There are hundreds of breeds of dog in the world and our four-legged friends come in all shapes and sizes. And, like humans, they’re all different.
Lots of people make the mistake of choosing a dog by appearance without doing any research into whether they’ll be able to provide for the behavioural needs of that dog. Most dogs have been bred for a purpose and will still have natural instincts, whether it’s guarding, hunting or herding. We hope this guide will help you learn a little more about the difference between dog breeds and what breeds can make the best family dogs.
We’re going to explore the seven groups that The Kennel Club divides breeds into. Don’t forget that this is a rough guide and that the characteristics and natural instincts of dogs vary within each group, so if you’re thinking of a particular breed make sure you do your homework first.
Other factors are also extremely important in shaping your dog’s character – particularly the environment they were born in and raised as a puppy. So it’s important that if you want your dog to live in your home as a family pet to choose a puppy that has been born and raised in a family home. For more advice on this, please read choosing the right dog.
In this group it’s size that matters. These dogs are here because they’re small but they’re a mixed bag. Many have been bred as companions while others were intended for vermin control and need a job to keep them busy.
The key things to remember about this group is that these dogs can make great pets but tend to be high maintenance in their own way, whether that’s because they need lots of grooming or lots of exercise. But one thing goes for all of these dogs – even though they’re little, they still need to lead an active life and should be treated as dogs, not handbag accessories.
There’s something for everybody in this group because it’s got dogs of all shapes and sizes. The name utility means fit for purpose but that covers a whole range of dogs, from a little German spitz to a standard poodle, and this group is largely made up of dogs that don’t fit into other groups.
Terriers were largely bred to hunt vermin so their natural instincts are to dig and kill. They are known for being extremely brave and tough and you can expect an intelligent, active dog that needs a job to do, which you can help provide through lots of exercise and play.
Hounds are often described as aloof. This doesn’t mean that they do n’t like companionship – in fact, they can become destructive when left at home alone – but they don’t show their affection as much as some other dogs. They were bred to hunt and work at a distance from people so they’re quite independent and some people find them harder to bond with.
This group is made up of dogs that were bred for a specific job. They tend to be larger dogs so this has to be taken into account if you’re considering a working breed. They are highly intelligent and have large exercise requirements and many of them were bred to guard so they may still have this trait. Among the working breeds there are some gentle giants who, despite their large size, can make great family dogs provided they are well-trained, well-socialised and that they get enough exercise.
These dogs have been bred to work with livestock and are very active and alert to their surroundings. They are extremely intelligent dogs that need to be physically and mentally stimulated and they tend to be quite tough and healthy. They need a job to do, which can be provided through plenty of training, play and exercise, otherwise they may become ‘self-employed’ and find their own jobs to do – including trashing your house and rounding up children, traffic and other dogs.
These dogs were originally bred to find and retrieve game. They tend to have very amenable temperaments so they make popular family pets. They have long worked alongside people so they are often affectionate. They are active and intelligent dogs so they’ll need lots of exercise to keep them busy.
There are lots of dogs who don’t fit neatly into any of these groups because they’re crossbreeds or mongrels. These dogs tend to lack the exaggerated behaviour traits associated with certain breeds and can make great pets.
However, be careful of so-called designer breeds because these experiments don’t always work and can cause health problems in later life, as well as encouraging bad breeding practice as some unscrupulous breeders try to cash in on the fad.