Introduction to the Working Dog Group
Examples of different Working Dog Breeds:
Owning a breed from from the Working Dog Group
List of other breeds from the Working Dog Group
Introduction to Working Dog Group breeds
The working dog group is rich, broad and diverse. These dogs are effectively living history. They are the result of thousands of years of continuous targeted breeding. The working dog group breeds have become incredible specialists reflecting some area of human work or activity.
In this group we have long-distance running champions. The Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute can run staggering distances. A team of these dogs can cover between 20 to 40 miles a day in barren ice wastelands, whilst pulling cargo.
Another famous face in this group is the iconic and dependable St. Bernard. This dog is famous for finding lost and desperate souls on inhospitable mountainsides. Often, endearingly, with a little cask of something ‘restorative’ strapped around its neck.
Here we also have some of the real masterminds of the dog species. The Rottweiler and Doberman have both looks and brains. The versatility of these hyper-trainable dogs is absolutely mind-blowing.
In the last century these dogs proved invaluable in the world wars. These clever canines guarded the trenches and ran messages through dangerous conflict zones. They could even find and aid the wounded strewn across the battlefield. To this day these dogs are helping to bring dangerous criminals to justice and lost and wounded travelers back home.
But by far the most common role these dogs perform is as beloved members of the family. In this they still offer the same qualities of bravery, loyalty and dedication. But dogs with a working background have been bred to be the constant companions of humans. This means that separation anxiety is common amongst many of these breeds in a home environment.
We also have in this group some of the most ancient of extant breeds. The Romans were as fascinated by dogs as we are. The forebears of both the Mastiff and the Rottweiler are depicted in frescoes and other artwork. Both these dogs had their parts to play in the expansion of the Roman empire. Interestingly the Romans are also credited with introducing the Terrier breeds into Britain (link to Terriers).
Some troubled transitions from worker to pet
It hasn’t been plain sailing for all of the breeds in this group in leaving their respective working roles to becoming pets in the home.
For some of these dogs the qualities which were once a blessing, became something of a curse . Human society evolves and changes. Hence some of these dogs found their specialism redundant. At the same time the qualities developed for that specialism have become unwelcome in the context of a pet at home.
The English Mastiff is a good example of this, recognized as the heaviest dog in the world. This might have been useful for hunting or the deplorable practice of bear-baiting. But this huge breed has declined heavily in Britain.
This decline began in the 20th century as food shortages and rationing took their toll during World War II. People no longer wanted a dog whose daily consumption of food was higher than their own. It is to this day on the UK Kennel Club’s endangered list with only 104 puppies registered in 2020 .
But thankfully for this magnificent breed they have fared better in the USA. The Mastiff’s popularity was shown to have increased in 2020 according to AKC rankings they now ponderously sit at the healthy position of 33rd most popular dog.
Even a currently popular breed like the Siberian Husky is often surrendered by their owners. Attracted perhaps by their striking looks, some of these owners cannot cope with their tireless energy for which the dogs were bred. Or in some cases the owners have failed to socialize the dogs or left them under-exercised. The natural result is destruction in the home and other stressful behaviors.
The fate of these working-dog breeds only emphasizes the need to do careful research. Only then can you be fair to any prospective pet dog. Alongside this a serious investment in training our dogs appropriately must be made. Dogs are social, they want to get on with their human companions. But they need our support in adapting to family life successfully.
Examples of different working dog breeds
The following offers a brief overview of different kinds of working dogs. For more detailed information please visit our breeds guide.
Rottweiler (aka Rottie) (aka ‘Butcher’s Dog’)
History and Background
While the Mastiff graced the amphitheaters of the Roman Empire, forebears of today’s Rottweiler were on the road with the legions. These early forebears of the Rottie were used to protect sheep and camps while the army was on the move.
There is, in fact, a strong possibility given the strength and size of the Rottweiler of some early interbreeding with Mastiffs. If so, history has now repeated itself with the aptly named Roman Rottweiler. This variation demonstrates more recent breeding with Mastiffs. They stand slightly larger than the standard ‘Rottie’, but are the same in all other respects.
The Rottweiler is also believed to have swept around 14th century Germany with the order of Swabian Knights. Their primary purpose here was the dangerous occupation of boar hunting.
In the 20th century this attractive breed became established and popular. The American Kennel Club first recognized it as a breed in 1931. The UK Kennel Club followed suit in 1965.
This breed was originally named after the German town of Rottweil. Its function, like the Old English Sheepdog (link) in the UK, was as a cattle or drover’s dog. But, this versatile and muscular breed was also sometimes employed pulling carts. It was known as the ‘Butcher’s dog’ in Germany for its role in helping deliver the meat. It also proved an excellent guard of the shop whenever the butcher was absent.
This dog is not just brawn; it also has plenty of brains. In Stanley Coren’s ranking of intelligence this breed appeared in the top 10 . The Rottweiler is highly intelligent and responds very well to training. The Rottie is highly valued for its versatility. Here it rubs its muscular shoulders with dogs like the German Shepherd (link) and the Doberman (link). It is an alert dog which has been used for a variety of purposes in the military and police services.
The Rottweiler fully proved its worth during WW1. It was a reliable messenger and deliverer of medical supplies. This breed also proved adept at finding missing and wounded men. To this day Rottweilers have proven themselves to be expert trackers often winning tracking competitions. This is in keeping with its heritage as a capable hunting dog of yesteryear.
This breed does have a fearsome reputation. Perhaps the high point of this was its appearance as the devil’s own dogs in ‘The Omen’  . Various cameos as fearsome guard dogs to nefarious criminals quickly followed. But here at Pawsome we will only concede that the Rottweiler is devilishly handsome and also devilishly clever. Indeed for Rottweiler owners these dogs are more akin to guardian angels than demonic dogs.
Indeed, with the right socialization this is a relatively calm and balanced breed. Rotties have a very even temperament and make excellent and loving family pets. They are very tactile and always enjoy a fuss and a cuddle.
At the same time they are excellent guard dogs and are fiercely protective of their human family. Their hunting heritage means these dogs are very active. This means a good level of exercise and stimulation is essential. If these intelligent dogs are under-exercised or under-stimulated you may well have a problem on your hands. In such circumstances these dogs can be destructive in the house.
These dogs fiercely love their families. But their calm disposition and independence does give them resilience when left alone in the house although training for separation anxiety should still be put in place. This is an unusual positive in the Working Dog Group of breeds.
Another big plus to these dogs is that their smart black and tan coats are easy to maintain and they only infrequently shed.
For more detailed information on the Rottweiler and other breeds please visit our breed guide.
The Siberian Husky
Background and History
If these dogs had a theme tune it would surely be Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’. They are certainly the boss of the long distance run. Their only competition for endurance being the Alaskan Malamute [link]. These incredible animals can run anywhere between 20 and 40 miles a day whilst pulling fully laden sledges.
As the name implies these hardy dogs hail from Siberia in North East Russia. They arrived in America along with the Gold Rush and were clearly the ideal companions for wide-ranging and sometimes very lonely explorations. Particularly in vast areas of unchartered territory in inhospitable climates.
These dogs are the most popular members of the sub-grouping ‘Spitz’ type of dog. This word means ‘pointed’ in German and clearly reflects their very wolfish features. These dogs also have the appearance and coloring of wolves marking them out to be an ancient breed. They are specialized to live in harsh, cold climates. The Husky is not only swaddled in a heavy coat but also enjoys fur-protected ears and feet.
The Siberian Husky is also famous for the striking blue eyes often found in the breed in a cute way rather than in an ice-zombie from ‘Games of Thrones’ way. Interestingly this ‘heterochromia also occasionally occurs in other breeds including: the Old English Sheepdog [link], collies[link] and corgies[link]. For any biology geeks, this is due to a genetic change or mutation near a gene known as ALX4 on canine chromosome 18 .
Characteristic and Temperament
It probably does not need to be said that any prospective Husky owner must have the time and commitment to offer their dog a lot of exercise. Also be aware that recall is often an issue in this breed. Their instinct to chase and run very often overcomes their training. This is not helped by their unparalleled stamina and speed. This practically means that huskies cannot be released in unconfined spaces.
Even in confined spaces these dogs have proven excellent escapologists. Not only can they leap, but they are champion climbers in the dog world. If this fails they are also adept at digging their way out. If you don’t want a Great Escape on your hands then a husky owner must ensure that all outside spaces are secure.
But with plentiful exercise and stimulation the Siberian Husky has all the makings of endearing and treasured pets. They also require a comprehensive approach to socialization training. But they are by nature very pack-oriented and do not like being left alone. This means separation anxiety training is a must for these dogs.
The closeness and dependency they feel to their humans is also reflected in their very ‘talkative’ nature. They have a very distinct and wide repertoire of sounds. Expect a Siberian Husky to use these freely as they enjoy frequent chats with their owners. They are very good with children and are protective towards them.
Be aware that you will often find your clothes and furnishings often covered in white hair. Your home will require frequent and thorough vacuuming. These dogs really need to be groomed twice a day to remove dead hair. This is also particularly important in the heat to help keep your Husky cool. For further methods to keep your dog cool in hot summer months then click here. Also be aware that these dogs molt twice a year.
A heart-warming read for any Husky owner is, of course, Jack London’s ‘White Fang’. The eponymous wolf-dog hero is one-quarter Siberian Husky Or you could enjoy the film but only if your garrulous husky won’t talk over it! . The part-husky wolf-dog has to navigate the complexities of wild and domestic life and the challenges he faces might lead you to give your husky an understanding pat even as you reach again for the vacuum.
For more detailed information on the Siberian Husky and other breeds please visit our breed guide.
Mastiff (aka English Mastiff, Old English Mastiff)
Background and History
The massive Mastiff is the heaviest dog on the planet. This might have been a blessing in the cruel circumstances of battling bears in the Roman Amphitheater. But it has now become a bit of a curse for this ancient breed as its huge size has contributed to a steep decline in its popularity in the land of its origin, in the UK. Perhaps because the average home is smaller than the United States.
But this incredible breed plays an important role in the history of many dog breeds and they are still hugely influential. The Mastiff is in some measure a founding dog for many other breeds. These include Great Danes and St. Bernards. They also probably influenced a range of others including Rottweilers (internal link).
This is a very old breed indigenous to Britain that dates back over a couple of thousand years. They descend from the old Molossus dogs which can be seen depicted in Roman artwork . The Romans even had a procurator of dogs in Britain. This official ensured dogs were obtained and distributed around the amphitheaters.
The Mastiff continued to be employed in cruel sports through the medieval period. Like the aptly named Bulldog [internal link] this breed was used in bull-baiting.
With the thankful demise of these blood sports the Mastiff seemed to suffer a steady decline. After the second world war it almost became extinct as a breed. This was largely due to its huge size and food requirements.
Indeed, the numbers became so low that the St. Bernard was necessary to breed them back from the brink of extinction. But they have not significantly suffered from this partly because St. Bernard was partly founded on the Mastiff breed. But some Mastiffs do now bear a resemblance to their saintly cousins.
Character and Temperament
These dogs not only have large bodies, but are also big-hearted and adorable.
The Mastiff is a relatively relaxed and easy-going breed and is happy to jaunt along at a casual pace. This dog will not be begging for long walks. But like all breeds of dog a good level of exercise is important to its health
They are protective but it will take a lot to provoke this dog into aggression. This is a huge and powerful animal, but an absolute gentle giant. They can be protective of their owners but they are very reluctant biters.
This might reflect what was thought to be their ancient role in hunts. These dogs restrained and delayed big prey while the smaller dogs attacked. Their default guard mode is to stand in front of their owners. If needed they then nudge away any perceived threat with their enormous heads.
Yes, these dogs slobber. But don’t mistake their benign, passive expressions for unintelligence. Mastiffs are bright and can be trained to a good standard. But owners do report that these dogs have occasional bouts of stubbornness. So consistency, patience and positive reinforcement required.
These dogs are definitely more human-oriented but will get on with other canines. Like many other breeds in this group they suffer from separation anxiety and training should be put in place as early as possible to mitigate this. The English Mastiff is reportedly also incredibly sensitive to change. Any kind of disruption needs to be managed very sensitively.
Thankfully, particularly as there is a lot of area to cover, this dog’s coat is short and easy to maintain.
The Mastiff was historically widespread across the world. This has led to a number of related variations of the breed including:
The Spanish Mastiff; The Neopolitan Mastiff; The Pyrenean Mastiff; The Tibetan Mastiff; The BullMastiff (Bulldog Cross), The French Mastiff (Dogue de Bordeaux), The Brazilian Mastiff ( Fila Brasileiro)
Doberman Pinscher (aka Dobie)
Background and History
This breed is named after a German tax official called Louis Dobermann. He developed this breed in the 1880s and 1890s in Apolda, Germany. Fearing theft, and perhaps inevitable unpopularity, the intention was that this dog would protect him on his tax-rounds. This tax man clearly had a fascination and skill with dogs as he was also the town’s dog-catcher. One can only imagine that Louis Doberman, accompanied by this fearless and loyal protector, proved very successful at both his jobs.
Taxation might not sound like the most exciting origin story for a breed. But the Doberman is a prime example of how already specialized breeds can be combined so dynamically to create something new and wonderful. Although not officially documented, the Doberman is thought to be bred from a combination of The German Shepherd (link), The Rottweiler (link), The Greyhound (link) and the Weimaraner. Other possibilities cited by the AKC include the Black and Tan Terrier and the German Pinscher.
‘Pinscher’ came to German from the French word ‘pincer’ . This means to bite and nip signaling the role of this dog as an intimidating guardian. The fame and popularity of this wonderful dog soon spread. In 1900 this dog was designated a breed by the German Kennel Club. In 1921 the Doberman had become global and the Pinscher Club of America was established.
The recent AKC 2020 registration records the Doberman as the 18th most popular breed in the United States. This popularity is certainly helped by the fact that this lovely dog is no longer associated with collecting tax.
It is worth noting that two different strains of Doberman are recognized. The original European Doberman refers to the traditional working-line of dogs. They are slightly heavier with more muscle mass. While the American Doberman is a show-line which tends to have a lighter frame, a thinner and more sharply curved neck.
Like the German Shepherd and Rottweiler, the Doberman served with distinction during the Great Wars. One example of this was a Doberman named Kurt. He was memorialized with a bronze statue in the 1990s for his efforts in the Battle of Guam in the South Pacific in 1944. The statue also recognized at least 25 dogs for their heroics as watch-dogs and messenger-dogs who were also lost in action .
Character and Temperament
This dog is dynamic ,majestic, intelligent and very quick in both body and mind.
This makes the breed hyper-trainable. The Doberman is very eager to please and will quickly pick up a range of commands. The recall is excellent in a well-trained dog from this breed. So they can be fully trusted to demonstrate their blistering speed in open spaces off the leash. Their high intelligence does mean they need plenty of mental stimulation. These dogs came in at an impressive 5th place in Stanley Coren’s evaluation of the intelligence of dog breeds . These dogs need firm training but positive reinforcement is key as they can be sensitive.
This dog is incredibly versatile and successful in a range of spheres. This is no surprise considering the range of excellent ingredients offered by its founding breeds. It serves with honor in the police, protection and security as well as search and rescue operations. The Doberman is utilized by various services across the world. But interestingly the Doberman is not as favored by services in countries with colder climates as it only has a single coat. In the United Kingdom, for example, the German Shepherd is a far more common service dog.
The Doberman is recommended for strong, confident and ideally experienced owners. So arguably it is not the best choice of breed for a first-time dog owner. The Doberman is generally better suited to an active household. It is an active and energetic breed that needs ideally between 2 to 3 hours walking. They are great dogs to accompany you on adventure or hiking holidays.
The Dobie is also very sociable. They get on with other dogs, although they can assert dominant behaviors. This can be mitigated by early socialization training. They are very athletic and do perform well in canine agility contests.
But they are excellent guard dogs. Doberman’s are very protective of families, particularly children. In this respect, like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (link), they could be described as a nanny dog. A well-socialized Doberman is a superlative pet. They can very easily adapt to all aspects of family life.
These dogs are very majestic in appearance. They enjoy a long, lean build with a back which curves slightly down to well-muscled hindquarters. The Doberman has a handsome flat-topped head with a long muzzle. They have razor-sharp teeth that ‘pinch’ in a scissor-bite with their upper and lower jaws neatly interlocking.
But this physical prowess comes at a cost in popular culture. Along with the Rottweiler (link), the Doberman often plays a convincing cameo part in television and film as a menacing canine antagonist. Even the 1972 film ‘The Doberman Gang’ had them portray a gang of canine bank robbers . I am not sure how happy Louis Dobermann would be considering this dog’s founding purpose was to guard money! Unfair typecasting is what we say at Pawsome.
Apartment living is not completely out of the question but inadvisable. In these circumstances this active breed must be given lots of opportunities to exercise. Ideally they should have lots of space and an outside area in which to burn off any excess energy.
The Doberman’s coat is short and they don’t have an undercoat. This means grooming is straightforward and only occasional brushing is required. But they can suffer in spells of cold weather. So owners in colder climates should invest in a warm dog coat. These dogs are most commonly black and tan like the Rottweiler (link). But they can also have blue, red or fawn coloring.
The Doberman has a life expectancy of 9-13 years. Possible health complications include: cardiomyopathy, hip and elbow dysplasia, bloating and occasional arthritis. Some among the breed can develop Von Willebrand Disease (excessive bleeding due to a clotting disorder).
For more detailed information on the Doberman Pinscher and other breeds please visit our breed guide.
Owning a breed from the Working Dog Group
This group contains some brilliant examples of how dogs can have certain of their natural features exaggerated to be incredibly successful in a wide range of human activity. It also shows how these dogs can then adapt these features to the home in order to become wonderful pets.
To understand them we need to be aware of the purpose for which they were bred. With the right training and support these dogs will then make the successful transition to happy family pets.
These dogs are generally more suited to experienced owners. A first time owner must be enthusiastic to learn how to train their dog and have the time to implement it. Also factor in lots of time for mental and physical stimulation through interactive play.
If you are considering homing a puppy or a rescue dog ensure you also talk to the breeder or provider. Ensure you ask in-depth questions regarding care, feeding and training.
But with these things in place, you cannot go wrong with any of these breeds.
If you are still looking for your ideal canine companion then please have a look at the other groups in our breed guide including: The Terrier Group, The Herding Group, The Hound Group, The Sporting Group, The Non Sporting Group, and The Toy Group.
Other breeds in the Working Dog Group
- Alaskan Malamute
- Bearded Collie
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Bouvier Des Flandres
- Canadian Eskimo Dog
- Collies (rough)
- Collies (smooth)
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- German Pinscher
- Giant Schnauzer
- Great Dane
- Great Pyrenees
- Great Swiss Mountain Dog
- Greenland Dog
- Groenendael (Belgian Shepherd Dog)
- Portuguese Water Dog
- Pyrenean Mastiff
- Russian Black Terrier
- St. Bernard
- Tibetan Mastiff
- Welsh Corgi