Mixed Breeds For Dummies
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Each dog breed was developed for specific tasks — guarding, herding, hunting, hand-warming — and these breeds are grouped together by their original purpose. A mixed breed is a combination of two or more breeds. Knowledge of the appearance and personalities of the various breed groups will help you understand your own dog, and will also be useful if you’re thinking about which type of mixed breed to get.

On the hunt: The Sporting Group

On the hunt: The Sporting Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

Sporting dogs were bred to aid hunters in locating, retrieving, and flushing game. They can track, chase, freeze, and return with the prize. Two of the most popular dogs in the United States — the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever (shown) — belong to this group. Sporting dogs make great hunting companions and fantastic pets; and they’re great with active families. They need a lot of exercise and stimulation.

The AKC recognizes 26 breeds in the Sporting Group. The most popular breeds in this group — and the ones most often seen in mixed-breed dogs — include: Brittany, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, English Springer Spaniel, German Shorthaired Pointer, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Pointer, Vizsla, and Weimaraner.

Sporting dogs vary from medium to large — 25 to 90 pounds, depending on the breed. All of them have ears that fold over. The retrievers have webbed feet to aid in swimming and also have quick-dry coats. The Setters have medium-length coats with feathering on their legs and tails. Spaniels have fuller coats, also with feathering on their legs and tails. Though many of the Spaniel and Pointer breeds have cropped tails, they’re born with long ones.

Sporting dogs are athletic, high energy, intelligent, and hard working. They need a job; if they don’t have a job, they’ll drive you crazy trying to find one for themselves. They love to sniff out game trails, single mindedly tracking until they find the source. If there’s something to get wet in, even a mud puddle, you can be sure they’ll find it — and you won’t be able to keep them out of it.

All the breeds in the Sporting Group are easily trained and thrive on structure.

Ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog: The Hound Group

Ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog: The Hound Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

Though the Hound Group, which according to the AKC is made up of 23 different breeds, includes some of the first breeds ever developed to aid hunters, they aren’t the type to point, flush, or retrieve (see the Sporting Group). Instead, Hound dogs track scents. They’re single-minded when it comes to locating their targeted prey.

Hounds are divided into two categories: those who hunt by scent and those who hunt by sight (called sighthounds).

The most common hounds, and those often found within mixed-breed dogs, are the American Foxhound, Bassett Hound, Beagle (shown), Dachshund, English Foxhound, Greyhound, Norwegian Elkhound, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and several types of Coonhounds. Except for the Greyhound, these are all scent hounds; tracking through odor left on the ground.

Many Hounds have long, silky ears; long muzzles; and large rib cages. Some have predominantly short coats, while a few, such as the Afghan Hound, have long coats that require a lot of maintenance.

Most of the breeds within the Hound Group tend to be stubborn, single-minded, and difficult to train unless properly motivated. Sighthounds (like the Greyhound) are generally energetic; the slightest movement catches their attention.

While occasionally aggressive on the hunt, Hounds are rarely aggressive to people, but they will try your patience.

Workin’ like a dog: The Working Group

Workin’ like a dog: The Working Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

The AKC recognizes 25 breeds in the Working Group. Most of the dogs in this group are large, bold, and hardy. They were bred to work long hours though not all of them have high energy levels. Working dogs guard, pull heavy loads, herd and, in recent years, search and rescue.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is not commonly seen in mixed breeds, but he is a great representation of the Working Group.

Because most of them are very popular as pets, they’re often seen within mixed-breed dogs. The most popular breeds in this group are the Alaskan Malamute, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Rottweiler, and Siberian Husky. Though less popular, the Akita, Mastiff, and Saint Bernard are also found within many mixed breeds.

Working dogs are large boned, strong bodied, and strong willed. Many were bred to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as Arctic temperatures or the cold of Northern Europe.

Working dogs have extreme intelligence and steadfast working ethics. They are hardy, often energetic, and make great pets as long as they’re given appropriate guidance. Some of these breeds were bred to fight other dogs or protect people, so they have the instinct to be assertive in many situations and can be very territorial.

Working breeds do not do well if left alone for long periods of time or tied up. This might lead to aggressive and destructive behavior.

A mix containing any of these breeds must have regular obedience training and maintain strict scheduling. Otherwise, the dog believes he’s in charge of your household — and you really don’t want to deal with a large, powerful dog who thinks he’s in charge.

On the other hand, given a job to perform, Working breeds put their entire hearts into their work. They want approval from their human guardians, but the activity alone is positive reinforcement.

Tenacious terriers: The Terrier Group

Tenacious terriers: The Terrier Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

The AKC recognizes 27 breeds in the Terrier Group. Terriers are small-game hunters. Due to their genetic disposition to go after difficult game, they’re tenacious and single-minded while working; though their work is usually protecting their household and all those in it, while telling everyone what to do and how to do it.

The most common Terrier breeds seen within mixed-breed dogs are the Airedale Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier (now called the Parson Russell Terrier), Miniature Schnauzer, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Pit-Bull Terrier (not a recognized AKC breed, but still a popular pet and recognized by the United Kennel Club), Scottish Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier.

Most of the terriers are medium to small in stature. Their coats are generally short and smooth or wiry and rough, with the exception of the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, and Skye Terrier, all of whom have longer, silkier coats than the other Terrier breeds.

There’s really no structural norm among the Terrier breeds. Their common threads lie more in personality. However, the taller of the Terriers — Airedale Terrier and Kerry Blue Terrier — do have some structural similarities in their long muzzles, fold-over ears, long necks, and long legs. The American Staffordshire Terrier and Bull Terrier have large egg-shaped heads and very muscular bodies with short smooth coats. The Scottish, Cairn, West Highland White, Norfolk, Norwich, Australian, and Border Terriers (shown) have short legs, long bodies, medium to long muzzles, and sharp high-set eyes, with short to medium-length tails. All these breeds also have a wiry, medium-length coat.

The Border Terrier is not commonly found in mixed-breed dogs, but they’re similar in size and coat to dogs such as the Cairn Terrier and Norwich Terrier.

Terriers are high energy, rebellious to authority, and more assertive than any other breed group. When riled up, they don’t readily back down. However, they do learn quickly as long as they’re properly motivated. Terriers require consistent training and guidance every day of the week, every week of the year. Terriers are easily excited, turning from upset-to-see-you-go to attacking the nearest creature they see because they were upset-to-see-you-go.

The last thing you ever show a Terrier is that you are apprehensive or hesitant. This is all they need to fully dominate you in every way — from how they prefer to be touched to possessive aggression and worse.

Although these dominant tendencies don’t occur in all Terriers, or in all mixed-breed dogs with Terrier heritage, carefully observe your own dog for these behaviors and deal with them accordingly; with obedience training.

Big personalities in small packages: The Toy Group

Big personalities in small packages: The Toy Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

The AKC includes 21 breeds in the Toy Group. Toy breeds were initially developed from the major breed groups. Their parentage was chosen from the smallest of the lines, eventually forming the Toy breeds of today. Though they are their own individual breeds, they retain much of the genetic heritage of the breeds from which they were derived.

Toy dogs quickly adapt to any living environment. This makes them especially great traveling companions and pets for those who live in condominiums, apartments, or other community housing. Yet, they also do well living in a suburban neighborhood or in a rural setting, as long as they’re kept primarily indoors when you’re not with them.

The Toy Group consists of the following popular breeds that are very likely to be part of a mixed-breed dog’s heritage: Chihuahua, Maltese, Miniature and Toy Poodle, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Pug (shown), Shih Tzu, and Yorkshire Terrier.

The Pug is a key component in the super-popular mixed-breed Puggle, a mix of the Pug and Poodle. Any breed that’s part Poodle should inherit the Poodle’s good nature, intelligence, and longevity.

Rarely is a Toy breed larger than 14 inches tall at the shoulder. They also usually weigh less than 20 pounds. Being small is what constitutes the Toy dog label. Other than these attributes, however, they come in all shapes, fur lengths, and personalities. Some are very sensitive to weather conditions, and others are fairly hardy. Some can be easy to maintain, and others are time-consuming.

Big things come in small packages. Though small in stature, Toy breeds have big personalities. If you train and guide your Toy mixed breed, he’ll be a tiny gem — fun, loving, and loyal.

Despite their small size, they need to be treated just like bigger dogs — not like windup toys. They’re still dogs, and they have the same need for structure and understanding of their environment.

All shapes and sizes: The Non-Sporting Group

All shapes and sizes: The Non-Sporting Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

The Non-Sporting Group includes 17 different breeds, in every shape and size imaginable, from the Standard Poodle to the Bulldog to the Dalmatian to the Chow Chow. Non-Sporting dogs are big, small, wide, and narrow. All are somehow related to other known breeds, though genetically specialized for specific jobs.

The most popular breed in this group, and the most likely to appear in a designer dog, is the Standard Poodle. The reasons for this dog’s popularity in the designer-dog set are numerous: They’re intelligent, loving, and energetic. They have great longevity. They can be almost any color, though black, white, and chocolate are the most common — and they don’t shed.

Other popular breeds found in mixed-breed dogs include the American Eskimo Dog, Bichon Frise (shown), Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, and Lhasa Apso.

The Bichon Frise is a popular Non-Sporting Dog, with a happy and playful personality.

Brachiocephalic facial structure is a dog’s muzzle that has been specially bred to be very short to nearly nonexistent. Though this was initially done to improve the working ability of these dogs, it rarely has any purpose other than for appearance. Dogs who have this facial structure include Pugs, Shi Tzu, Pekingese, Boston Terriers, and Bulldogs.

Other than the Standard Poodle, Non-Sporting dogs are bold, challenging, and independent. They require lots of exercise and structured guidance through training and consistency.

The Standard Poodle has lots of energy but is easy to guide in the right direction. They have a high desire to work and love training challenges. Essentially, Poodles can learn anything and do anything, making them ideal dogs for designer-dog combinations. They overcome many of the behavioral and structural shortcomings of those breeds mixed with them.

Round ’em up: The Herding Group

Round ’em up: The Herding Group

Illustration by Barbara Frake

There are 18 dogs in the Herding Group. And these dogs not only round ’em up, but also push ’em along. They were bred to help shepherds and farmers, working long hard days in all types of weather. Because they were bred to work independently as well as in close sync with their handlers, many Herding breeds are extremely intelligent.

The most common breeds within the Herding Group, and those most likely to be found within a mixed-breed dog, are the Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd (shown), Border Collie, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Collie, German Shepherd Dog, Old English Sheepdog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and Shetland Sheepdog.

The Australian Shepherd is a classic Herding dog, and is commonly found in mixed breeds.

The breeds within the Herding Group range from those with short legs (like the Corgis) to those with long, lithe legs (like the Collie). Though none of these breeds has a short coat, several have thick medium coats, and most tend toward long fur, making them appear more like the animals they were bred to control.

Herding dogs have high energy. They can run an entire day and make you tired just watching. Herding dogs are on their best behavior if they’re allowed to exercise a lot. They’re even better if they receive consistent training on a daily basis — in fact, they thrive on it. Because these dogs were bred to work hard and long hours, they need the outlet that training activities provide.

Herding breeds tend to learn complicated tasks faster than any other breed, making them ideal for agility, obedience, herding, and many other occupations. They aren’t great breeds to have around small children, because they will chase moving objects and purposefully bump into them as a means of gathering the flock together. However, they’re wonderful pets for people with active lifestyles.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Miriam Fields-Babineau has been a professional animal trainer since 1978 and is the author of 45 books in the field, including one on how to train cats! A psychologist and zoologist, she takes her work home with her and lives in Vermont with her family, dogs, cats, and horses.

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