Breed Tendencies

All dogs are individuals, but there are some qualities that are generally applicable to dogs of a particular breed. These descriptions should give you a starting point when narrowing down the breeds of dogs (or mixes of breeds) that would be the best fit for your lifestyle.

Note: These are not compatible with AKC groupings,  but are grouped according to behavior traits.


(Irish Wolfhound, Greyhound, Whippet…)

Bred to hunt by seeing, following, and chasing prey for as long as they could see it, without direct instruction from people

  • Can be challenging to train because of their independence
  • Not reliable off-leash (If it moves, they’ll chase it. If in hot pursuit, few will listen.)
  • Usually good with other dogs, but cats may bring out high prey drive
  • Need to run very fast in short bursts a few times a week; otherwise, content to lie around the house
  • Seek a soft sleeping spot (furniture) because of low body fat and little coat

Scent Hounds (small and medium)

(Beagle, Dachshund, Foxhound…)

Bred to track, follow and find prey in groups while telling each other and everyone else exactly where they are

  • Vocal (Awooooooo!)
  • Medium energy level
  • Easily distracted by smells on the ground
  • Usually get along well with other dogs (unless food is involved)
  • Get along well with people, although pleasing them is not a priority
  • Live to eat; can be difficult to housebreak (beagle, basset, bloodhound)

Scent Hounds (large)

(Basset Hound, Coonhound, Bloodhound…)

Bred to track, follow and find prey singly or in pairs far ahead of their people, then alert their people

  • Low-energy, mellow
  • Will follow nose anywhere
  • Independent
  • Gentle and accepting of people
  • Can be prone to drooling


 (Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever, Portuguese Water Dog, some lesser known spaniels and setters…)

Bred to flush and retrieve birds under direction from their people

  • Friendly; normally tolerant of children’s behavior (Chesapeake may be a one-person protective dog, as well as territorial and aggressive toward other dogs)
  • Enthusiastic and physical (mouthing, jumping, pulling, chewing)
  • Willing to take direction from their people
  • Though they may be quite active when young, they usually settle down as they mature (Generally can’t handle unsupervised freedom in the house until after 2 yrs. old)
  • Need early training to help them find acceptable objects to carry around
  • Need a job to keep them busy (happy retrieving)

Extremely Enthusiastic Sporting

(Brittany, Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Dalmation, German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers, English Pointer, Irish Setter, Standard Poodle, Vizsla, Weimaraner, Curly-Coated Retriever…)

Bred to flush, point, retrieve under the direction of their people; each bred to work in a specific environment

  • Much higher energy levels (adolescents in shelters because “too much to handle”)
  • Need a job to keep them mentally and physically stimulated if the owner wants to avoid behavior issues, like escaping, destruction, barking
  • Pointers are strong, active, physical and directed, requiring early training and lots of activity
  • Irish Setters need several long runs daily and, even then, don’t look for long periods of calm
  • Good spaniels take well to training, but seeing increasing aggression because of over breeding


(Boston Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Fox Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Rat Terrier, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Welsh Terrier, Scottish Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Wheaten Terrier…)

Bred to find, follow, dig out and kill vermin without instructions from people; barked to help their people find them inside the hole they dug to get to what they were pursuing.

  • Feisty, high-energy, fearless
  • Quick to learn, but have little time to sit and stay
  • Hard to interrupt an excited terrier
  • Not always good with other pets
  • Prone to digging
  • BARK
  • High prey drive; difficult to trust off-lead
  • NOT lap dogs
  • Need a job that is mentally and physically stimulating to avoid behavior problems

Herding Dogs

(Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, Corgi…)

Bred to manipulate stock as a partner with a person

  • Easy to train; very intelligent
  • Need lots of mental and physical stimulation to be happy (otherwise, expect pacing, spinning and circling)
  • May nip at heels of running children; chase anything that moves
  • May be particularly sensitive to noises
  • Some, like the Sheltie or Bearded Collie, will bark when excited or frustrated

Asian Dogs

(Akita, Chinese Sharpei, Chow Chow, Shiba Inu, Jindo, Basenji (not Asian, but shares physical and character traits)…)

  • Confident and assertive
  • Not social with people (may be affectionate with their immediate family)
  • Not high-energy (except for Basenji)
  • Need experienced owners willing to put a lot of effort into training

Protection Dogs

(Mastiff, Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Belgian Malinois, Giant Schnauzer, Boxer…)

Bred to guard and protect; work closely with humans, but must also be willing to challenge humans.  Bred to respond to threats with violence.

  • Confident and pushy (especially with their bodies)
  • People focused (These dogs will give you their soul if they respect you.)
  • Lower-energy (except for those that also herded)
  • Often bark a lot when behind a fence; trying to keep everything away from their turf
  • Because the dogs are willing to challenge humans, they need an owner who will be a firm and consistent leader, willing to set rules and enforce them and willing to do positive obedience training.  Not for the casual owner
  • Females in these breeds are sometimes less assertive than the males.

Bully Breeds

(Bull Dog, English Bull Dog, Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Pit Bull, Staffordshire Bull Terrier…)

Bred to fight other animals, but the English Bull Dog and Bull Terrier don’t fit as neatly in this category because their fighting origins are further in the past.

  • Pit bulls need to be around people; can by affectionate, playful companions if properly raised and supervised
  • Tend to become highly aroused
  • May not get along well with other pets; dogs with strong jaws should not be left unattended with another pet
  • Assertive; tend to have their own agenda
  • Need experienced owners willing to obedience train them

Northern Breeds (spitzes)

(Norwegian Elkhound, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo, Samoyed, Keeshond…)

Bred for various jobs (guarding, hunting, pulling, herding)

  • Independent minded
  • Medium energy level (except for the husky, which has high energy levels and a tendency to roam)
  • May dig to stay cool
  • May not be good with smaller dogs, but generally ok with other dogs
  • Affectionate with their own people, but aloof with strangers
  • Thick coats that shed a great deal
  • Howlers/Talkers
  • May be good for joggers and hikers

Flock/Mountain Rescue Dogs

(Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Newfoundland…)

  • Lower energy requirements
  • Gentle, friendly and easy going
  • Lots of coat and a tendency to drool

Lap Dogs

(Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Miniature Dachshund, French Bulldog, Italian Greyhound, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Maltese, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Papillon, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Miniature and Toy Poodle, Pug, ShihTzu, Silky Terrier, Tibetan Spaniel, Yorkshire Terrier…)

Primary purpose now as human companion

  • Tend to be demanding
  • Health and behavior problems from being overbred
  • Often trembly, fearful and snappy
  • Live much longer than the large breeds
  • Some have frequent grooming requirements
  • With a few exceptions, like the pug, many are too fragile for small children and some will be defensively nippy.
  • Humans tend to spoil them, leading to bad behavior
  • Can also be difficult to housetrain because of the relative size of confined areas

We thank Humane Society University for some of these descriptions.  Find out about HSU classes at