Choosing the Right Dog for
Understanding Dog Breed Catagories
by the staff of NetPets
Purebred dogs are called "pure" because they breed "true." That is, you have an excellent reason to believe that the puppies produced by a mating of two purebreds of the same breed will resemble the breed's description (its written "standard") in both appearance and behavior. The various modern classifications of domestic dog breeds by appearance and behavior date back to Roman times. The first written breed standards appeared in the 19th Century with the appearance of animal exhibits and stock shows. Today, there are more dog breeds than ever before -- perhaps 500 or more pure dog breeds.
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 working ability and appearance. This helps us teach you about 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 do need to keep in mind that variation between individuals occurs 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. An example would be gun shyness in a retriever, lack of chase behavior in a Greyhound, 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!
Our NetPetsŪ breed categories are based on a combination of behavioral and physical aspects. We cannot over-emphasize the great importance of considering breed specific behaviors as a primary part of your choice in a dog breed. Few dogs are given up by owners because they are black or have erect ears but many, many dogs are discarded as unsatisfactory because they exhibit breed specific behaviors which the owners are unable to tolerate.
Dogs that are bred for certain aspects of work will tend to have similar physiques because, after all, function does depend upon form. Within a behavioral/physical category the major differences between breeds are often size related, coat type related or color related. The more generalized the the purpose of the dog, the closer it tends to be to the general ancestral wolf body form - the more specialized the activity the 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 soem 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.
Defined by behavior, purpose, and, in part, by relatives-in-common, there are 6 groups of modern dog breeds: (1) Primitive Breeds and Spitz Breeds (2) the Companion Dog Group (3) Hunting Dogs (4) Livestock Herding Dogs (Drover's Dogs) (5) Livestock Guarding Dogs (6) Mastiffs and Bull Breeds and (7) Fighting Dogs. Many of these groups 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.