Find out about the characteristics and origins of each of our dog breed groups!
There are many different kinds of dog.
Which breeds go in which dog breed group is a decision made by a Kennel Club.
Your Kennel Club
Which Kennel Club makes that decision depends upon which is the body which presides over the registration of pedigree dogs in your region.
In the USA this is the American Kennel Club (AKC) In the UK this is the Kennel Club (KC).
In many countries around the world dogs Kennel Clubs divide dogs into just seven main groups or types of dog.
- Sporting / Gun dog
- Non-sporting / Utility
- Herding / Pastoral
Each individual pedigree breed belongs to just one of these groups. And it isn’t always the group you might expect.
To confuse the issue, these groups are sometimes given different names by different Kennel Clubs
Variation in dog breed group names
The group containing all the gun dog breeds is called the Sporting group by the AKC, and the Gundog group in the UK
So, in the USA Labradors belongs to the AKC’s Sporting group, whereas in the UK they belong to the Kennel Club’s Gundog group (we join the words gun and dog together here in Britain)
But in both countries, the group that the Labrador belongs to consists of mostly the same breeds and they are all dogs that serve the same purpose, that of hunting companions.
In this case it’s just the group name that is different
In the same way, the Non-Sporting group is called the Utility group in the UK. And the Pastoral Group is called the working group
So you will find German Shepherd Dogs belongs to the Herding group in America, where as here in Britain, the same group of dogs, with the same breeds in it, is called the Pastoral group.
Again, the role and purpose of this group of dogs is the same – the herding of livestock.
Variations in the way dogs are allocated to a group
In some cases, a breed in one country is classified in a completely different group than the group it is allocated to in another country.
How dog breeds are allocated to groups
And in many cases, it is this role that is the key to why they belong to a particular dog breed group.
Let’s look at each group in turn
All the dogs in the ‘hound’ group were originally bred for hunting.
Many of the hound breeds are specifically ‘pack’ hounds. Dogs like beagles, and bloodhounds, were bred to hunt over long distances in large groups or packs.
These are the endurance or marathon runners of the hound group, capable of running down or wearing out their prey over a period of hours. Some are sighthounds which were bred for incredible bursts of speed and used for coursing prey over short distances.
Although in modern times hounds range greatly in size and shape, they all share a common hunting background.
From the tiny elongated Dachshund, to the tall and sturdy Irish Wolfhound, they were all bred with the hunt in mind.
But despite a clear working history, many of these breeds also make fabulous companion dogs for active households, and have a well-earned reputation as loyal and calm members of their families.
Historical Role and Purpose
Although the hound group were all bred as hunting companions, they fall into two distinct categories. Scent hounds and sight hounds.
Scent and sight hounds were both originally bred as hunting dogs.
Bred to pursue a quarry and bring it down, without assistance from their human companions. But they do so in different ways.
As the name suggests, scent hounds hunt primarily with their noses. They follow scent trails after their quarry, often over long distances and rugged terrain.
These fit and active dogs are the marathon runners of the hound world.
Packhounds can be followed on horseback or on foot, and this may be reflected in their size or length of leg.
Foxhounds for example, bred to be followed on horseback are large long legged hounds. Whereas Bassett Hounds, bred for foot following, have shorter legs and proceed at a slower pace than their speedy foxhound relatives.
They normally only bring down a quarry species after bringing it to bay, or after a short visual chase at the end of the trail.
The pursuit of the quarry is often accompanied by baying or giving tongue, an extraordinary and bone tingling sound aptly described as ‘music’ by hunt followers.
Because of this tendency to ‘speak’ however, pack hounds can be noisy as pets, and inclined to bark and howl.
Some of our more popular and well known scent hounds include Beagles, Basset Hounds and Blood Hounds.
Sight hounds, also known as ‘gaze hounds’, have been bred to hunt with their eyes.
Unlike their scent hound cousins, they are often run singly or in pairs. They were bred to chase the quarry until they catch and kill it, so quarry species tend to be smaller.
The dogs themselves tend to be lean and leggy in body type.
Sight hounds have a strong hunting instinct, but can still make great pets with the right training and socialization.
Some of the more popular sight hound pet breeds include Whippets, Greyhounds and Salukis.
Divisions of type in hounds
Some of our hounds have become divided into two strains. Those that work, and those that are primarily bred for the show ring.
In the UK there are still many packs of working hounds, and here you will see hounds much as they looked in the history books.
Of course most of our modern hounds are family pets, and many of these come from primarily show stock.
Over the years, exaggerations have crept in to many of our show dogs, and though most hounds have not been too badly affected there are one or two exceptions.
Health issues in hounds
Some of our scent hounds have traditionally been bred with very short legs. Domestic dogs are all descended from wolves, and the wolf has a balanced, squarish body with leg length being similar to the length between the front and back legs.
Like humans however, wolves and their domestic dog descendants can carry a genetic defect called achondroplasia that causes the affected animal to have disproportionately short legs. In the wild, such an animal would be disadvantaged and would not survive to pass on the defect.
However, once dogs became protected from the powers of evolution, we were able to deliberately breed more of these short legged animals.
Over the years, we have bred ever shorter legs in some of our short legged breeds. One of these breeds is our Basset Hound.
Whilst we may like the way that this looks, it comes at a cost to the dog. An elongated back in proportion to legs predisposes the dog to spinal problems.
And the excessive skin that modern show Bassets carry can result in skin fold dermatitis, and painful eye problems. You can see the Basset in the photo above has deeply drooping lower eyelids, which make him vulnerable to soreness and infection.
The Pet Hound
Hounds can make lovely family pets in the right environment. But you must thoroughly research your chosen breed before bringing it home.
Most of them have very strong hunting instincts, so you will need to be dedicated to teaching a very well proofed recall from the word go. Alternatively, to only ever exercising your dog on training lead outside of your garden.
Some hounds have a reputation as being a little aloof, but this can actually be of benefit to some families. Most hounds won’t be as pushy, or inclined to harass every strange they pass for attention.
Hounds need plenty of exercise, but depending on the breed this will either be in the form of regular short intense sprints or daily forced marches. It will depend on the breed that you go for.
Popular Hound Breeds
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
The Working Group
The working group is quite a mixed bag. Many of us think of sheepdogs as working dogs, but they have their own group, the herding or pastoral dogs.
Some of us think of gun dogs as working dogs, because we ‘work’ them in the shooting field. But they too have their own group. So why would dog breed be allocated to the working group?
The group that the Kennel Club designates as ‘working’ contains many larger breeds that were bred for guarding, rescue, or police work in addition to some of the ‘sled’ dogs like the Siberian Husky and dogs bred for hauling carts.
Some of the working group are multi-purpose, and were used for herding and hauling like the Bernese Mountain dog, or for herding and guarding.
There are some large, tough, and individual dogs in this group. And some unusual ones too.
The Sporting Group
The sporting or gundog group embraces many very popular pet breeds. In fact, it comprises more than half of all registered purebred pet dogs born in the UK.
The gun dogs’ outstanding popularity owes much to the nature of their purpose.
Like the hounds, gundogs have been bred for centuries as hunting dogs. But the gundogs have been bred specifically to work in close co-operation with a human partner rather than in a pack with other dogs.
This has had a profound effect on the temperament of dogs within this group. Many of them have a strong tendency to desire human company and to interact closely with people.
Gun dogs are largely co-operative in nature. And this makes them rather easier to train than some other groups of dog.
There are some gun dog characteristics that can cause problems in training, and we will look at those later, but on the whole this is a biddable, and easy going group of dogs.
The word terrier means ‘of the earth’. And our terrier breeds were selectively bred by man to hunt underground.
Many of our British Terrier breeds were specifically bred for fox control and are relatively small dogs that can fit easily down a fox earth.
Others were bred with ratting in mind. Many terriers are very versatile and will turn their hand to a range of roles. Terriers are typically fairly small, compact little dogs, but some of the bull terriers can be substantial dogs.
Terriers are our fourth most popular group of dogs, and there are twenty-six different breeds embraced by the group.
Over twenty-four thousand terrier puppies were registered with the Kennel Club in 2013, and because there are still many working terriers here in the UK, there are many more terriers that go unregistered within the rural community.
These are popular and characterful pets in both urban and rural households.
History and role of the breed
Terriers go back a long way, and in the 18th century were divided into just two types. The short legged terrier, and the long legged terrier!
Being bred in small isolated local communities meant lots of different terrier breeds, often named after the location they originate from in the UK.
Hence we have Norfolk terriers, Patterdales, West Highland terriers, Manchester terriers and so on
Several of these breeds of terrier still work today, as do some of our popular Border and Jack Russell Terriers.
The border terrier is one of the top ten most popular dogs in the UK and is the smallest of our longer legged terriers.
The well known and widely recognised Jack Russell terrier, is a popular dog within the rural community, often short legged, and often weighing less than 15lbs.
These little working dogs, unregistered with the Kennel Club are favoured by the hunting community. They were bred for foxing, and excess puppies were and still are, often sold as pets at very reasonable prices.
Bull terriers differ quite substantially from our traditional working terrier breeds and are a type of terrier produced by mixing terrier and bulldog lines together. The sport of dog fighting has been illegal for some years in Britain but the practice still goes on in places, and some bull terrier breeds are bred and trained for this unpleasant purpose.
The most popular of our bull terriers is the Staffordshire, whose reputation has taken quite a blow in recent years. Like all terriers these are robust and good natured dogs if well socialised, but if isolated or ill-treated their feisty nature can bring them into conflict with people and/or other dogs.
Perhaps one of the most famous bull terriers is the fictional Bull Terrier owned by Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist.
Sadly, selective breeding has led to an obscure exaggeration of the Bull Terrier’s nose by modern breeders, but the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has retained his traditional appearance.
Though most terriers are quite small dogs, we do have a couple of larger breed terriers in the UK and those are the Beddlington, and the Airedale.
Most popular terrier breeds
The most popular breed in the terrier group is the Border Terrier. You can find out more about these little dog in this article: Which breed of puppy: looking at border terriers
- Border Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- West Highland White
- Bull Terrier
- Cairn Terrier
- Scottish Terrier
- Fox Terrier
- Norfolk Terrier
- Airedale Terrier
- Parson Russell
A good number of our terrier breeds are fairly long lived, soundly constructed, and relatively free from health problems.
With the exception of the bull terrier’s face, we have perhaps not interfered too extensively with the conformation of these little dogs. However there are some breeds that have some serious health issues that need to be considered.
These include the Scottish Terrier which has a number of health problems including a very high rate of bladder cancer (18-20 fold higher risk than other dog breeds)
So it’s important that we don’t just assume a dog breed is healthy because it is a terrier, and that we research any breed thoroughly before making a decision on ownership.
Terriers like hunting and chasing wildlife and need to be well trained and socialised in order to prevent them running riot, or annoying the neighbours cats.
Most terriers are people-friendly and good natured dogs, if well socialised.
They have a reputation for mischief, but in reality, are really no more mischievous than any other hunting dog. They are however, very tough little dogs and really do need to be trained using positive reinforcement.
General terrier care
Most terriers have easy-care coats and require no more than a regular brushing. They need a moderate amount of daily exercise, some of which can be achieved with games and retrieving.
Many terriers enjoy sport like agility and flyball, and love nothing better than a long hike across the moors.
Terrier tail docking
Working terriers are exempt from the anti-docking legislation of recent years in England, and if you buy a terrier from working parents, it will probably have had its tail docked soon after birth.
This won’t affect your puppy and contrary to myths, dogs can still balance properly and communicate happily with other dogs with a shortened tail.
Tail docking is only permitted if puppies are intended to go to working homes, so if you buy a puppy from show or pet breeding he should have a full tail.
If a terrier appeals to you, you should be able to find a pedigree breed that is in reasonable shape, provided you do your research.
Alternatively, there are many unregistered terriers from working lines to be found in rural communities throughout the UK.
Make sure you meet the mother of your puppy and that she is friendly. And make sure that your terrier puppy has not been isolated from everyday human contact. You can use our step-by-step Puppy Search guide to choosing your puppy.
Socialise your puppy thoroughly and you should have many years of fun together.
Further links and information
- Kennel Club
- The National Working Terrier Federation
- Bull Terriers, then and now
- Scottish Terriers, then and now
The Toy Group
Toy dogs are a special group of small dogs bred specifically to act as companions. Some of these dogs are miniaturised versions of breeds that probably originally belonged to other groups.
Thus we have the Yorkshire Terrier, the Italian Greyhound and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Others are unique breeds in their own right, and don’t really fall into any other category.
Health and longevity in toy dogs
Generally speaking, smaller dogs tend to be longer lived than larger ones. Their bodies don’t have to work so hard and so is subject to less wear and tear.
Chihuahuas (like the puppy pictured above) for example can reportedly live from 14-18 years (source) But being small is not necessarily a guarantee of a long and healthy life.
Brachycephaly in toy dogs
A number of our toy breeds are brachycephalic dogs. These are breeds where the facial bones have been significantly shortened, relative to the size of the dog.
Severe brachycephaly has a significant impact on the health of the dog concerned. Even if the longevity of the dog is not curtailed, the quality of it’s life may be poor. And this is an important consideration if you are looking for a puppy.
The Pekinese and the Pugs are two examples of severely brachycephalic dogs and have a number of health problems as a result. These include breathing difficulties, eye problems and problems keeping themselves cool.
You can find out more about brachycephaly and its effects in this article: brachycephalic puppies.
You’ve probably heard about the further miniaturisation of some of our toy breeds, sometimes referred to as teacup dogs.
Some Yorkshire Terriers have been miniaturized in this way, but it is worth pointing out at this point that teacup dogs may have their health compromised, and have a reduced life span compared with other Toy Dogs
Some toy breeds are particularly prone to dental problems, partly due to overcrowded teeth.
This is another thing you need to take into consideration when you are narrowing down your choice of puppy.
Most popular toy dogs
The most popular breed in the toy dog group is the Pug. You can find more information about Pugs and links to lots of Pug resources on this page: Which breed of puppy: looking at Pugs
Here are a list of the top ten most popular toy dogs in the UK. These dogs are listed in order of the number of puppies registered in 2013 and a position on the list does not imply quality or health.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Chihuahua (smooth coated)
- Chihuahua (long coated)
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- Chinese Crested Dog
There are 23 breeds of toy dog recognised by the UK Kennel Club. You can find a complete list and further information here: Kennel Club Toy Breed information
Classification of breeds varies slightly from country to country. The American Kennel Club for example lists the Shih Tzu as a member of the Toy Group whereas the UK Kennel CLub lists them in the Utility Group.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em
Toy Dogs often arouse quite strong feelings. People tend to love them or hate them!
It’s important to remember that they are still dogs. And that inside each of these little dogs lies a personality every bit as big as their larger cousins.
Healthy Toy Dogs can be trained to be obedient, and even useful, and if properly bred, raised and socialised are no more snappy or grumpy than any other type of dog.
Is a toy breed right for you?
There are definitely advantages to owning a smaller dog. Both in terms of general care, and also for control reasons. It is much easier to manage a boisterous puppy that weighs four pounds, than one that weighs forty pounds.
In purely practical terms, the crate you will need to contain a Chihuahua in comfort is going to be a lot more space friendly, than the crate you’ll need to contain a Boxer.
Some toy breeds have been bred with excessively long coats and may need quite a bit of clipping or grooming, so you need to factor that in to your considerations. And very small dogs are vulnerable to injury especially in a home where there are lots of young children tearing about.
The most important factor to consider though, is probably going to be the health of the dog.
A healthy future
Good health and temperament is just as important in these small breeds as it is in larger ones and should not be neglected. Unfortunately to some extent it has been.
If you want to see a future where all toy dog breeds are healthy and happy, it is important to avoid encouraging the breeding of extremes (in size, leg length, skull shape, etc). And to check out the health issues carefully for any breed that interests you. Remember that (at the time of writing) health issues associated with conformation seem not be listed on KC breed health information pages.
Make sure the temperament of the parents of your prospective puppy is sound. No matter how small a dog is, he should be happy and friendly, even if inclined to bark.
The Herding Group
This group contains our pastoral or herding dogs. It embraces the sheepdogs we are all familiar with watching on TV (border collies), and other herding breeds like the German Shepherd dog.
Different types of herd animals have given rise to different types of herding dogs. Sheep with their timid nature are easily set in flight whereas cattle can be more difficult to get on the move.
As a result the cattle herding dogs like ‘corgis’ tend to be bolder and more assertive in temperament than the sheep herding dogs like collies.
Most of the breeds within this group are no longer worked as sheepdogs but are now bred purely as pets.
The cleverness and co-operative temperament of the sheepdog breeds makes them fairly easy to train.
They are usually highly intelligent and often biddable which makes them a popular choice with obedience trainers.
However, some of our herding dogs are less sociable in nature than the equally intelligent gundog group and may be more ‘aloof’ with people that are not a part of their immediate family.
This can be both a good thing and a bad thing, as we shall see.
When a dog breed fits neatly into a category by virtue of its original purpose, it’s easy to see why that breed was allocated to that group
For that reason, it isn’t surprising to find dogs that herd sheep or cattle in the ‘herding’ group. Nor is it hard to see why a ‘border terrier’ is allocated to the ‘terrier group
The Non-Sporting or Utility Group
Some dogs just don’t have a specific purpose any more, or don’t fit neatly into any of the other six groups, and these dogs often end up in the Non-Sporting or Utility Group.
As a result, the non-sporting group is very diverse.
It includes breeds as diverse as the Dalmation, the Poodles (originally retrievers) and the Shih Tzu (originally indoor pets to the Chinese ruling families).
Does it matter which of the dog breed groups I choose?
The origins of each group have affected not only the appearance, but the temperament of the dogs within it.
This is particularly important when it comes to the way in which the dogs relate to people, because it affects the ease with which they can be trained, and controlled.
Some groups of dog, the herding and gundog groups in particular, have been bred for hundreds of years to work in close partnership with people.
This has made them more co-operative and interested in working with a human partner than some of the more independent breeds.
How easy is this type of dog to train?
All dogs need training, so this is something you really need to consider.
You might not think that this matters at the moment, but you will when you are stood in the rain with an empty lead in your hand whilst the butt end of your dog disappears over the horizon.
Whilst all dogs are individuals, and all dogs can be trained, the kinds of problems that people have with dogs can sometimes be related to the group that they belong to.
Recall problems are common in hounds, which are comfortable ‘doing their own thing’ without human guidance, for long periods of time.
Because hounds generally are quite independent dogs, some people find them a little more challenging to train than other dogs.
How friendly is this dog?
Nipping or ankle biting problems can be more common in some herding dogs, and some of our guarding and fighting breeds, may be inherently less sociable and therefore more anxious around strangers.
This is not an issue if the dog is thoroughly and effectively socialised, but it is something you might want to consider.
Avoiding potential behavior problems
Chasing wildlife is more common in hunting dogs such as hounds and gundogs, and chasing moving objects (including joggers and cyclists) can be a problem in sight hounds and herding dogs.
This is something to consider if you live on the edge of a pheasant shoot, or want to exercise your dog in a park with a busy cycle path through the middle.
One problem that many people don’t expect when they raise a dog, is that of over-friendliness. This is a common issue for gun dog owners, whose young dogs tend to want to run off and play with or jump all over, any passing strange dog or child.
In addition gun dogs, whilst being generally very easy to train, may suffer from anxiety if left alone for long periods as they are naturally sociable dogs.
No bad dogs, no perfect dogs
This is not an exhaustive examination of all the different groups of dog, and you will find more information in the links provided.
The idea is to give you a flavour of some of the attributes of each group, to help you think about what might suit you and your family.
As you can see there is no perfect solution. No one group of dogs is trouble free. There are no ‘bad groups’ and no ‘perfect groups’
Indeed, with the right socialisation and training, almost any puppy can be raised to be a good citizen. There is no harm, however, in smoothing your path a little.
Is unusual a good thing?
No-one wants to be just like everyone else. Picking an unusual or rare breed can be very appealing. And sometimes this works well.
But if you are tempted with a rare and exotic dog pause for a moment before reaching for your wallet, and ask yourself
“Why is this breed of dog rare?” “Why is it unusual?”
There is often a reason, and it may not be the reason you would like it to be. We’ll look at this in a bit more depth later.
How do I choose?
Many people have an idea of what breed or type of dog they want before they begin searching.
Sometimes it is because they want a dog for a particular purpose. Other times, it is because a dog particularly appeals to them for reasons they cannot define.
I cannot tell you which dog you should choose as there as too many unique factors to take into account. What I can do is give you as much objective information as possible on which to base your decision.
Perhaps you have a friend with a dog that you like, a dog that you really like the look of, or a breed that you have really fallen for. If so, the attributes of the group he belongs to may not influence you very much.
But however much a particular dog appeals to you, there is something you really try and approach with an open mind. And that is the health of the breed concerned.
Protecting your puppy’s health
There is nothing wrong with short-listing a dog type based on appearance, though you are much more likely to be happy with your choice if you know a little about the characteristics of that particular group first.
It is vital though, that you research the breed you are interested in before making up your mind, because sadly, some breeds have serious health issues that can have a devastating effect on both your heart and your wallet.
These issues are not always willingly recognised by the people that breed the affected dogs, and we will be addressing them in the weeks to come.
Choosing a puppy or dog?
We’ve looked in general at the types of dogs you are likely to find in each of the seven groups listed.
If you are looking for a puppy, you may be drawn to one particular group or another. If so, it’s now time to narrow your choices down a little. And to find out more about each of the breeds that your chosen group includes.