Read our true-to-life dog breed portraits with great pictures and well-founded information on needs and keeping, strengths and weaknesses of the dog breed. We have tips for buying a dog and which breed-specific diseases you should watch out for.
Appearance a minor matter: skills & environment counted
For centuries, if not millennia, dogs have always been selected by humans according to their physical and mental abilities. If a dog has been particularly good at herding sheep, other people wanted to have puppies from this fantastic dog.
For the longest time, it was almost not the appearance that mattered, but purely the ability to cope with their tasks. In addition, there have also been very different living conditions and requirements for the dogs in the different regions of the world.
In the far north, dogs with thick coats and much strength and endurance were needed to pull sledges. Hunting hares, on the other hand, required fast and slender sprinters like today's Greyhounds. Heavy and large breeds like Rottweilers and Mastiffs made wonderful guard dogs and protectors. For hunting animals that have their burrow underground, such as foxes, badgers or martens, dogs were needed that could also fit into this burrow and be aggressive at the same time, such as today's Dachshund. Over time, the demands on the dogs changed and the dog breeds became more and more specialised. Selection took place over centuries without there being any dog breeding in the modern sense at all.
There are big dogs, tiny dogs, fast dogs, relaxed dogs, cuddly dogs, independent dogs, white dogs, black dogs, persistent dogs, heat-loving dogs, family dogs, playful dogs.... You get the idea. With over 350 officially recognised dog breeds worldwide, even experts quickly lose track. In addition, there are hundreds of other dog breeds that are not officially recognised.
And of course, there are an infinite number of very individual "crossbreeds", which in turn combine different dog breeds.
Dog breeds are deliberately mated with each other to obtain desired characteristics of two breeds. This is where the so-called hybrid or designer dogs come into play, which are becoming a strong trend lately.
What exactly makes a dog breed?
An essential characteristic of a dog breed is that the parents of a breed will always produce offspring with the same external and character traits that they themselves possess.
These characteristics are recorded in the breeding standard of the respective breeding associations responsible for the dog breed.The world-wide organisation of dog breeding is the "Fédération Cynologique Internationale", in short: FCI. It includes about 99 countries and consists of three sections:
- America & Caribbean and Asia
- Africa & Oceania
Officially, more than 350 dog breeds are recognised by the FCI and the number is constantly increasing.
But of course, in addition to the breeding associations officially represented in the FCI, there are also other dog breeding organisations and other dog breeds that are not currently recognised in the FCI.
In the UK "The Kennel Club" is the largest and oldest breeding organisation within the FCI. The "Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen", or VDH for short, is the German dog breeding association within the FCI with over 140 individual breed clubs.
The tasks of the dogs as valuable helpers for humans change with time
Over the course of thousands of years, man has initially selected and later systematically bred the dog for very different tasks. These tasks include, for example:
Dogs as hunting assistants, specialised in very different types of game and hunting tasks such as:
- tracking, driving, chasing, tearing, retrieving
- Herding and driving cattle
- Means of transport in the north: pulling sledges
- Early delivery wagon: pulling milk and market wagons
- Doorman and bodyguard: Guarding house and yard, people and livestock
- Use as fighting and war dogs
- Entertainer and "soul comforter": lapdogs
- Prestige objects at court
- Rescue dogs
Nowadays, dogs are increasingly turning from work animals into helpers, life companions, friends, family members, playmates, but unfortunately also into fashion accessories.
Despite great differences, dogs and humans have a lot in common. For example, both can have lifelong fun playing and learning. They have the capacity for sophisticated communication, they possess empathy and are both amazingly capable and adaptable.
Most dogs today are family members and companion dogs, some still have original tasks or pursue a suitable dog sport. But dogs have strong skills that also help humans in new areas:
- Diabetic Alert Dog
- Dogs in use for early cancer detection
- Guide dogs for the blind
- Companions of autistic people
- Therapy dogs
- Corona warning dogs
- Drug detection dogs
What are the different groups of dog breeds?
Based on their original tasks, many different dog breeds have been created and so they are divided into corresponding groups. In the FCI, the dog breeds are divided into the following 10 groups with respective sub-sections according to task and also according to ancestry or relationship:
Sheepdogs and Cattledogs (except Swiss Cattledogs)
Herding dog breeds have been bred for herding or driving livestock such as sheep, cattle or even pigs. They are intelligent and persevering dogs that must also be able to make decisions independently.
Herding dogs include German Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, but also more unusual dog breeds such as the Kuvasz and the Mudi. Cattle dogs include breeds such as Bouviers, Australian Kelpies and Australian Cattle Dogs.
Pinscher and Schnauzer - Molossoid and Swiss Mountian and cattledogs
Pinschers and Schnauzers come in different sizes and include, for example, the impressive Dobermans and Giant Schnauzers. These were bred as working dogs and as "bodyguards" and "bouncers". But also the small Miniature Schnauzers and Miniature Pinschers belong to this section.
The group of Molossians is subdivided into Mountain Dogs and into Dogue-like dogs such as the German Mastiff, the Rottweiler, the German Boxer, the French Dogue de Bordeaux or the English Bulldogs and Bullmastiffs, to name the better known ones.
Mountain dogs include dog breeds such as the Hovawart, the Leonberger, the Newfoundland or even the St. Bernard. A final group is formed by the Swiss Mountain Dogs, the best known of which is the Berner Sennenhund.
The word terrier comes from the Latin word "terra", which means earth. The terrier's job was and still is to track their prey underground in the burrow and drive them out of the burrow. Terriers are self-confident and spirited, and they have to be if they are to attack defenceless animals such as foxes and badgers and drive them out of their burrow. Their independence and ambition in the hunt are often interpreted as stubbornness in everyday life. Most terrier species originate from Great Britain.
Terriers come in almost all sizes and shapes: The large Airedale Terriers, medium-sized Fox Terriers, strong bull terriers like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, wiry Jack Russell Terriers or small West Highland Terriers and tiny Yorkshire Terriers.
DachshundsThis group includes all varieties of the German Dackel (Dachshund) or the Teckel, as it is called in hunting language.
The Dachshund is the smallest and bravest of the German hunting dogs. It was originally bred - like the terriers - to hunt in burrows under the ground. Hence the characteristically short-legged and long body shape. The Dachshund is known for its independence and stubbornness. This courageous stubbornness, appears to many in everyday life as behavioural sororigine.
Dachshunds are tough and surprisingly persistent on walks. But because of their short legs and long backbone, there are limits to what they can do: Jogging, running on a bike, big jumps and climbing stairs are not made for them.
Dachshund breeds distinguish between working lines for hunting as well as companion and family dogs. In addition, dachshunds come in two different sizes and here in each case in three hair varieties.
Spitz and primitive typesNordic dog breeds in particular belong to this group. Sled dogs such as the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, are known to many.
Among the Nordic hunting dogs, the Spitz are still best known in our country, but the Elkhounds are less so. Spitz are not only found in the north. European Spitz are also found in Germany and Italy in different sizes. Asian Spitz include, for example, Chow Chow, Eurasier or Akita Inu.
Even rarer are the Nordic guard dogs such as the Norwegian Bohund and the Finnish Lapphund.
On the other hand, completely different dog breeds such as Podencos, Naked Dogs or Pharaoh Dogs belong to the archetype.
Scent hounds and related breedsScent dogs include a whole range of hunting dogs of different sizes that are very persistent in tracking game. These include many Bracken species from all over the world. Sweat dogs are also hunting dogs that follow the blood trail of injured large game such as elk, deer or wild boar.
Related breeds are the Croatian Dalmatian and the South African Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Pointing dogs are the most common hunting dogs. They have one characteristic feature in particular: the so-called pointing, where the dog stops after picking up the scent of game and indicates the game to the hunter by lifting one front paw.
Many European countries have their own breeds, the English Pointer and all the different setters like English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish Red Setter and Irish Red & White Setter are particularly well known here.
From Germany, for example, the Deutsch Kurzhaar, but also the Weimaraner and the Pudelpointer, as well as the Kleine Münsterländer and the Große Münsterländer belong to this breed.
Retrievers - Flushing dogs - water dogs
In this group we have of course the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever. Their original task is to bring shot small game and feathered game to the hunter.
Flushing dogs are hunting dogs that search for and chase up small game for the hunter in the undergrowth. This includes many spaniel breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel and also the German Wachtelhund.
Water dogs, on the other hand, work together with fishermen and hunters in the water and retrieve fish or game from the water, for example. This also includes spaniel breeds and e.g. the well-known Portuguese Water Dog of the Obamas.
Companion and toy dogsThe group of companion and toy dogs is huge and is divided into 11 further sections. They include many smaller breeds and toy dogs. For example Maltese and Havanese, Pekingese, Pug and Chihuahua. Also the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, French Bulldog and Poodle.
SighthoundsSighthounds are the sleek sprinters among hunters who hunt healthy game on sight and can reach speeds of over 40 km/h. These include Afghans, Salukis, Greyhounds, Whippets, the Italian Greyhound and the Sloughi, to name the better-known breeds of greyhound. Even less well known but on the rise are the Silken Windsprite. They are all bred for speed but not for endurance and often have a strong hunting instinct.
What does the dog breed tell me about the dog and what not?
In any case, the dog breed can give you very informative and probable clues about the dog's needs, character traits and, of course, appearance (size, weight, colour, etc.). This will give you a relatively good idea of whether the dog breed will suit you and fits into your life. There are dogs as different as tiny Chihuahuas and huge Great Danes. But you can't tell if a dog is right for you just by looking at it. Often it is the history of the dog breed and its original purpose that provides more information:
- Will the dog have a strong hunting instinct?
- Does the dog need a lot of exercise?
- Does the dog breed have a tendency to bark?
- Is the protective instinct pronounced?
- Can it be left alone for a few hours?
- How much will the coat need to be groomed?
- Is it easy to train?
- What diseases should I look out for in this breed?
Every dog is an individual and influenced by its environment
But of course every dog is an individual and not every trait or nature is predictable. Dogs are very strongly shaped by their experiences and environment, especially in the first weeks and months of life. This means that the breeder has a very big responsibility and should accustom the puppies to many environmental stimuli early on. Is the mother dog experienced and very clear in her language? Then the puppies will already have learned that they are not allowed to do everything and know what consistency can mean.
Studies have shown, for example, that puppies that are separated from the mother dog too early are much more unbalanced. Or that bitches that have only had brothers have more testosterone and therefore also often react more "masculinely". Breeding lines also have an influence on later temperament: Working lines are usually much more agile than pure show lines, but this cannot simply be generalised either.
From my own experience I can say that dogs of one breed can be very different in temperament. My mother's rough-haired dachshund Maxi was a cheerful and bright fellow who unfortunately had a very low bite threshold, which I also felt. In general, only dachshunds have bitten me so far. Her second dachshund Artus, on the other hand, was a soul of a dog who loved all people and was very cuddly. By the way, both came from the animal shelter.
While Spike, my Rottweiler-Shepherd mix, was not at all watchful and ran to the front door wagging happily when the doorbell rang, my Doberman-Rottweiler bitch Esta was extremely territorial and watchful. And my two Labradoodle girls couldn't be more different in their natures: Lotte was a model pupil and good with everyone, while Lilly is nicknamed "Rascal girl" and is temperamentally territorial. However, Lilly was also the only female in her mother's first litter.
Why it's not a good idea to choose a dog based on looks
Unfortunately, dogs today are too often chosen for their looks. Their abilities are often underestimated, misunderstood or even unwanted. Their needs are ignored and their behaviour is misunderstood. In the past, however, it was the other way around for most dog breeds: they were selected for their abilities and not for their appearance.
A simple example: If I buy a Weimaraner because I find it so elegant and beautiful and like to take it for walks in the city, I am simply not doing justice to the original hunting dog and complications arise in keeping it. But this is deeply unfair to the dog and has nothing to do with responsible dog ownership. If I like to jog long distances with my dog, neither Dachshunds nor Podenco are a good choice.
The best thing is to ask myself which characteristics of a dog I am looking for and which ones suit me.
By the way, this also applies to a mongrel: Often it is possible to say, at least to some extent, which breeds are in him. You don't know which characteristics will develop primarily, but you have the chance to get an idea.
Dog breed trends
Already in the last century, films and series about dogs such as "Lassie" or "101 Dalmatians" caused the demand for individual dog breeds to increase rapidly in a short time. Today, it is mostly the social media channels of celebrities with dogs that increase the demand for individual breeds. This is not good for the dog breeds then or now. Because if the demand is greater than the number of puppies from reputable breeders, many dubious "dog breeders" unfortunately come on the scene.
Breeding and buying purely for looks and cuteness is almost always a challenge for the health and also for species-appropriate husbandry of dog breeds. The trend towards tiny "handbag dogs" such as Tea Cups or Imperials, which are often more accessory than family member, is unfortunately on the rise. They are popular on social media, but it often means "suffering for likes " as there are almost always serious illnesses and a lifetime of suffering involved.
It is similar with the oh-so-cute short-headed dog breeds, which unfortunately have been bred almost into caricatures of themselves. And this kind of exaggeration is also associated with many health disadvantages. For the short-headed dogs often cannot breathe well, suffer from further diseases throughout their lives and for most of them a natural birth has become impossible. Nowadays one speaks of the Brachycephalic Breathing Distress Syndrome (BAS).
Hypoallergenic dog breeds, which are not supposed to trigger allergies in humans, are also in vogue. But are there dog breeds for allergy sufferers and can I keep a dog with allergies? There are no dog breeds to which people are 100% non-allergic. Nevertheless, Living with a dog can be possible even with allergies.
Keep your eyes open when buying a dog
That's why these days it's especially important to keep an eye out when buying a dog. And don't let cute puppies or great promises persuade you to buy. Look for reputable breeders and the health certificates of the parents if you want to buy a purebred dog. Look carefully at the breeders or sellers so you don't fall for puppy traders.
Before you get a dog, you should always think about a few things. After all, the dog is a new member of the family for whom you will be responsible for the rest of its life. Therefore, a few thoughts before getting a dog: Is a dog suitable for me? are very sensible. Then the question arises: Which dog suits me?.