There are seven breed groups into which the American Kennel Club categorizes dogs: Herding, Hound, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, Toy and Working. Dogs in the Working Group were bred for a variety of jobs helping humans. For example, Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to herd cattle and guard farmyards. Siberian Huskies were bred to haul light loads over long distances in cold weather. And Newfoundlands were bred to haul fishing nets to shore and help with water rescues. While these dogs, as well as others in the group, may seem like obvious working breeds, some might come as a surprise. Here are 11 working dog breeds you may not have realized were in the AKC Working Group.
1. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Though a shepherd by name, the Anatolian Shepherd is part of the Working - not Herding - Group. This is because they were bred to guard livestock. Originating from Anatolia in Turkey, these large canines (standing up to 32 inches at the shoulders and weighing 80 to 150 pounds) protected properties and livestock from other animals and people. It is believed that the Anatolian Shepherd existed for thousands of years, protecting sheep from wolves and other predators. In more recent times, Anatolian Shepherds are being used in Namibia, Africa to protect livestock from cheetahs. This, in turn, helps protect the endangered cats because Anatolian Shepherds, who intimidate rather than kill, scare away the cheetahs thus reducing the number of killings by farmers.
2. Black Russian Terrier
Despite its name, the Black Russian Terrier (BRT) is not part of the Terrier Group. In fact, DNA analysis shows that the BRT is no more than 15% to 30% terrier. In the 1930s, Soviet scientists and breeders sought to create a dog for the Russian army that could help control Russia’s borders and prison camps. Around 17 breeds went into the BRT, including Giant Schnauzers (who they look similar to), Rottweilers, Airedale Terriers and Newfoundlands. By the mid-1950s, there was less of a need for BRTs and thus they adapted to civilian life. The BRT was registered to the AKC in 2004, becoming their 151st breed.
Boxers tend to be cuddly, goofy dogs. Some would say they have a goofy look to match, as you can often find them smiling with their tongue hanging out (especially in the heat because they're brachycephalic). But don't let their smushed face or silly and snuggly demeanor fool you - these dogs were made to work, which is why they're part of the Working Group.
Although the breed's most ancient ancestors were Assyrian empire war dogs dating back to 2500 BC, the modern Boxer comes from late 19th to early 20th century Germany. In medieval times, a larger and heavier German breed called the Bullenbeisser (“bull biter”) was used by nobles for big-game hunting. When the political landscape began changing during the 1800s, nobles fell out of favor and Bullenbeissers lost their jobs. Breeders crossed smaller mastiff-type dogs from England with the Bullenbeissers to create today's Boxer. Since their creation, Boxers have had many jobs - from cattle dog to watchdog, police dog to war dog (including both world wars). The breed was registered by the AKC in 1904, but saw a rise in popularity during the 1950s.
Bullmastiffs are big and mellow dogs, often described as somewhat lazy. They tend to prefer lounging on the couch with their humans and don't need a ton of exercise (a few short daily walks is typically enough to keep them happy). They are also known to be slobbery and gassy. This is why it may be surprising that these low-key giants are part of the Working Group. The reality is that they originated as guard dogs, bred to protect English aristocrats' animals from poachers. Mastiffs and Bulldogs were crossed in the mid-to-late 19th century to create a dog strong enough to hold (but not attack) a poacher and large enough to intimidate intruders.
5. Dogue de Bordeaux
The Dogue de Bordeaux (also known as the Bordeaux Mastiff, French Mastiff or Bordeauxdog) is a large mastiff from the region that became France. Despite its size, Dogues De Bordeaux sometimes think they are lap dogs. They tend towards a sedentary lifestyle and often prefer to lounge around and sleep rather than exercise. Despite this, the Dogue de Bordeaux is part of the Working Group.
The breed is an ancient one, originating before France was France and its exact origins are unknown. One theory is that Romans used the breed's ancestors as war dogs that battled with gladiators against beasts and eventually became hunters, haulers and guarders. Others believe it's an indigenous French breed that was developed and refined over thousands of years (with some possible crossbreeds including Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and Greek mastiff-types). By the late 1700s, Dogues de Bordeaux were guard dogs for the noble class until the French Revolution, when aristocracy were imprisoned or guillotined. The breed survived though, working as livestock drovers. Because of its background, the Dogue de Bordeaux is intelligent and can learn complex tasks (though that may not be their first choice of activity).
6. Great Dane
Great Danes are one of the largest dog breeds, standing as high as 34 inches tall and weighing up to 200 pounds. Despite their size, these mammoths love to sleep. Adults only need moderate exercise and will spend lots of their free time trying to cuddle with you on the couch.
Though Great Danes are known as gentle giants, their instincts can push them toward being protective depending on the situation. This is because of the breed's origins as hunters and guard dogs. The Great Dane originated from Germany, though they became associated with Denmark at some point (hence their name). It's an old breed who's ancestors are believed to be dogs from the Middle Ages that guarded German nobles and hunted wild boar and deer. It's also believed they come from Irish Wolfhounds (which is why they're tall), Mastiffs (where they got their strength) and Greyhounds (why they're on the slimmer side). Great Danes also hunted wild boar once upon a time but became famous as protectors of their home. This is why they are part of the Working Group, despite their gentle nature and low energy.
7. Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees originated as a herding and guard dog for livestock in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain. Farmers needed a large, strong and courageous dog to shepherd and protect the flock from thieves and predators (like wolves and bears). Their beautiful white coats served a purpose - to camouflage them among their sheep and in the snow, as well as keep them warm. Despite their role in herding, though, they are part of the Working Group. The Great Pyrenees would work independently, often for days or weeks, which can reflect in their personality today. They've been around for centuries, with an early mention in 1407, and still work on farms today. They are good watchdogs and have a strong pack instinct, bonding with the livestock they protect.
The Komondor is a distinctive breed with its head-to-tail coat of cords or dreadlocks (which is why they are sometimes referred to as "mop dogs"). The breed was brought to Europe by Cumans, a Turkic speaking nomadic people who came to Hungary in the 12th and 13th century (though the oldest known Hungarian documentation of the breed is from 1544.). Their name comes from "Koman-dor" or "quman-dur," which means "Cuman Dog," "belonging to the Cumans" or "the dog of the Cumans."
It's believed that Komondors descended from Tibetan dogs and are related to herding dogs like the Puli, Bearded Collie and Old English Sheepdog. Despite this (and that they are also known as the Hungarian Sheepdog since the two breeds merged) they are not herders nor part of the Herding Group. Rather, these dogs were bred to guard livestock and property and are thus part of the Working Group. This may be surprising to some as Komondors tend to have low energy and sleep most of the day. This actually comes from their instincts to rest up and conserve energy for their night shift.
A few fun facts: 1) Their distinctive corded coat served to protect them from extreme weather and predators, as well as camouflage them with their sheep. 2) It's said that many Komondors in Hungary were killed during World War II when Germans and Russians invaded and had to dispel the dogs before taking the property they were guarding.
Leonbergers, unlike the other dogs in the Working Group, were first bred to be companion dogs not workers. In the 19th century, a politician and entrepreneur of Leonberg, Germany named Heinrich Essig wanted to create a breed for aristocrats. He crossed Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands and other Working breeds to create a majestic dog that looked like a lion for the crest of Leonberg (male Leonbergers are particularly lion-like with their manes of long fur around the head and neck). There's some dispute about whether Essig actually created the Leonberger, as records from 1585 and 1601 describe similar dogs used to guard livestock. But Essig was the first to name and register the breed.
Though created as companion dogs, Leonbergers were skilled workers used for many purposes. They were watchdogs on farms and waterfronts, guarding livestock and property, as well as cart pullers in Bavarian and surrounding villages. In the early 20th century, Leonbergers were imported to Canada to perform water rescues, which they still do today. And they were used to haul ammunition carts during the world wars, though this decimated the breed. Breeders ensured their survival, but used Newfoundlands to give the modern Leonberger a darker coat and black face mask. The Leonberger was the 167th breed recognized by the AKC, officially placed into the Working Group in 2010.
Mastiffs, also known as English Mastiffs, are large and docile dogs known to have low energy and sleep often (up to 18 hours a day!). They also have low exercise needs, though some daily activity is required to maintain a healthy weight. Because of these characteristics, it may surprise some that they are part of the Working Group. But Mastiffs originated as ancient guard dogs. In fact, Julius Caesar noted that Mastiffs helped defend Britain from him in 55 BC. The dogs were then brought back to Rome to fight with and against gladiators.
In medieval England, Mastiffs were used as big-game hunters, guard dogs at night and war dogs - from the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 to World War II. The Breed was depleted by the end of the second world war, with an estimate of just 14 dogs left in the country. Fortunately, the breed was revitalized with the help of U.S. breeders. Today, the Mastiff is more calm and docile though just as courageous and protective if necessary.
11. Neapolitan Mastiff
Neapolitan Mastiffs, like their mastiff counterparts, are large and docile dogs that love to lounge around and nap. Despite being bigger dogs, some think they are lapdogs. They are wrinkly, slobbery and have a slow, lumbering gait - all of which makes them look a little goofy. They like to be active for just a few hours a day and often need to be pushed to walk to avoid weight gain.
Despite all this, Neapolitan Mastiffs are part of the Working Group because they used to actually do work. This ancient breed dates back to 700 BC, when they were guard and war dogs for the Roman Empire. They also fought alongside gladiators in the arena. Over time, Neapolitan Mastiffs became guard dogs, protecting farms and estates. The breed nearly became extinct after World War II but experienced a resurgence in the late 1940s with recognition by the Federation Cynologique Internationale in 1949. By the 1970s, the breed was well known in Europe and the U.S. and their breed standard was rewritten in 1971 to be more exact. The AKC recognized the Neapolitan Mastiff in 2004, as the 113th breed.