Working Dogs

Although most modern canine breeds are kept as pets, there are still a large number of dogs or dogs breeds that are exclusively bred or raised to assist their human companions in their duties or activities. The tasks performed by working dogs may involve either, other animals (hunting dogs, livestock dogs, herding dogs), or, other humans (service dogs, therapy dogs, cadaver dogs, rescue dogs, tracking dogs, police dogs), or, specials tasks of  transportation, security, sports or entertainment. Read more about the different types of working dogs:

What differentiates working dogs from pet or show dogs?

The main difference between a working dog and a pet or show dogs is that working dogs are primarily bred and selected for their temperament, soundness and, physical and mental ability, rather than for their appearance, type or conformation to the standard. That's why, for example, a Border Collie that is a champion show dog is not necessarily good at herding sheep; a Border Collie that is a champion at sheepdog trials might be disqualified in the show ring for its nonstandard appearance.

Few breeds actually include performance standards in the overall judgement of conformation to the standard, with the exception of the Rottweiler. Other breeds where performance standards intervene in the selection process of breeding stock (although more unofficially and not with all breeders) are the Dogo argentino (especially in Argentina and Italy), the Fila Brasileiro (especially for those bred in Brazil) and, the some extent, the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Working dogs, breeds and registries

Some breeds have separate registries for tracking the ancestry of working dogs and that of show dogs. For example, in Australia, there are separate registries for working and show Australian Kelpies; the working registry encourages the breeding of any Kelpies with a strong instinct to herd, no matter their appearance or coat color; the show registry encourages breeding only among Kelpies whose ancestors were registered as show dogs and who have only solid-colored coats. Another example, although not completely similar, is the American Pit Bull Terrier, which some consider as the working version of the American Staffordshire Terrier, while others believe both strains have grown so much apart that they should now be considered two distinct breeds.
Working dogs as pets

Working dogs are bred for their good temperament, well-balanced character, strength, courage, soundness and intelligence. Families who are looking for a hardy and loyal family pet often turn to working dog breeds, not always realizing that these dogs have specific needs in terms of training, living conditions and exercise. As a result, the abandonment rate in these breeds is very high.

Working dogs make excellent pets as long as prospective owners realize the time and energy investment that these dogs represent. Dogs that are not to be used for their original purpose must be given 'work' to do in the form of dog sports, trial work, obedience training, where they can wear off their energy. At the very least they must be walked or given other exercise at an appropriate level for the breed, given toys, played with, and provided with human company. Working dogs who are left alone and inactive many hours a day become bored, lethargic, or, on the contrary, very vocal or aggressive. They may exhibit destructive behavior or become escape artists and their inventiveness and determination to find something to do will soon exceed their owner's tolerance for noise and destruction, which explains why so many of these wonderful dogs are surrendered to rescue every year.

Different categories of Working Dogs

Working dogs are subdivided into categories according to the working capacity they serve in or to their functional abilities (police dogs, guard dogs, sled dogs, etc.). These categories may or may not correspond to breed groups as designated by kennel clubs (like, for example, the Herding Group). 

Note, however, that the Working Group designation used by kennel clubs is much more restrictive in meaning than the term Working dogs and does not always include all dog breeds commonly used in working capacities. For example, the American Kennel Club does not include herding dogs in this group since its creation of a separate Herding Group.

For the different working dogs see our separate page:


Related pages
Recommended books
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Working Dogs : True Stories of Dogs and Their Handlers
by Kristin Mehus-Roe

Explores the many ways in which dogs historically and currently serve humankind in the workplace, while encouraging sensitivity to the needs of working dog breeds kept as pets.
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Top Working Dogs: A Training Manual--Tracking, Obedience, Protection
by Dietman Schellenberg

For beginners and experts alike in the fields of tracking, obedience and man-work.
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Training Dogs for Protection Work
by Fred Mandilk, Marv Gangloff

Covers not only protection work but also tracking and obedience training.
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