Part 1 - Introduction to pure bred dogs.
The expectation that they will reproduce themselves or "breed true to type" is the reason that purebred dogs are called "pure". What this means is that they buyer has an excellent reason to expect puppies produced by a mating of two purebreds of the same breed to conform to the breed's written "standard" (a written description of the breed's characteristics) in both behavior and appearance. Attempts at the classifcation of of domestic dog breeds by appearance and behavior date back to Roman times. Written breed standards became common in the 19th Century with the appearance of animal exhibits and stock shows as the Victorians induldged in their passion for order and moved to standardize breeds. This trend has continued into modern times and tody there may be 500 or more breeds of pure dog.
To aid in the over whelming task of understanding the variety in dogs, various organizations combine their descriptions of dog breeds into classification schemes where by breeds are grouped together because of common talents such as working ability and by physical appearance. This helps us understand dogs because we can discuss the overall aspects of a group and then focus on the more or less unique aspects of each breed as a refinement. However you must keep in mind that significant variation between individuals does occur, even within a breed.
If a particular aspect of a breed's typical physical and behavioral profile is important to you, you need to be sure that that aspect is present in the puppy or dog you choose and this should be discussed with the breeder from whom you are getting the dog before acquiring the dog. In many breeds bred primarily for working ability the dog who fails to show the working behaviors is offered for sale as a pet. Some examples would be gun shyness in a retriever, lack of chase behavior in a Greyhound and absence of guarding behavior in a protection breed. For the average family looking for a pet Labrador Retriever, a pet Greyhound or a companion German Shepherd the absence of the strong breed working behavior may be a bonus rather than a drawback to that individual dog. However if you purchased the Labrador Retriever to be a working dog as well as a family pet, the gun shy dog would not suit your purposes. Since the gun shyness is inherited such dogs should not be bred in the hope that you would then get a puppy with which you could go hunting!
Many systems of classification are currently available. The one used here is strongly influenced by the FCI but goes beyond it in combinating behavioral and physical attributes to bring some order to the plethora of dog breeds. We cannot over-emphasize how important it is to consider breed specific behaviors as well as physical attributes that affect care as a primary part of your choice in a dog breed. Few dogs are given up by owners because they are white or have one blue eye or three congenitally missing teeth, but many, many dogs are deemed unsatisfactory and discarded because the owner cannot deal with grooming a long easily tangled coat or some cannot control the natural protectiveness of the dog or some other breed specific behaviors.
In many cases, dogs that are bred for specific work will tend towards similar physiques because, after all, function does depend upon form. Within a behavioral/physical category the major differences between breeds are often size, ear carriage, coat type or color related. Dogs bred for generalized functions tend to be closer to the general ancestral wolf body form - dogs bred for specialized activities or for extreme aesthetic criteria will show progressively greater the divergence from the ancestral form.
There are other systems for categorizing dogs, but the behavioral/physical approach is most likely to guide you in selecting a dog you can live with. You should also keep in mind that like any other aspect of a domestic animal, behavior has a strong inherited component and a specific breeding program concentrating on selecting for or against a certain behavior for 4 or 5 generations can greatly alter the personality of the resulting dogs. It is possible to breed Greyhounds that have no chase instinct or lines of lethargic terriers but these would be atypical of the breed as a whole so if you are looking for such an animal you will have to find the breeder who has set this as a major goal in their breeding program.
You also need to realize that our categories are an attempt to provide some guidance through a continuous range of breed attributes so some breeds may actually straddle categories in their characteritics. In fact we may list some breeds more than once in different parts of our Dog Breed Classification table. However it is easier to learn a territory if you have a map and some idea of the larger picture.
The basic behaviors of domestic dogs are derived from the behaviors seen in the wild ancestor of dogs (generally accepted as the wolf) with modifications because of a long period of human selective breeding. No dog breed shows the total behavioral repertoire of a wolf but since the wolf is the basis for our breeds the basic drives are there - variously modified (usually somewhat supressed but sometimes accentuated): hunting (predation), resource guarding (territoriality), need for companionship (social cohesiveness), reproduction, general physical exercise (kinesthetic activity), reproduction and care of offspring.
Since all dogs are bred for a purpose we are not going to divide them into working and non-working categories. The important work of companion bred dogs is to be a companion to humans, for example.
Defined by behavior, purpose, and, in part, by relatives-in-common, there are 5 groups of modern dog breeds:
(2) The Companion Dog Group
(4) Generalized Hunting Dogs (including Working Terriers)
(5) Sporting Dogs (Including Gun Dogs such as Retrievers and Bird Dogs)
(6) Livestock Herding Dogs (Drover's Dogs)
(7) Guard Dogs.
(8) Fighting Dogs.
The important behavioral divisions are this. Primitive breeds display most of the primitive behaviors of wolves including predatory behavior, territoriality, suspicion of strangers. Primitive breeds normally require carefull rearing, socializing and training to make decent companions. Companion breeds are bred to supress most of the more difficult wild dog behaviors and are often relatively easy to rear and train for less experienced owners. In addition they are generally medium to small dogs. Hounds and Generalized Hunting Dogs still have a fully developed set of hunting instincts and tend to look to the environment for stimulation and adventure. They usually require confinement (as in a fenced yard or kennel) when not under the owner's supervision.
The Gun Dogs and the Livestock Herding Dog Groups contain dogs in which the hunting instincts, especially the drive to the kill, are supressed. In the Gun Dog group the dogs point out prey for the hunter to bring down and then may retrieve it. In the Livestock Herding Dog Group the chase portion of the hunting instict is present in the active herders (Drover's dogs) but it the drive to the kill is not carried through.
In the Guard Dog Group hunting behavior is largely supressed but territorial protectiveness in retained and even enhanced. Finally the Fighting Dog group human selection has enormously increased territorial behavior, intra-species aggressiveness and decreased sensitivity to pain. I addition these dogs are selected for extreme focus on the task at hand. Perhaps the kill portion of hunting behaviors has been retained although they share with the guardian breeds the supression of the seek and chase portion of predatory behavior. Fighting dogs, if poorly trained and improperly socialized can be quite dangerous to other dogs and to people that they do not recognize as members of their own "pack". Their reduced sensitivity to pain and their great focus enhance this danger. It is can be very difficult to stop them once they go into "fighting mode". The absence of the "seek and chase" aspect of hunting behaviors often lulls inexperienced owners into a false sense of security.
Many of these groups and subgroups share relatives. So, for example, new breeds in the Companion Dog Group were often created not only through crossbreeding Companion breeds, but also by matings outside that group. Many of the toys were created by minaturing dogs from one of the other groups and the dogs in the Fighting Dog group share characteristics of hunting dogs as well as Livestock Guard Dogs. Many of the fighting dog breeds are of fairly recent origin and are often the result of crossing Mastiffs with hunting and herding (drover's) dogs
|Understanding the Dog Breed Groups|
|(1) Primitive and Spitz Breeds (2) The Companion Dog Group (3) Generalized Hunting Dogs (including Working Terriers) (4) Hounds (5) Gun Dogs (6) Livestock Herding Dogs (Drover's Dogs) (7) Guard Dogs. (8) Fighting Dogs.|
(1) Primitive and Spitz Breeds|
The spitz type is sometimes calle "primitive" because it is close to the original body form of the domestic dog. Spitz breeds are characterized by an overall wolf like appearance with the modification of a tail carried tightly erect and curled over the back. Tail carriage is an important element of canid social communication, with a high carried tail normally signaling dominant status. The early appearance of a congenitally high carried tail must have made social interaction between early domestic dogs and wild wolves very difficult. Perhaps this helped to differentiate the early domestic dog population from that of the local wolves. It also helped any person who saw a canid at a distance differentiate between a domestic dog and a wolf.
Spitz breeds are characterized by erect ears, square build and high curled tails. Generally the more northern breeds retain the 3 to 6 inch long double coat of the wolf while the equatorial ones have shorter coats. Most spitz breeds are found in solid darker colors with little development of white markings. Their behavioral profiles are fairly generalized, retaining most of the wolf drives in equal strengths. This means that they are often used for a variety of tasks in their places of origin -- hunting, guarding, hauling. They are not used as livestock herding dogs because of the intensity of the drive to complete the hunt with a kill.
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These are breeds that were bred primarily to be companions with no particular working requirements.
Some Companion Dog Breeds are among the oldest of all living dog breeds. It has been argued that the reason dogs were domesticated in the first place was for companionship and to enhance human status. As a bonus, most Companion Dog Breeds are very alert and will sound an alarm at the approach of visitors.
There is an interesting question as to when dogs where first selected primarily as companions rather than as workers. Even with the Australian Aborigines dogs are used to warm the sleeper at night (A "three dog night" being a cold night).
Generally Companion Dogs are medium sized to small (40 lbs or less). Some of the companion breeds seem to be miniatures of larger breeds developed for specific work. Traditionally, dog organizations have created a separate category for "Toy Dogs". Here, we have grouped Toy Dogs as a separate subgroup category within the Companion Dog Group. They may be dwarf proportioned with short legs relative to body length or normal proportioned, retaining the "square" (or leg length roughly equal to body length) proportions of the wild canids. It must also be noted that not all Companion Dogs are necessarily small breeds. Some South American Indians, for example, preferred large and hairless Companion Dogs.
Ideal Companion Dogs are outgoing and affectionate to humans and other animals, have only moderate levels of energy, are attentive to training and generally weigh less than 30 lbs. They may have long coats requiring regular grooming. Selective breeding has greatly supressed both the hunting instincts and the territorial instincts. Their behaviors tend to remain in the puppy stage for an extended period during their maturation ("behavioral neoteny") and this accentuates their bonding to humans and increases the likelihood that they may develop separation anxiety when left alone. It is important to remember that although almost all Companion Dog breeds are small dogs NOT ALL SMALL DOG BREEDS ARE COMPANION DOGS.
Appearance is very important to most Companion Breeds. Most were selected to look "cute," that is to retain a non-threatening, baby-like ("neotenous") appearance with big eyes, a large skull, and a shortened muzzle. These dogs appear to be the antithesis of the long headed, light eyed, prick eared "wolf." Some Companion Breeds, acquired and owned as status symbols, reflect the cultural notions of "elegance" in their native land. Yet others are held as curiosities because they are extremely small.
While it may be argued that the pet trade, especially of this century, has taken former hunting dogs and turned them into "companion dogs" (for example: the Yorkshire Terrier, a ratter now rarely seen with a mouse in its mouth), these dogs usually retain their tendency to hunt and show less accommodation to the companion dog lifestyle.
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In the hunting breeds the primitive drive to seek out and capture game has been retained. In many cases it is enhanced and seeking of game seems to be a reward in itself in the absence of the kill. Seeking and killing are well separated from eating the game. In most cases territoriality is somewhat supressed so that these dogs likely to roam the neighborhood hunting and chasing rather than stopping at your property boundaries and driving intruders off. In general scent hounds and windhounds (sighthounds) are fairly low energy in relation to any activity other than hunting. If confined will lie around most of the day. The bird dog breeds have a higher general activity level and may be constantly on the go, even when confined.
General hunting dogs. These include breeds such as the Weimeraner who have strong hunting instincts, athletic bodies but lack the extreme specialization for speed of the coursing hounds, the acute scent orientation of the scent hounds or the exclusive bird orientation of pointers and setters. They blend in with retreivers in talent. They are active dogs capable of accompaning an owner on a full days hunt, either on foot or horseback. Generalized hunting dogs may hunt by sight or scent and usually are expected to pursue the prey and aid in its capture rather than just freezing and indicating the presence of the prey. These dogs are long legged and athletic and many of them approach the coursing hounds in body form. Size ranges and bulk are based on expected prey size and type. Because these dogs are often hunted on dangerous game such as bears or wild boar they are selected for courage and pluck as well as eagerness to hunt.
These dogs were hunted in dense cover and as well as open territory and so giving voice or tongue during hunting was selected for so that the hunter could keep track of the direction of the hunt.
Dachshunds - These small hunting dogs were developed in Germany and exist in many varieties of size, coat type and color. Although bold and eager to hunt they are more tolerant of other dogs than the working Terriers. Their short legs are unique in the hunting dogs (other than terriers), and adaptation for going into borrows after game. The name means "Badger Hound" and they are bold enough to take on such a strong willed opponent.
Terriers (Earth dogs) - Terriers are high energy dogs bred for the hunting and killing of rats, mice, foxes and other small to medium sized animals that are reguarded as pests or vermin in relation to human activities, especially farming activities. They are very active dogs with strong prey drive directed to small and medium sized furry animals. Their behavioral profile includes a strong drive to dig because the animals they are targeted on to hunt retreat to burrows. Terriers were expected to follow them into the burrow and to have the feistyness, energy and pluck (courage) to fight the cornered prey in these close quarters. This fiestyness and courage combined with their well developed sense of territory means that they are often intolerant of other dogs.
They are active little dogs and frequently come with wire texture coats which leads them to have 'cute faces'. Their livelyness, lack of fear and alertness makes them relatively easy to motivate in situations such as being a canine actor so they are frequently present on TV shows and in the movies. A lot of terriers end up being given up by novice owners who were attracted to the small size thinking they were getting a companion-temperament dog rather than an active small hunter with strong territorial desires. Before getting a terrier, thoroughly investigate the breed in question! The small terriers are one of the best examples of the observations that NOT ALL SMALL DOG BREEDS HAVE THE COMPANION DOG PERSONALITY.
The hunting terriers are encountered in a range of body forms from long headed, square built dogs to long headed, short legged dogs for following prey into their burrows. The bull (short) headed terriers are considered under Bull Breeds in our classification.
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Hounds are specialized hunting dogs that are bred to act as the instrument of the hunt without looking to their human companions for direction or instruction once they are put on the prey. They generally show strong focus on the chase and are well supplied with the instincts needed to capture and kill they prey once they overtake it. (The exception to this is the modern Bloodhound which is bred with intense tracking and chasing abilities but is gentle when it finds its human quarry.) Hounds have a wild an independent nature in relation to hunting yet have suppresed territorial instincts so that they general get along with "pack" members wether they be other dogs, livestock with which they are familiar or their human "pack". On the other hand things that flee are considered fair game and they look outwards to the horizon for entertainment, not to their human owners for direction. They are dogs that need fenced yards and kennels, especially in the country, except when accompanying their owners on hunting expeditions.
Scent hounds. These dogs form a well defined group of dogs with a strong orientation towards scent hunting. The smaller breeds are traditionally used on rabbits, the larger breeds when used on larger or more dangerous game are used in packs. The pack hunting dogs have the drive to actively kill cornered game. When used on prey that will retreat to a burrow the pack also would include a terrier to to dig the prey out. Because scent hounds are used for forest and brush hunting they are also bred to give tongue or bay during the hunt and their voices are selected to have the low tone baying sound that carries well over considerable distance. A good huntsman can identify his various hound by their voices. However this behavior of baying can make them undesirable as pets in situations where owners are sensitive to noise or where neighbors live close to you. Small scenthounds are generally hunted from foot, medium sized and large scent hounds may be hunted from horseback or leashed if hunted from foot.
Coursing hounds - Hunting dogs who are more highly developed as high speed runners than the wild canid ancestors. The primary trigger for their pursuit is the sight of fleeding prey which they overtake and capture during its flight. Generally hunted in pairs on small game such as hares or jackrabbits or in greater numbers if the prey is large and can fight back such as wolves or deer. In most traditions of hunting with coursing hounds the hounds kill the fleeing game. If the game is brought to bay at a standstill the hounds were aided in the kill by the hunter. The larger coursing hound breeds were hunted from horseback and they are suitable for hunting in open landscape, not heavily forested regions. They hunt silently.
(5) Gun Dogs
Retrievers. Generally associated with duck hunting the retreivers are active breeds utilized in the retreiving of fallen game, especially from water. They tend to have water resistant thick coats with an oily texture.
Bird dogs - Bird dogs are specialized for "birdyness" - that is interest in flying prey being hunted on land - not typical for a hunting canid since flying prey generally is out of the reach of a ground living carnivore. Setters and pointers freeze when they locate birds in cover. The larger breeds, the setters and pointers, will range rapidly over a field and freeze when locating the birds. They were often used in by a hunter on horseback. Spaniels are smaller dogs with shorter legs in relation to the body, they were generally used by a hunter on foot.
Setters crouch down to indicate the presence of a bird, Pointers freeze into a point. Spaniels are much shorter legged with the fringed coat of Setters but may have the pointing behavior of Pointers.
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The larger dogs of these breeds have proven to be so well suited to police and military work that the average non dog person does not realize that the reason the German Shepherd Dog is so named is that it was used to move livestock around in response to the owner's command. These dogs are not easy to own because their energy levels, especially as puppies, require that the owner be involved in an active training program. Such dogs cannot trained by a certain age and then ignored - rather, owning one is a life long commitment by the owner to provide work and companionship. If you are looking for a high energy attentive dog with which to interact, these are breeds to consider. However the fact that they are a very trainable group of dogs means that owning one demands that you have time, energy and interest in training. If you do not the dog will be uncontrollable and you will not be a happy dog owner.
Different strategies are required for herding sheep (which can be easily panicked) and cattle (which can fight back). Thus Livestock Herding Dogs are divided into dogs bred to herd cattle (Cattle Dogs, Bouviers, Treibhunde) and dogs bred to herd sheep (Sheepdogs, Bergers, Schäferhunde )
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After the domestication of the dog as a hunting companion this may represent one of the oldest functions for which dogs were bred. Large massive dogs with greatly reduced prey drive and a strong sense of territory are reared with flocks of domestic sheep and goats even today. They regard the flock as their pack and protect it. They are not used to move the flock, this would require retention of hunting behaviors. The large size not only increases their effectness in a fight but discourages excessive activity. Even today, most of these breeds are recognized as being herd guarding dogs. Generally these breeds show some degree of shortening of the face when compared to wolves. This shortening of the head is termed "Brachychephaly".
MASTIFFS AND WORKING BULL BREEDS
Mastiff breeds(also called Molossian breeds) - the most extreme in size of the guarding dogs, mastiffs are characterized by widening and great shortening of the head and great massiveness of the limbs and body. The wide short muzzled heads are associated with reduced size of the internal nares and these dogs are prone to overheating in hot, humid situations pretty much in direct proportion to their size and shortness of muzzle. The Mastiff type is quite ancient, being seen in the old Roman breed the Molossus
Bull Breeds - specialized dogs bred for extreme shortness of head and breadth of shoulder. Originally these were athletic short headed dogs used by butchers to hold cattle and other animals for slaughter as well as do some herding under command. However modern English Bull dogs are so exaggerated in their characteristics to have become a parody of the working animals. The overheating and breathing problems seen in Mastiffs are of course also present in these very short headed dogs.
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Fighting dogs are a specialized class selected for willingness to engage in battle with another dog. The fighting breeds generally have certain physical characteristics in common. Loose skin, small ears, small tight lidded eyes, massive jaws and heavy muscling. They do not have the exaggerated short heads of the bull breeds as this would lead to overheating and loss of endurance. They tend to be quite resistant to pain and to have a sort of bipolar personality in which they are either relaxed and outgoing or are in focused fighting mode. In most countries in which this essay will be read dog fighting is illegal because it is considered inhumane. It is still pursued as a sport even when banned.
Fighting dog breeds have an appeal as guard dogs. In addition the individuals who have the overall breed personality of being outgoing and confident but lack the breed specific fighting frenzy make excellent pets. The association of images of human power and worth with the ownership of a dog from a fighting dog breed has lead to an unfortunate popularity of these dogs and a tendency for novices to obtain them. Thus dogs of the fighting dog breeds, principally "pit bulls", are among the commonest large dogs in urban animal shelters in the United States and are frequently the focus of 'dangerous dog laws'. Fighting dog breeds seem to have originated from other breeds and breed crosses by selecting for exaggerated pluck and courage, the ability to focus on the task at hand, especially fighting, massive muscling and reduced sensitivity to physical pain. They blend in with the terriers on the one hand and the mastiff/bull breeds on the other.
Top of this Essay | Understanding Groups
|This advice is especially true of dogs bred as working dogs. Working dogs generally have enhanced levels of energy as well as highly focused drives and well developed behaviors related to their expected work: guard dogs bark alarms and pace, hunting dogs seek to roam and hunt, herding dogs become bored if they can't drive livestock around and will take out their herding needs by nipping at the heels of children. Dogs from the fighting dog breeds are not dogs to be owned by people who lack the time and interest to thoroughly train their dog, and they should never be owned as a first dog.|
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