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We often hear dog shows accused of being nothing but “beauty contests.” In reality, they’re organized more like job fairs.

At AKC shows, dogs are exhibited in seven groups organized by the original work the breeds were created to do. The dog judged best in each group becomes one of the final seven to vie for Best in Show.

Here’s a thumbnail roundup of the AKC breed groups:


Sporting Group

Breeds in this group were created to assist hunters on feathered game. Retrievers, built for swimming, specialize on waterfowl. The hunting grounds of setters, spaniels, and pointing breeds are grasslands where quail, pheasant, and other tasty game birds nest.

3 You Probably Know: Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel

And 3 You Might Not: Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Irish Red and White Setter


Hound Group

All hound breeds pursue warm-blooded quarry. The sleek, long-legged sighthounds use explosive speed and wide vision to chase swift prey, like jackrabbits and antelope. Tough, durable scenthounds rely on their powerful noses to trail anything from a raccoon to an escaped convict.

3 You Probably Know: Beagle, Bloodhound, Dachshund

And 3 You Might Not: Harrier, Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, Treeing Walker Coonhound


Working Group

These are dogkind’s punch-the-clock, blue-collar workers. They pull sleds and carts, do rescue work, guard flocks and homes, and protect their humans.

3 You Probably Know: Boxer, Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher

And 3 You Might Not: Chinook, Kuvasz, Tibetan Mastiff


Terrier Group

Short-legged terriers were created to go underground in pursuit of rodents. Long-legged terriers dig out varmints rather than burrowing in after them. The group’s “bull” breeds were created long ago for ghastly “sports” like bull baiting and dogfights but are today companion dogs.

3 You Probably Know: West Highland White Terrier (“Westie”), Scottish Terrier, Bull Terrier

And 3 You Might Not: Cesky Terrier, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier


Toy Group

They come in enough shapes and coat types to satisfy any preference, but all toy dogs are small enough to fit comfortably in the lap of their adored humans. In a way, toys are “working dogs”—they work at being attentive, affectionate companions.

3 You Probably Know: Yorkshire Terrier (“Yorkie”), Pug, Chihuahua

And 3 You Might Not: English Toy Spaniel, Silky Terrier, Toy Fox Terrier


Non-Sporting Group

These breeds have two things in common: wet noses and four legs. After that, this group is a patchwork of breeds whose job descriptions defy categorization in the six other groups.

3 You Probably Know: Poodle, Bulldog, Dalmatian

And 3 You Might Not: Coton de Tulear, Löwchen, Xoloitzcuintli


Herding Group

These breeds move livestock. Herding dogs work closely with human shepherds, and their natural responsiveness makes them highly trainable.

3 You Probably Know: Collie, German Shepherd Dog, Shetland Sheepdog (“Sheltie”)

And 3 You Might Not: Icelandic Sheepdog, Pyrenean Shepherd, Swedish Vallhund