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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Which Working Dog Is Right For You

Which Working Dog is Right for You?

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In today's modern and mechanized world, most domestic canines function primarily as pets. But all domestic dogs were once bred to fulfill some need of mankind, and there are many breeds whose original duty was to serve in a working capacity. In every country specific breeds were used as guardians, draft dogs and hunters. Even now there are dogs that continue to perform these duties for their owners.

In today's modern and mechanized world, most domestic canines function primarily as pets. But all domestic dogs were once bred to fulfill some need of mankind, and there are many breeds whose original duty was to serve in a working capacity. In every country specific breeds were used as guardians, draft dogs and hunters. Even now there are dogs that continue to perform these duties for their owners.

These breeds make up the Working Group. They are medium-to-very-large-sized dogs whose athleticism, strength, endurance, loyalty and majesty help them to accomplish the tasks that have made them invaluable to their owners. They come from all over the globe and have endured the most extreme of climates, terrain and conditions to ensure not only their own survival, but the survival of the people they serve.

The versatility and competence of the working dog is amazing. Working dog enthusiasts today have concerned themselves with retaining and perpetuating the breeds' working qualities, taking care to preserve function along with form. Working breeds today now perform in the capacity of guardian, police dog, search and rescue, therapy, sled and draft dogs. Because of their size and inherent protective tendencies, working dogs are happiest when properly trained and socialized and are able to get plenty of exercise. Aptly named, the working dog requires a task to complete, whether it is using his natural ability and energy laboring for his master or protecting his family and property.

Twenty breeds currently constitute the Working Group recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Previously combined with the Herding Group, these dogs are an international mix of powerful and utilitarian canines. The group includes dogs from Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Germany, France, Hungary, and Russia and are as diverse as the elegant Boxer, as unusual as the roped-coat Komondor and as sweet-natured as the St. Bernard.

There are many things to keep in mind before deciding which working dog is right for you: your family's lifestyle and home environment, as these dogs tend to be large and need plenty of exercise and activity; and the amount of time you can spend training and socializing your working breed, as most need a firm owner and plenty of time around people to make them suitable housepets.

We suggest you attend dog shows whenever possible to see various breeds and talk to the owners or handlers to gain as much information as possible.

There are pros and cons to owning any breed, and the more you know, the better advised you will be to make the right decision.

Most American Kennel Club breed clubs have codes of ethics for their members, who strive to produce physically and temperamentally sound dogs. You can contact breed clubs via the AKC by writing them at 5580 Centerview Drive, Suite 2, Raleigh, NC 27606; calling (919) 233-9767; or looking them up on the Internet at www.akc.org. If you are intending to be a pet owner, don't worry about whether your pup is show quality. A mark here or there might disqualify your pup as a show winner, but it has no impact on its ability to be a loving and healthy pet.

The initial price for a good sound pet is negligible compared to its lifetime care cost, so it's better to start with a healthy dog from a responsible source.

The following brief breed descriptions will provide only basic information. There are authoritative books of substance on all these breeds that can be obtained at book stores, pet stores and dog shows, or by contacting breed clubs.

A dog of substance, power and dignity, the Akita represents an ancient Japanese breed type originally bred for hunting and fighting. They are proud and independent, qualities that some might misinterpret as lack of loyalty or affection. However, the Akita is an extremely devoted, even-tempered dog and an excellent guardian, who is both challenging and fascinating. He needs a firm owner and requires proper socialization, as he can be aggressive towards other dominant dogs.

A native of the Alaskan and Arctic region, the Malamute can be traced back to the Mahlemut tribe that inhabited Alaska as far back as can be determined. He is most famous for his role as sled dog and was used by settlers of the Alaskan territory for hauling and transportation purposes. Set apart by his distinctive full coat and wolf-like appearance, the Alaskan Malamute is a high-spirited and good-natured companion whose "pack" mentality requires his owner to establish himself as top dog. He is a dedicated and powerful dog who is a combination of the best characteristics: love of work and love of man.

A native of Switzerland, this large, striking, tri-colored dog achieved great acclaim as a sturdy and dependable cart puller of enthusiastic and affectionate temperament. A true outdoorsman, the Bernese Mountain Dog is a wonderful family dog that cannot resist the company of children. His gentle nature and faithfulness make him an excellent companion for those who can accommodate his large size.

Despite his name, the medium-sized, sturdy-looking Boxer is a lover, not a fighter. This elegant and stylish dog is not only an intelligent and devoted pet, but a champion in the show ring, obedience ring and other formal exercises. Once a fierce fighting dog bred to bait bulls, the Boxer has evolved into an ideal housepet - delightful, clean, playful and protective of his loved ones.

Of truly utilitarian birth, the 130-pound Bullmastiff was originally bred to hunt down and combat armed intruders and to police estates to prevent theft and poaching. A high-spirited, large dog of sheer strength and muscle, a well-trained Bullmastiff will be alert and eager to please. The protective and watchful Bullmastiff is also a loving and docile companion whose calm demeanor makes him a pleasant and friendly family pet.

In the past, irresponsible breeding gave the Doberman a reputation for being overly aggressive and ill-tempered. However, today's Doberman Pinscher has conscientious breeders to thank for restoring his good qualities. A well-bred Doberman may look imposing, but he is sweet and biddable and will excel as a loyal family dog. They make excellent guard dogs and police dogs with the proper training and do well in obedience.

The largest and the most powerful of the German schnauzers, the Giant Schnauzer was originally used as a cattle drover and guard dog by German farmers. He is one of the hardiest of all the working breeds due to his harsh, weather-resistant coat and strong muscular body. A self-confident, all-around dog, the Giant Schnauzer's natural protectiveness and playfulness make him an ideal companion for the right owner.

Known as the Apollo of dogs, the Great Dane is truly great - in size, that is. He also possesses a truly great temperament, a sweet nature and a love of people, especially children. An essentially happy and easy-going breed, the Great Dane makes a wonderful pet for those who have the room for him to exercise and the bank account to feed him!

The majestic Great Pyrenees, once a guardian of flocks in France, is one of the gentlest of the giants. He is a docile and even-tempered companion and a topnotch watchdog, and makes a wonderful addition to any family. He enjoys being with people and needs an owner who can contend with taking care of his unique, pure-white, double coat.

Developed as a cart puller in the Swiss Alps, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is the larger and less popular cousin of the Bernese Mountain Dog. A powerful, tri-colored dog, the Greater Swiss is famous for his friendliness and complete love and tolerance of children (who often mistake him for a pony). And once you meet this sweet fellow, there are few who can resist that Swissy smile!

Who can ignore the Komondor, with his white, heavily-corded coat that looks and feels like rope? The Komondor is a real eye-catcher and was bred to be a herder and a guard dog in his native Hungary. This breed needs a firm owner and proper training, as he tends to be naturally aggressive and stubborn. An independent dog, the Komondor needs plenty of socialization with other dogs and people to realize his potential as a family pet.

Another flock guardian from Hungary, the white-coated Kuvasz is a striking and elegant dog who needs socialization and training to channel his energies into productive pursuits. A medium-to-large-sized dog, the Kuvasz requires plenty of exercise and enjoys spending time with his family.

So you think you want a big dog? They do not get much bigger than the Mastiff, who possesses a massive size and structure that can grow to close to 200 pounds! This giant breed directly descends from ancient lines, and similar type dogs inhabited Europe and Asia for several thousand years BC. The Mastiff's immense body is equal only to his immense heart, as he is a loving and sweet dog who makes an ideal companion for those who have the room and lifestyle to accommodate him. He needs a strong and patient trainer - he is slow to learn, but once he catches on, he never forgets a lesson.

Developed as a fisherman's dog, the Newfoundland was valued at sea and on shore by the inhabitants of the island for which he was named. The large, Mastiff-like Newfoundland is extremely athletic and has a natural affinity for swimming, excelling at water sports and as a water rescue dog. With a character that is second to none, the Newfie is a gentle, easy-going breed who gets along wonderfully with children - possibly because he's a big kid himself!

Built for the water, the Portuguese Water Dog is a curly-coated, medium-sized, ruggedly built dog who is happiest when swimming. The ultimate sportsman, this versatile fisherman is a competent retriever, a worthy watchdog and an excellent companion whose exceptional qualities consistently gain him popularity around the world.

Although one of the most popular breeds, a Rottweiler is not a dog for everyone. When well-bred, properly trained and socialized with people and children, the compact, incredibly strong Rottweiler can be a loyal and loving protector and family pet. But his inherently protective nature requires a responsible and confident owner to channel his natural tendencies into positive pursuits.

The St. Bernard is one of the few breeds whose true function is rescue work. Bred to save people stranded on the mountains of Switzerland, the large-sized, sweet-tempered St. Bernard is also content to be a beloved family member. A true "saint" among canines, he has a deliberate and affectionate personality and loves children and the outdoors. If you can live with the size and the slobber, the St. Bernard may be the breed for you.

The beautiful Samoyed, with his plush, snow-white coat, is named for the people of Russia that developed him into a domestic worker, hunter and hauler. This agile and powerful dog is hardier than he looks, and his dignified appearance is coupled with strength and athleticism. The Samoyed also possesses a placid and devoted disposition, and his love for his family is equal to none.

Like his Nordic cousins, the Siberian Husky is a robust, high-energy working breed whose love for the outdoors and people is infamous. Well known for his work as a sled dog in both Russia and Alaska, the striking Siberian Husky possesses exquisite good looks as well as animation and spirit. Due to his amiable nature, he does not make a very good watchdog and needs an enclosed space to keep him from searching for new friends.

A medium-sized dog with a dense, harsh coat, the Standard Schnauzer is the oldest and the first type of German schnauzer. A distinctive-looking dog, complete with bristly mustache and whiskers, the Standard is a "one-family" dog who is loyal and protective with his loved ones. An intelligent breed, his trainability helps him excel in obedience and in the show ring.


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