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No velvet pillows, hair ribbons, or French pedicures for these big bruisers. These are the no-nonsense, punch-the-clock-and-get-it-done dogs of the AKC Working Group, the Ford pickups of the canine kingdom. Many factors go into breeding dogs that work hard for their feed. Let’s consider a few, and then watch some well-bred workers in action.

Physical Equipment

A good working dog must be physically equipped for his job. For most, whether they specialize in hauling freight or standing their ground against wild predators, this means being big enough to do tough, dangerous work. But it takes more than sheer tonnage to get the job done. Selective breeding has equipped working breeds with specialized features adapted to specific tasks, climates, and terrains. This video shows us how the mighty Newfoundland is ideally constructed for water-rescue work.

Temperament

Ever notice when dealing with well-bred dogs that the bigger they are, the sweeter they are? It’s no accident. To big-dog breeders, good temperament is essential. An immense, powerful dog with unreliable temperament is not only poorly equipped for work, he can be a menace to society. The Great Pyrenees, a majestic European flock guardian, is big and brave enough to stare down a hungry wolf. Yet, he’s also even-tempered enough to know a genuine threat from a minor annoyance, and mellow enough to exhibit infinite patience with his flock.

Trainability

Watching a Saint Bernard drooling, harrumphing, and galumphing along, you might not take him for a canine Einstein. A good Saint, though, is plenty smart. He can execute the complex commands of his handler, and he knows what’s expected of him when working independently. In this video, we see a high-aptitude Saint training for the breed’s traditional job of avalanche rescue.

Desire

Then there’s that special something, an “intangible” as they say on ESPN. It can only be called desire. Alaskan Malamute sledge dogs do seriously heavy work under brutal conditions. They are bred for it, they are built for it, and, crucially, they seem to live for it. Veteran mushers tell us that a sledge dog left behind in the kennel while the rest of the team is in harness will be absolutely heartbroken. No one will ever accuse the Mals in this video of dogging it.

The Silly Factor

Even the hardest-working dog spends just a part of his life earning a living. Off duty, he’s someone’s companion, court jester, and best friend. When the workday is done, our burly buds from the Working Group indulge in the childlike silliness that owners find so endearing. Here’s hoping on this Labor Day that working dogs everywhere are as relaxed and happy as this Great Dane.

Fear not, Boxer fans! We didn’t forget your lovable big guys. For some Boxer buffoonery, click here.

AKC parent clubs: Alaskan Malamute Club of America, Great Dane Club of America, Great Pyrenees Club of America, Newfoundland Club of America, Saint Bernard Club of America

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