How to Find the Right Dog Breed for Your Family

You’re thinking about adding a loving addition to your family. No, not another kid; you either have enough of those or you’re not quite ready to start down that path. So what’s the perfect choice? Yep, dogs.

sdogs.gifThere are more than 400 breeds of dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), United Kennel Club (UKC) and the National Kennel Club (NKC). That’s without including all the combinations of mixed breeds, which can push the selection options up into the thousands. So how do you go about narrowing down your choices as to which breed/mix would make the best fit?

First, it helps to understand that, for centuries, dogs have been selectively bred to perform specific jobs to help out their humans. That means that certain behaviors are hard-wired into certain breeds; it’s in the genes. Therefore, unlike humans, dogs can’t change jobs. That means, plain and simple, herding dogs are going to herd (read chase and possibly nip anything that moves, especially young kids), and retrievers are going to retrieve (read prefer to have something in their mouths, ideally some part of you), and terriers are going hunt and kill vermin (read tunnel under fencing and dig up your flowers), and so on, and so on, and so on.

By knowing a breed’s innate tendencies, you can begin to narrow down the kind of dog that would — and just as importantly, would not — fit your lifestyle. For example, if you’re an outdoor fanatic who loves to run, any of the sporting breeds could be a good match. Or, conversely, if you’re a couch potato who doesn’t want to worry about exercising your dog, one of the toy breeds might be perfect for you. Then again, if you have small children, it wouldn’t be a good idea to start off with a herding breed.

The AKC divides dog breeds into the following groups based on the uses for which the breeds were developed: Herding dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs, non-sporting dogs, hound dogs, terrier dogs, toy dogs, and a miscellaneous catch-all group for the rest of the dogs:

Herding dogs

were bred to have the ability to control movement of other animals, even though most of them will never get to use that talent in the way it was intended, on a farm animal. These dogs are often extremely motion-sensitive, and will be chasers if not directed. They are intelligent dogs, easy to train, often bonding strongly with one person. These dogs need a job or they will make one for themselves.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Herding Group are Australian Shepherds and Cattle dogs, Collies, German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Welsh Corgis.

Working dogs

were bred to guard, pull sleds, and perform rescues (on both water and land). Their jobs often require that they think independently. Their considerable size and strength make many working dogs not suitable for average families. Training is key for these dogs.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Working Group are the Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Swiss Mountain Dog, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, and Siberian Husky.

Sporting dogs

were bred for hunting and other field activities such as retrieving. Often dogs with some of the easiest temperaments for families to live with, these guys need regular, invigorating exercise.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Sporting Groups are Spaniels (Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, etc.), Retrievers (Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, etc), Pointers (German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointer, etc.), and Setters (Irish and English Setter, etc.).

Non-Sporting dogs

are a diverse group originally placed together because they were developed for specific tasks (which are often no longer needed). Personality and traits vary significantly in this group, so more than any other group, it’s important to consult with breeders and vets to make sure the dog you’re thinking about would fit your lifestyle.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Non-Sporting Groups are the Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Dalmation, Lhasa Apso, Poodle, and Shar-pei.

Hound dogs

were bred for hunting. There are scent hounds, sighthounds, and some with extraordinary stamina to keep on a track for hours. Of all of the breeds, this group has some of the lowest incidences of dog-dog aggression because they often have to work in packs.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Hound Group are the Afghan Hound, Basset Hound, Beagle, Coonhound, Dachshund, Foxhound, Greyhound, and Whippet.


were bred to hunt and kill vermin. They often possess feisty personalities with lots of energy, and may not tolerate other pets. Don’t be fooled by this group’s cute looks. These are tough dogs who require owners with a firm, guiding hand.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Terrier Group are The Airedale Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Fox Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Norfolk Terrier, Welsh Terrier, and Wheaton Terrier.

Toy Dogs

are just what you’d expect, diminutive in size, though not necessarily in personality. These dogs are perfect for people who don’t have a lot of space, want a lap dog, and don’t have time for hours of exercise.

Some of the dogs you might be familiar with in the Toy Group are the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Havanese, Maltese, Papillon, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug, Shih Tzu, and Yorkshire Terrier.

If you’re not sure what dog you want, you can start with this Dog Breed Selector. There, you’ll be prompted to fill out a questionnaire on such matters as size, coat, job description (what it is bred to do), exercise needs, intelligence, ease of training, age of children, yard size, time spent at home, and so on. Once completed, you’ll be given a list of dogs to investigate that fit your preferences.

From there you can move onto investigating the more specific qualities of each breed at the following two sites:

Breed FAQ Sheets.

Dog Breed Characteristics (scroll down).

Bringing home a dog or puppy is a huge commitment of at least a decade. There are already far too many dogs killed daily in shelters across the country because their owners didn’t stop to think first. Don’t be one of them. Do your homework first. Educate yourself. Research thoroughly the breeds you’re considering; talk to breeders, vets, trainers, and people who own these dogs. And then LISTEN to what they say. If they say such-and-such breed needs extra socializing or fencing, or training, or exercise, etc., be prepared to do that or wind up with a problem dog.

And if you do your homework, listen, and learn, you can join the ranks of millions of people who are blessed with the love of a dog meant just for them. Because, when you’re matched with the right dog, it just doesn’t get any better.

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12 thoughts on “How to Find the Right Dog Breed for Your Family”

  1. what a nice comprehensive guide for soon-to-be dog owners. i found this extremely helpful for my nephew who is also considering a new best friend for their household.

  2. Loved the dog breed selector link. My number one match was a Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier which, interestingly enough, is one of my favorite breeds of dogs and was one I have have secretly held as a breed I want to look at when/if we decide to buy a dog.

  3. Training Hunting Dog

    Great idea! and good job i never seen these many types of Dog Breeds this very useful to others to select a dog because once if we own a dog it will be with us forever so before selecting a dog i thing its better to select good breed dog.

  4. What a great list! Hopefully people who are looking for a dog will come across your post it’ll help them find the right one for them.

  5. What an excellent, well written post! I am sure it will save quite a few people from choosing a dog that is unsuitable for them just because they like the look of the breed.

  6. Wow, what a comprehensive article, nice job! I have to speak up for the mixed breeds, they make great pets too, taking on the characteristics of their mixed breedness!

    Woof, Johann

  7. Jenn, wouldn’t it be nice if people were more like dogs in that way — just being who they are.

    Nutmeg, most of the designer dogs are poodle or lab crosses with other breeds. Of course, we now even have the labradoodle.

    The poodle crosses help dogs have less dander, which is the substance that causes allergies for some people.

    It’s also a way of diluting the overbreeding in some lines, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    But, personally, I think there are enough mixed breed dogs out there in need of a home without deliberately adding to their numbers.

  8. What a really great break down of different breed types. This is definitely the most concise one I’ve seen. Sometimes we let our Shepherds out front once everyone has gone in their houses (I live on a cul-de-sac) just to watch them herd the kids back home. That inate drive is so engrained it’s amazing to watch. Sometimes I wish people could be just who they are to that extent.

  9. BRAVO KAREN! What a comprehensive post! Having had dogs from several categories throughout my life, I can attest to the fact that you are dead on regarding each personality trait.

    Thank you for pointing out that terriers are feisty! I can’t tell you how many times Morena has shown her “feisty” spirit at the park and I get strange looks from other dog owners who don’t understand. I keep her in check, of course, and she knows that she can’t pull any nonsense around me, but she’s definitely alpha dog in this house and in the park!

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