Dog Breed Groups 101

Why does the AKC assign a breed to a specific group, and what do these groups mean anyway? We take a closer look at the dog breed classifications.

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Dog breed groups can be confusing.

The world of dog breeds, registrations and shows can be confusing.

There is a learning curve to dog shows themselves, but what do all the classifications mean? The Terrier Group may make you think of tiny, yappy dogs. The Sporting Group may have you scratching your head: Do dogs play golf?”

Below, we take a closer look at each dog breed group as categorized by the American Kennel Club.

Sporting

Sporting dog breeds are often referred to as active, alert, intelligent and great companion pets. They have instincts on land and in water, and many breeds in the group participate in hunting and field activities. These active breeds need regular exercise to keep up with their active lifestyle. Many work in service positions, such as in therapy, disability service positions or law enforcement.

The Sporting Group includes:

Non-Sporting

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The Xoloitzcuintli has a unique appearance. By: Petful

When dogs do not match the requirements and characteristics of other groups, many find their way into the Non-Sporting Group, a melting pot of various breeds.

These dogs vary widely in personality, size and appearance; they include some very unique-looking dogs. Many of these breeds live life as pampered companions and participate in many other roles, such as the unmistakable association between Dalmatians and fire houses.

The Non-Sporting Group includes:

Working

The dedicated, solid dogs bred to work in various jobs fill the Working Group. They are strong, quick-learning and hard-working pups often seen in guarding, sledding and water rescue work. Working Group breeds are often fearless.

They make superior companions but can be overwhelming for families looking for a relaxed family pet. Working dogs desire work and need to have this instinct satisfied, although this can vary by breed.

For example, Newfoundlands are extremely docile with children and other animals, but they are also capable of strenuous work in harsh climates and water.

The Working Group includes:

The Tibetan Mastiff looks like a lion, depending on its coat and grooming. This quick video below — Petful’s most viewed video of all time — shows Sasha getting groomed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York:

Herding

Some dogs in the Working Group received a change of classification to the Herding Group to acknowledge their ability to herd, or control and manage the movements of other animals (typically livestock). They do this with eye contact, running and barking and are not intimidated by size.

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An Old English Sheepdog gets groomed at a dog show.

They are often referred to as the control freaks of the dog world for their ability to herd anything. They are intelligent with good dispositions, but herding dogs without access to livestock or herding work will often herd other pets and even the human family — children included.

The Herding Group includes:

Hound

The hunting instinct has been present in some dogs for centuries, and the Hound Group classification recognizes these breeds for their unique abilities. Some hound dogs search by sight, such as the Greyhound, while others rely on their sense of smell for tracking.

Many hounds possess high endurance and stamina for hunting over difficult terrain or for long periods of time.

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Hounds are a common sight as companions to hunters, although they are more likely to be seen as companion pets. Hounds can be easily distracted by small prey or by tracking smells, so they require secure enclosures or leashed walking to prevent getting lost.

Some of them are capable of baying, which sounds like a slow howl, so research the breed you are interested in before adding a hound to your family.

Dog breeds in the hound group include:

This video shows a lonely Basenji at a dog show:

Terrier

Dog breeds in the Terrier Group are energetic, full of personality, love to dig, intelligent and trainable. Terriers were used years ago to dig and hunt vermin, large rodents and other small animals. Crossing of breeds and being taught to fight have given some breeds bad reputations, such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. All dogs need proper training and socialization, and terriers are no exception.

The Terrier Group includes:

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Dandie Dinmont Terrier
  • Norwich Terrier
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Welsh Terrier

In this video you can see the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, which bears a resemblance to a (very hairy) Dachshund with a shorter face:

Toy

Tiny dogs are a favorite among people in apartments or those not wishing to have a large dog. The Toy Group offers many choices for a small companion.

Don’t let the small size fool you, though. Many toy breeds can be feisty.

Toy breeds are popular because they are easy to transport and control — and not to mention, they are adorable.

Many toy breeds appear as smaller versions of larger breeds, such as the Toy Poodle. Small dogs are often lap dogs and offer affectionate companionship. Keep in mind that toy dogs are fragile, and care should be taken before housing them with larger animals or children.

The Toy Group includes:

This video shows Affenpinscher “Joey,” the Westminster dog show winner of 2013, during a preliminary judging:

Miscellaneous

This class is used for breeds acknowledged but not yet categorized by the American Kennel Club. New breeds must have development, interest, activity, a parent club and breeding activity over a wide area to be considered for advancement from the Miscellaneous Class to another standard breed group.

Right now, the Miscellaneous Class includes:

  • Azawakh
  • Boerboel
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Lagotto Romagnolo
  • Peruvian Inca Orchid
  • Sloughi

Foundation Stock Service

This is a starting point for breeds to eventually be included in the American Kennel Club. While not eligible for registration, these breeds can continue to develop while their records are updated. Some breeds are allowed to participate in companion events.

Right now, the Foundation Stock Service includes:

  • Appenzeller Sennenhunde
  • Coton de Tulear
  • Hovawart
  • Kooikerhondje
  • Schapendoes
  • Tornjak

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has been researching and writing about pet behaviors and care for many years, with her articles appearing in various publications. She is the CEO of a large mental health practice in Louisiana and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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