is different and may not be typical of its stereotype. Also, although there is plenty of media and even some laws (the Dangerous Dogs Act) about which breeds are aggressive or dangerous, you must remember that every dog, of any breed can be dangerous and aggressive if it is not trained and socialised properly. Therefore you must ensure that you put enough time and effort into training and socialising your dog from the very beginning as well as making it a valuable member of your family and giving it the attention it deserves to ensure that it is a happy, safe dog. Lastly, the majority of dog attacks are provoked attacks (and children have usually provoked the dog in some way) so it is essential that you behave sensibly around your dog and don’t make it too excited which is when it might bite either in play or by mistake, and never leave children unsupervised with a dog, however well they know the dog or how well behaved the dog normally is.