AKC Dog Breed Groups and Their Characteristics

The American Kennel Club (AKC) groups dog breeds by the functionalities they were originally bred for. As a result, most of the AKC dog breed groups and their characteristics have much in common with the other breeds within the same group.

The current list of AKC dog breed groups is as follows:

  • Sporting Group
  • Non-Sporting Group
  • Herding Group
  • Hound Group
  • Working Group
  • Terrier Group
  • Toy Group

Sporting Group Breeds

Some lesser-known breeds include the Lagotto Romagnolo, the Boykin Spaniel, and the Barbet, a water dog from France. The Lagotto Romagnolo is also called the Italian “Truffle Dog”, due to its ability to sniff out truffles.  
Some more well-known breeds within this group are the Irish Setter, Gordon Setter, German Short-haired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and the Irish Water Spaniel.

Golden Retriever -- Sporting Group
Golden Retriever is part of the Sporting
Breed Group

This breed Group tends to be medium to large. The Cocker Spaniel is the smallest of the sporting dog breeds while some larger breeds in the sporting group include the Clumber Spaniel, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and the Curly Coated Retriever.

The Sporting dogs are naturally active and alert and make enjoyable, great companions. They were first developed to work closely with hunters to locate and/or retrieve quarries. There are four basic types of Sporting dogs; spaniels, pointers, retrievers, and setters. These breeds are known for their superior instincts in the water and the woods, many of these breeds enjoy hunting and other field activities. Many of them, especially the water-retrieving breeds, have well–insulated, water-repellant coats, which are quite resilient to the elements. Don’t get one of these dogs unless you are very active, maybe a hunter. Also, you need to understand that most require regular, invigorating exercise.

Viszla Another Sporting Breed
The Viszla is another example from the Sporting Group

Non-Sporting Group Breeds

Non-Sporting Breed Dalmation
The Dalmation is part of the Non-Sporting Group

Unlike the majority of the breed groups, the Non-sporting dogs are a diverse group. Within the Non-Sporting dog groups, the breeds tend to have very different personalities and appearances. For example, the Dalmatian, French Bulldog, Keeshond, and Chow Chow, are all members of this group. These breeds are totally different in size, coat, and appearance.

The Shar Pei is part of the Non-Sporting Group. The Non-Sporting Group is the one AKC Dog Breed Group without shared Characteristics.
The Shar-Pei is part of the Non-Sporting Group

Some breeds that are not very common or well-known are the Schipperke and the Tibetan Spaniel. Others, however, like the Poodle and Lhasa Apso, are more well-known. The breeds in the Non-Sporting Group are a varied collection in terms of size, coat, personality, and overall appearance.

The Non-Sporting dog group is made up of all the breeds that don’t fit into any other category so this is why they are so different in every possible way.

Herding Group Breeds

The German Shepherd Dog is part of the herding group
The German Shepherd Dog is part of the herding group

The Herding Group, created in 1983, is the newest AKC classification; its members were formerly members of the Working Group. All breeds share the ability to control the movement of other animals. One unusual example of this ability is the little Corgi, at only one foot tall at the shoulders, which can drive a herd of cows many times its size to pasture by leaping and nipping at their heels. The vast majority of Herding dogs, as household pets, never cross paths with a farm animal. Nevertheless, pure instinct prompts many of these dogs to gently herd their owners, especially the children of the family.

These breeds were originally developed to gather, herd and protect livestock. Today, the Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd Dog, and others are commonly used for police and protection work.

Australian Cattle dogs were bred to herd cattle. They are part of the herding breed group, This AKC Dog Breed group's functionality is to gather and herd other animals.
Australian Cattle dogs are part of the Herding Group

Some breeds, such as Australian Cattle dogs and Corgis are cattle herders, while others such as the Border Collie and the Puli (a Hungarian sheepdog) were bred to herd sheep.

The Herding Group dog breeds make excellent pets if they are kept busy and get plenty of activity. The majority of these intelligent dogs make excellent companions and are very responsive to training exercises. The Herding breeds really need to be trained and can really excel in Obedience and Agility.

More well-known breeds within this group include the Collie, Australian Shepherd, Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and the German Shepherd Dog. Some lesser-known breeds within this group include the Finnish Lapphund, the Icelandic Sheepdog, and the Norwegian Buhund.

Hound Group Breeds

The Hounds were originally developed for hunting. However, the methods of hunting and the prey they hunt for are very different. There are two categories of Hounds, the sighthounds, and the scenthounds. The scenthounds have as their strongest sense the sense of smell, while the sighthound’s keenest scent is their sight. Some of these hounds are pack hounds who work in a group while others work individually. Unlike the Sporting Group breeds, the Hound breeds don’t retrieve fallen game for their handlers.

The Basenji is considered to be both a sight and scenthound
The Basenji is part of the Hound Group

In addition to the common purpose of hunting, other personality traits hounds have in common are intelligence and stubbornness. Sighthounds have a tendency to run after prey when off-leash, while scenthounds may wander off and get lost following a scent.

Other than the common traits of hounds already mentioned, generalizations about hounds are difficult to make, since the Group includes quite a diverse group of dog breeds. For example, the sizes of the Hound Group breeds range from the smallest miniature Dachshund to the largest of the group, the Irish Wolfhound.

Some hounds share the distinct ability to produce a unique sound known as baying. You should hear this sound before you decide to get a hound of your own to be sure it isn’t horrible to you. Some scent hound breeds make this sound such as Beagles, Bloodhounds, and the various Coon Hounds. Sighthounds tend to be quieter.

Some sighthounds include the Afghan Hound, the Greyhound, the Borzoi, the Saluki, and the Whippet. The Greyhounds are able to reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Greyhounds are most frequently used in dog racing. This breed also does very well in obedience and coursing.

Sighthounds have a unique, very thin build which some people do not care for as they look at these dogs and believe them to be malnourished. Because sighthounds hunt by sight, they need to have the speed and agility to keep up with their prey in order to keep them in their sight. Sighthound breeds typically have lean bodies, long legs, and a flexible back – they also have deep chests to support their unusually large hearts and lungs.

Greyhound running
The Greyhound is part of the Hound Group

You’ll find this breed to be very affectionate and well-behaved around children. They are generally trusting of strangers, however, some may tend to be quite shy. Unless there are other dogs in the household who woof, yap, and howl, many sighthounds rarely bark. So if you’re looking for a polite and quiet companion, this could be the breed for you. However, if you’re wanting a family watchdog, you might want to look elsewhere.

Working Group Breeds

Since the working relationship between humans and dogs goes back further than any single breed, it’s hard to determine the exact relationship the category has with dogs. That requires a deeper assessment of each breed listed as a Working Dog by the AKC.

The Boxer is part of the Working Group
The Boxer is part of the working group

Some tasks of Working Dogs include serving as rescue dogs, service animals, police dogs, guard dogs, and sled dogs, to name a few. Working Dogs generally grow large in stature and muscle mass, making them suitable for performing laborious tasks.

By 1983, it was determined that the Working Dog group had become too large. At the time, Working Dogs and Herding Dogs shared the same AKC classification. The end result was to split the Working Dog Group into 2 groups–The Working Dog Group and the Hound Group.

Many of the dogs in the Working Group do not make good pets for inexperienced dog parents. Due to their size and their intelligence, their strength can make them difficult to train for people who aren’t familiar with proper disciplinary measures for their pets.

This often leaves many of the Working Group dogs abused, neglected, or even left in shelters while combating poor habits obtained through improper training.

So if you’re seriously considering adopting one of these hardworking canines as your next pet, speak with rescue groups and vets about the breed you’re looking into before adopting.

The Siberian Husky is part of the Working  Group.   The Working Group Breeds were bred specifically to do various jobs such as sledding, police dogs, guard dogs, rescue dogs.
The Siberian Husky is part of the working group

However, if you and your family are up to the challenge, and have plenty of patience, many of these dogs do make wonderful family members and are even content in smaller living arrangements, such as the Great Dane.

Terrier Group Breeds

The Terrier breeds originated in the UK. Their main purpose was to kill vermin in a wide variety of environments.

As this predatory behavior is self-rewarding for these dogs (ie it doesn’t need an external reward such as a treat or praise), owners have to be aware that not only do their dogs enjoy carrying out these behaviors, they need to do them to stay healthy and happy.

American Pit Bull Terrier part of the Terrier Group
American Pit Bull Terrier is part of the Terrier Group

Terrier breeds are all small dogs with huge – and fairly strong – personalities, except the larger Airedale. These breeds are frequently described as “large dogs in a small body”. This description is due to their feisty and tenacious demeanors.  Many of them will play fearlessly with much larger dogs.

Terriers are very alert and will alert you to any possible condition. They are also independent and do not do as well in obedience training as many of the other breed groups. These breeds are trainable it just takes patience and creativity as they are also not as anxious to please as other breed groups. 

The vermin hunting and killing instincts are natural for Terriers. Successive years of breeding have sharpened these instincts to perfection. Terriers who don’t have to stalk or chase their prey (as they are in very close proximity) are specialists in watching and killing their prey, often with a single bite.

border terrier smiling
The Border Terrier is Part of the Terrier Group

This means that your Terrier will respond best to training and games that simulate hunting.

Despite being small dogs, terriers enjoy lots of walks and exercise. This is a great breed for people who want to stay fit or just enjoy outdoor activities.

The Pomeranian is part of the Toy Group
The Pomeranian is part of the Toy Group

Toy Group Breeds

The toy group consists of dogs that are small in size, yet large in personality. The toy group’s main function is to be a human’s companion. They are also great for people that live in apartments or condos that don’t have large yards.

The toy group consists of dogs that are small in size, yet large in personality. While the Toy Group breeds have common characteristics, each breed has its own distinct standards and personalities.

Breeds in the Toy group are affectionate, sociable, and adaptable to a wide range of lifestyles. The Toy breeds are smart and full of energy and many have strong protective instincts. 

The characteristics of the Toy Group breeds include the following:

The Chinese Crested is part of the Toy Group
The Chinese Crested is part of the Toy Group
  • Affectionate.
  • Sociable.
  • Adaptable to small environments.
  • May need space to be alone.
  • Don’t have to work off a lot of energy.
  • Better with adults and older children.

For people that love dogs and want a dog but are older or just have restricted mobility, the Toy Group breeds make wonderful companions for these people.


This article shows a generalized view of the 7 Breed Groups currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. There are many more breeds than those recognized by the AKC. Please consider adopting a dog from a shelter if you are able to.

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