What is Your Dog's Style? Breeds, Toys, and Play Styles

When thinking about adding a dog or puppy to your family, it is always a good idea to research breed types and traits. The physical appearance of mixed breeds often (but not always!) provides clues about breed heritage. Knowing the breed types and traits that contributed to your dog’s ancestry is important to help your new family member grow into a well-balanced dog. Traits your dog is likely to show should match the lifestyle of your family, otherwise behavior issues may arise. For example, breeds with a high energy/work drive living with a sedentary family providing minimal stimulation are much more likely to suffer from anxiety, obesity, and other health issues, or may develop destructive behavior patterns.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) currently divides AKC registered dog breeds in 7 different groups, mostly depending on history and original purpose of the breed. What a dog was bred for often corresponds with certain hardwired behaviors and behavioral needs. For a peaceful and happy life together, it is essential that owners are aware of these breed specific traits. However, every dog has its individual personality, which may not always correlate with breed standards!

The Sporting Group includes breeds that assist in hunting, either by locating game (pointers and setters), moving/flushing game (spaniels), or retrieving downed game (retrievers). Many of these breeds require a lot of physical exercise and may retrieve not only game but also newspapers, shoes, and other household items.

Sporting Group includes: Brittany Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Pointers, Setters, etc.

Common play styles: body slamming, neck biting, wrestling

Popular games/activities: fetch, nose games, tracking, water work, dock diving, hunting

The Herding Group includes breeds that help humans to control the movement of other animals. Depending on what kind of livestock they are bred to work with, these dogs may achieve their goal by stalking, staring, nipping, or barking. Not only do they react to human commands, they also use their own judgment. Members of these breeds are highly intelligent and need lots of mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Don’t be surprised if your dog tries to herd human members of the family with any of the above-mentioned methods!

Herding Group includes: Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Corgi, Puli, Australian Shepherd, etc.

Common play styles: chasing, soft touches, cheerleading other dogs

Popular games/activities: agility, frisbee, treibball, competitive herding and obedience, flyball, puzzle toys

The Hound Group contains some of the oldest breeds known to man. In general, hounds were bred to help humans pursue and catch quarry, either by using exceptional sight and great speed (sight hounds) or by tracking scents (scent hounds) or both. It is hard to list general traits, as this group is very diverse, containing breeds as short as the Dachshund and as tall as the Irish Wolfhound. Many hounds produce a distinct bark (baying) and don’t hesitate to use it. Also, be prepared that your hound may not wait for your cue. They are bred to be trailblazers!

Hound Group Includes: Afghan Hound,  Borzoi, Whippet, Greyhound (sight hounds), Dachshund, Beagle, Basset, Bloodhound, Plott Hound (scent hounds), etc.

Common play style: Scent Hounds tend to follow their noses and may be more independent breeds. Sight hounds enjoy chase. Both the scent and sight hounds can be social dogs that like to bay with enthusiasm.

Popular games/activities: nose games, lure coursing for sight hounds, tracking

Dogs in the Terrier Group were originally bred to hunt vermin and rodents (above and below ground level), as well as to chase small game. The group is roughly divided into long-legged, short-legged, and stocky/muscular dogs. Terriers are determined, brave and clever, and have a high prey drive. Make sure to provide a digging pit/sandbox and train your terrier to dig in it rather than your flowerbeds.

Terrier Group includes: Airedale, Jack Russell Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Schnauzer, Scottie, Westie, etc.

Common play style: body slamming (esp. for stocky/muscular terriers), wrestling

Popular games/activities: treibball, carting/weight pulling, earthdog trials

Breeds in the Working Group were developed to assist humans with specific tasks, such as guarding, sledding/carting, and rescue. Many members of this group are fast learners and grow into dogs of considerable size. Due to their strength and independent spirit, they require proper handling and training. Guard dogs tend to be wary of strangers and may not fit into a home where lots of people come and go. Many of the northern breeds used for sledding can be aloof; they like to roam and are excellent escape artists. If you own a member of the working group, make sure to research the breed well. Breed rescue groups may provide excellent first hand information and tips.

Working Group includes: Akita, Boxer, Doberman, Mastiff, Husky, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, etc.

Common play styles: various due to high diversity in this group

Popular games/toys: jogging; carting; tracking; activities that involve mind and body, depending on what they were bred for

The remaining two groups, the Toy Group and the Non-Sporting Group, contain breeds so diverse that it is impossible to generalize even the most basic behavior traits. Members of the toy group are often smaller versions of other breeds, while the Non-Sporting Group contains breeds that don’t fit into any other category. Today, members of both groups are bred solely for companionship.

Toy Group includes: Affenpinscher, Chihuahua, Maltese, Poodle, Pug, Yorkie, etc..

Non-Sporting Group includes: Bichon Frise, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Lhasa Apso, Schipperke, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, etc.

For more information on which breeds belong to a specific group, please go to www.akc.org

Other institutions group breeds in slightly different classes. For example, the United Kennel Club (www.ukcdogs.com) distinguishes Northern Breeds, Gun Dogs, Herding Dogs, Guardian Dogs, Scenthounds, Sighthounds and Pariahs, Terriers and Companion Dogs.

Play Styles

Cheerleaders: tend to play outside the group who are actively playing. They tend to run around the group playing and barking. Many times the cheerleader turns into the "fun police" and tries to break up the play they feel is too rough. Sometimes this behavior allows the group to calm down but other times it can be problematic. It can cause fights between dogs who do not appreciate having their "fun" interrupted.

Wrestlers: like to wrestle. They like full body contact. They can often be seen with open mouth, showing teeth and looking like they are biting. A lot of dogs know the limit but play can easily get out of control and escalate into something more serious. Always keep an eye on dogs wrestling and step in when either dog is no longer having fun or is starting to get stressed. However, NEVER put your hands or body between dogs who are wrestling, as they can inadvertently bite or injure you!

Body Slamming: is when dogs like to run full speed into another dog and see if they can knock them off their feet. It is usually full contact and very hard hitting.

Chasers: love to run. Some dogs like to chase the other dogs while other prefers to be in the lead. Watch for dogs that change from the fun game of chase to seeing the other dog as prey. It is best to keep the game of chase with partners close in size.

Tuggers: love to play tug with an object with fellow canines or humans.

Soft touch: are short bouts of play with soft touches. These dogs are more hesitant to play with other dogs. They may not be as confident or may have been injured. The highly physical contact games are too much for them.

Self Play: is when the dog can entertain himself, by tossing a toy in the air and chasing after it, wrestling with a squeaky toy, or just running around. They tend not to get bored easily.