You may or may not know that each AKC registered breed (there are currently 196 of them) is assigned to one of seven groups: Herding, Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, and Working. In honor of Work Like a Dog Day on August 5, we’re taking a closer look at the Working Group to see what these 31 beauties were bred to do.
This dignified and courageous Japanese breed was developed in the 17th century as a powerful hunter with a strong work ethic. Akitas worked in packs and took on big game, such as wild boar, deer, and the fearsome Yezo bear. They were so well regarded in this capacity that only the imperial family and its court were allowed to own them.
One of the oldest sledge breeds of the Arctic, the Alaskan Malamute was created to work in packs to haul heavy loads at low speeds over long distances. The affectionate, loyal, and playful dog was named after the native Inuit tribe Mahlemut, who settled along the shores of the Kotzebue Sound in the northwestern part of Alaska.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Sheep and goat herders in Anatolia (or Asia Minor, the Asian portion of Turkey) developed this protective and territorial dog as a livestock guardian. Prior to World War II, the United States’ Department of Agriculture imported a breeding pair from Turkey in a top secret “Sheepdog Project,” and thus, its American history began. Anatolian Shepherds are known to intimidate their predators rather than fight them, and are still active ranch dogs today, protecting everything from sheep and goats to ostriches and llamas.
Bernese Mountain Dog
Don’t let its strikingly beautiful appearance and sweet, affectionate nature fool you. The Bernese Mountain Dog was built for hard work. They were bred to drive cattle, guard farmyards from predators, and were revered for their ability to pull many times their own weight as drafting dogs.
Black Russian Terrier
The large and immensely powerful Black Russian Terrier (BRT) is known for its courage, confidence, and intelligence. In the 1930s, a team of scientists and breeders worked together in a secret location near Moscow to produce the BRT — a tireless “fence” dog that could help control Russia’s endless borders and hold down prisoners at Stalin’s prison camps.
It is no surprise that Boerboels give the impression of being dominant and intimidating, considering they originally were bred to keep remote African homesteads safe from ferocious wildlife, including lions and baboons. However, since the breed was created primarily to protect its family, they’re actually sensitive and docile with those they love, and these days are known to be successful therapy dogs, with a soft spot for children.
When you combine an affectionate nature, intelligence, and a good work ethic, you get the ultimate doggy package with the Boxer. Originating in Germany in the late 1800s and early 20th century, the modern day Boxer was bred down from dogs that were used to run after, catch, and hold down predators, like bears, bison, and wild boars. These days, Boxers are known to be versatile, holding jobs as cattle dogs, police dogs, war dogs (in both world wars), guard dogs, and even guide dogs for the blind.
By crossing Bulldogs and Mastiffs, gamekeepers in the mid-to-late 19th century produced a dog that would protect the animals of English aristocracy targeted by poachers. The Bullmastiff was smart enough to work on command; tractable enough to hold, but not maul a poacher; and massive enough to intimidate any intruder, thus earning the nickname the “gamekeeper’s night dog.”
Since the breed name roughly translates to “bodyguard dog,” it makes sense that the Cane Corso was developed to fearlessly charge enemy lines at the height of the Roman Empire’s power. In the fifth century, when the Western Empire dissolved, these dogs took on more civilian roles, such as wild boar hunter, livestock drover, and protector of farms and pastures in the Italian countryside.
Arthur Walden created the Chinook after he traveled from New Hampshire to Alaska at the height of the gold rush in the late 1800s. He wanted to shape an American sled dog that had power, endurance, and speed, along with a friendly and gentle nature. However, after Walden fell on hard times, the breed’s numbers dwindled, and they were on the verge of extinction — recognized in 1965 as the rarest dog breed. Slowly, Chinook enthusiasts brought the breed back from the brink, and it joined the Working Group in 2013.
One of the world’s finest protection dogs is, no doubt, the Doberman Pinscher. With their magnificent physique and keen intelligence, these canines originated in 19th-century Germany and were tailored for police and military work. Dobermans in modern day continue to excel in K-9 duty and as therapy dogs, service dogs, and search and rescue dogs.
The Dogo Argentino is a pack-hunting dog, bred for the pursuit of big-game such as wild boar and puma, and possesses the strength, intelligence and quick responsiveness of a serious athlete. Today, Dogos still hunt wild boar across the United States.
Dogue de Bordeaux
As one of the most ancient French dog breeds, the Dogue de Bordeaux was around before France was even France. Since this breed’s history stretches back so far, it’s essentially impossible to pinpoint its exact origins. But one theory is that the Romans used the ancestors of these dogs as war dogs that went to battle with gladiators against ferocious beasts in the arena. Over time, the breed evolved to become hunters, drafters, and guarders.
The German Pinscher (GP) is one of its homeland’s oldest breeds, and it excelled at ratting, thanks to its seizing and nipping skills. Because of their intelligence and courage, GPs now make excellent watchdogs and vigilantly guard their families.
A larger and more powerful version of the Standard Schnauzer, the Giant Schnauzer was developed in the Bavarian Alps sometime in the mid-1800s. They drove cattle from farm to market, but were also known as formidable guard dogs for farmers, merchants, and innkeepers.
These gentle giants are just that…giant! Great Danes tower over most other dogs, and when standing on their hind legs, over most humans. A very old German breed, Danes hunted ferocious wild boar alongside nobles. Nowadays, these friendly and dependable dogs are just happy to protect their loved ones.
Bred centuries ago to work with shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains, the Great Pyrenees was tasked with watching the flock and deterring predators, such as wolves, bears, or livestock rustlers. Their patience and courage are traits that made them so legendary at their jobs.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
The faithful and dependable Greater Swiss Mountain Dog earned its keep as a herder, drafter, and all-around pasture dog. Descending from war dogs brought over the Alps by Julius Caesar’s legions, this breed also specialized in hauling loads of meat and dairy products to market, traveling through remote mountain passes.
Covered in profuse white cords from head to tail, this powerfully large Hungarian flock guardian is certainly hard to miss. For centuries, the Komondor has been guarding sheep at pasture, being confident and tough enough to run off wolves and other animals. The breed’s infamous dreadlocks provide protection from extreme weather and sharp-toothed predators, but also help them blend in with their flocks, creating an element of surprise.
The Kuvasz‘ lineage dates back to ancient Turkey and Tibet, but more notably the breed came to Hungary in the Middle Ages where it became well known as a livestock guardian. Their patience and courage are particularly impressive traits, since they were able to watch their flocks for days on end and jump into action when necessary to take on wolves or armed rustlers. They caught the eye of Hungarian nobles, and legend has it that King Matthias I trusted these dogs more than his palace guards.
Unlike other dogs in the Working Group, the Leonberger was actually developed first and foremost as a companion. The goal was to create a majestic pet for European royalty in 19th-century Germany. However, these dogs also performed very well on farms, pastures, and waterfronts, and have been known to pull carts, thanks to their prodigious strength.
Courageous as it is colossal, the Mastiff was brought from Britain to Rome by Julius Caesar to battle wild beasts and human gladiators in the arena. Later on, in medieval England, these dogs were used as big-game hunters, estate guardians, and war dogs. Today’s Mastiff is definitely more docile and friendly than its ancient forebears, but is still fiercely protective of those he loves.
This notably wrinkly, intimidating breed dates as far back as 700 B.C. — serving as war dogs and guardians during the Roman Empire. Although Neapolitan Mastiffs are quite large, they’re as sweet as they are slobbery, and especially loving around their families.
Canadian fishermen relied upon the strikingly large and powerful Newfoundland to help on ships. Not only did they specialize in dramatic water rescues, they also hauled fishing nets to shore and carted the day’s catch to market. Since they’re born with partially webbed feet, it should come as no surprise that Newfies are natural-born swimmers that excel at their jobs.
Portuguese Water Dog
Meet another favorite of the fisherman. Portuguese Water Dogs once lived along Portugal’s coast, and because of the breed’s strength and work ethic, fishermen depended on them to herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle, and act as a messenger between ships and shore. Eventually, their duties dwindled thanks to technology, but they’re still used for water rescue to this day.
The robust and strong Rottweiler is descended from ancient Rome’s drover (herding) dogs. After the Roman Empire’s collapse, Rotties moved herds from pasture to market and protected them from bandits and rustlers along the way. These days, the breed excels in police work, was among the first guide dogs for the blind, and contributes to search-and-rescue efforts at disaster sites like Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center.
One of the world’s most famous and beloved breeds, the Saint Bernard is remarkably powerful, yet patient and kind (especially with children). As early as 1050, hospice monks utilized these genial giants to locate and rescue travelers buried by drifts and avalanches in snowy passes in the Alps. During the following centuries, these charming dogs were used in valley farms and Alpine dairies to guard, herd, and draft.
Known for its sweet smile, the Samoyed is powerful and tireless. Originally developed for the Samoyede people who migrated to Siberia, Sammies were able to endure temperatures of minus-60 degrees. They also became extremely skilled at herding and hauling, able to sledge one-and-one-half times their own weight.
Graceful and mischievous, the Siberian Husky was utilized as a sled dog and was capable of hauling light loads over vast expanses of frozen wasteland in sub-zero temperatures. In 1925, the breed made headlines when Huskies rushed a lifesaving serum to Nome, Ala. to combat a diphtheria epidemic, traveling 658 miles in only five-and-a-half days.
Centuries before mechanized agriculture helped farmhands out, they depended upon dogs to assist in various tasks around the barn and homestead. Enter the ultimate multitasker: the Standard Schnauzer. This breed excelled at ratting, herding, guarding, and hunting.
Since this breed is so ancient, and Tibet has always been isolated, it’s difficult to determine the exact history of these majestic canines. But one thing’s for sure: the Tibetan Mastiff is the guard dog supreme. Mighty guardians of the Himalayas, these dogs may have been used as the blueprint to create all modern mastiffs.
Next time you hear the phrase “work like a dog,” you’ll know exactly what it means!