Dogs have been bred to assist man for centuries. Over the years, we have trained dogs to hunt with us, help with transport, guard us, protect us, and serve us.
We have created specific breeds whose skills best suit our needs. And within creating these unique working dog breeds, we have found some beautiful companions along the way.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best dog breeds in the working group:
What is a Working Dog?
Every dog registered with the American Kennel Club is assigned to one of seven different groups.
These include herding dogs, hounds, toy dogs, non-sporting breeds, sporting dogs, terriers, and finally, the working group.
The working group contains some of the world’s most beloved breeds, including Siberian Huskies, Boxers, Bloodhounds, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers.
These breeds have been used to perform human tasks throughout history, including herding and guarding livestock, hunting game, and pulling sleds.
These particular breeds often step up when humans cannot perform a specific task, or the job is considered unsafe.
There are countless tales of working dogs performing heroic acts in the military, rescuing people in distress, or detecting medical conditions.
Common characteristics of Working Dog breeds
Working Dogs are known for their intelligent, alert natures. These watchful dogs are naturally protective, obedient, and very loyal.
With highly disciplined and diligent personalities, they are, of course, hard workers. They have an innate desire to please and are very people-focussed, which often also makes them excellent companions.
These dogs are also physically hardy dogs, whose strong stature is usually matched by a large size that benefits the task at hand.
List of Working Dog breeds
- Best service dogs: Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever
- Best search and rescue dogs: Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Belgian Malinois, Golden Retriever
- Best livestock guardian and herding dogs: Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Border Collie, Bernese Mountain Dog
- Best sled-pulling dogs: Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed
- Best police and military dogs: German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Rottweiler, Boxer, Giant Schnauzer, Doberman Pinscher
- Best sniffer dogs: Bloodhound, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever
1. Siberian Husky
Siberian Huskies have been historically used as sled dogs and still do so today, but it is now for recreational purposes more often than not.
These pack dogs are competent at pulling light loads through the ice and snow. They are known for their speed, strength, and endurance.
Their double thick coat keeps them super warm but does mean they will shed a lot in your home.
Aside from this, these dogs can make excellent family dogs but need a fair amount of training as they have a stubborn, independent side. They are also an extremely vocal breed.
Watch some enthusiastic Siberian Huskies pulling a sled here:
2. Alaskan Malamute
An ancient Arctic sledding breed, the Alaskan Malamute, is named after the native Inuit tribe Mahlemut.
These dogs are known for their strength and stamina, making them capable of hauling heavy loads in thick snow.
They are easily distinguishable from Siberian Huskies by their larger build and broader heads.
With a loving, loyal, and affectionate side, these dogs can make great family companions, provided they are given the training and exercise they need, and you are prepared to deal with their consistent shedding.
3. Bernese Mountain Dog
The beautifully tricolored Bernese Mountain Dog is amiable and gentle. Built for the farmlands of Switzerland, these dogs have been used to herd and drive cattle.
As a result, this breed does best in a colder climate. They are also used to guard livestock and pull carts as they can move items that are many times their weight.
4. Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a faithful and dependable breed that was also bred to herd livestock in Switzerland’s mountains.
A capable drafting dog, this breed was also used to pull loads of dairy and meat products to markets.
These large dogs have also served as companions for many years and don’t have the strong herding instincts around children that some other breeds demonstrate.
These friendly dogs are also straightforward to train, although they do need a fair amount of exercise.
Strong, active, and agile, Boxers are one breed that has crossed over from the realm of working dogs into a much-loved family companion.
That is because this breed is known for its sweet, bright nature and playful, happy demeanor.
Although used for hunting and guarding historically, boxers are not known to be aggressive, although their protective natures make them excellent guard dogs for families.
They are also used today as guide dogs and police dogs.
6. Great Pyrenees
Bred as mountain dogs to protect flocks in pastures, the Great Pyrenees is fantastic at deterring predators such as bears and wolves.
This characteristic also makes them excellent watchdogs for your home. They are courageous and fiercely protective but also extremely gentle and patient towards their owners.
These huge fluffy white dogs need space to roam and plenty of exercise to keep fit and healthy.
7. Doberman Pinscher
One of the most popular dogs in the working group, the Doberman Pinscher, is a fearless dog known as one of the world’s best guard dogs.
His protective instincts make him a favorite for military and police work, as done his easy trainability.
While their lean physique and intimidating nature mean they have a reputation for being aggressive, Doberman Pinschers can be very sensitive and gentle in a family environment.
8. German Pinscher
One of Germany’s oldest breeds of dogs, the German Pinscher, was initially bred to extinguish vermin.
As a result of their breeding history as rat killers, German Pinschers are among the smallest working dogs in the group, typically weighing less than 45 pounds (20 kg).
These no-nonsense dogs are very intelligent; however, this can also make them manipulative and a handful to train.
The Rottweiler is another well known guarding breed. The ancient Romans initially used them as livestock guarding dogs.
These strong, robust dogs are very powerful and, as a result, excel at police work in the modern world.
They are also used as search and rescue dogs, and surprisingly, Rottweilers were some of the first seeing-eye dogs.
Despite their aggressive appearance, Rottweilers are sweet-tempered and loyal to owners that establish themselves as the pack alpha.
With an experienced, active owner prepared to put in the training, the Rottweiler can make an excellent companion.
The Akita was developed in ancient Japan, where these powerful dogs were used as guardians and skilled hunters, even taking on bears and wild boar.
Owning an Akita was deemed a status symbol, and only the imperial family and court members were allowed to keep this imposing breed.
Known for their independent, reserved nature, Akitas are notoriously suspicious of strangers with an aloof, cat-like nature that can be challenging for first-time dog owners.
Akitas also don’t tend to get along well with other dogs.
Along with the Beagle, the Bloodhound is known for his excellent nose. This makes him a skilled tracker and detection dog.
The Bloodhound’s lineage dates back to medieval France, where they were used to track wild game. Today, bloodhounds are often used to track down criminals, such as wildlife poachers, or find missing people.
Bloodhounds also make super cute companions with their wrinkled skin, floppy ears, and tall, lean appearance.
12. Golden Retriever
Although falling into the AKC’s sporting group, the Golden Retriever is used for many jobs, such as therapy tasks, search and rescue, assisting the disabled, and military work.
This very intelligent breed is known as having a loving, enthusiastic nature and a very affectionate side that makes them great companions, especially with kids.
Golden Retrievers have a muscular square build and a beautiful golden flowing coat.
13. Labrador Retriever
Also, not a strict working dog breed, the Labrador Retriever is another dog that also is used for many jobs. These dogs are mainly known for their role as guide dogs to the blind.
As retrievers, they also serve as excellent search and rescue dogs.
This breed is very easy to train, and with a friendly nature, Labradors are also a top choice as a family pet, particularly in homes with children.
14. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are synonymous with police work and make a popular choice for guard dogs in the family home. Highly intelligent, obedient, and eager to please, these dogs are straightforward to train.
These dogs are so easy to train that the first acting dog was a German Shepherd known as Strongheart, who became the world’s highest-grossing actor when he appeared in five silent movies between 1921 and 1927.
15. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
Developed in Turkey as fierce sheep and goat protectors, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog has strong protective and territorial instincts.
They are known for their large, intimidating appearance and are still used on many ranches and farms today, even scaring away lions and leopards.
Although demanding with intensive training needs, these loyal dogs can make good companions, especially on larger properties and smallholdings.
16. Black Russian Terrier
A gorgeous giant of a dog, the Black Russian Terrier, weighs around 140 pounds (64 kg) and stands 30 inches (76 cm) tall.
These large dogs are immensely powerful and strong and were initially bred to protect Russia’s borders and work at prison camps.
The Black Russian Terrier is a confident and intelligent breed that is easy to train and very energetic.
They require plenty of daily exercise and regular grooming to keep that beautiful black coat looking shiny and healthy.
The Bullmastiff was originally bred to keep trespassers and poachers out of the forests of England.
These fearsome looking dogs make excellent watchdogs but also have a gentle, loving side that makes them perfect family companions.
18. Cane Corso
Developed by the Roman Empire as a battle-ax that would fearlessly charge at enemy lines, it makes sense that the Cane Corso has an aggressive, intimidating nature.
Throughout the years, this aggressive breed has been used to hunt wild boar and protect farms and flock.
Although the Cane Corso has strong protective instincts, they also have a gentle side that they exhibit towards their family.
However, they are not an excellent choice for first-time pet owners who may find their strong-willed nature challenging to handle.
One of the rarest breeds of working dogs, the Chinook was developed as a powerful sledding dog. Exhibiting high levels of endurance and a need for speed, the Chinook has high exercise needs.
However, take this dog on regular walks and runs, and you’ll be rewarded with a calm, friendly, people-loving pet that loves kids.
20. Dogo Argentino
The short-coated, muscular Dogo Argentino is a pack-hunting dog, bred to hunt large game, such as wild boar or even pumas. These powerful athletes are very protective and thus, also make excellent guard dogs.
If you’re planning to keep a Dogo Argentino at home, be warned that they need plenty of socialization and training to keep that aggressive nature in check.
21. Dogue de Bordeaux
An ancient French breed, the Dogue de Bordeaux are known as ferocious beasts, even used to battle gladiators in the Roman arena. Over the years, they have been used as guardians, herders, and drafters.
Although a challenge to train and not recommended for novice owners, the Dogue de Bordeaux can have a gentle, sweet side.
22. Giant Schnauzer
Large, highly intelligent, and easy to train, Giant Schnauzers were used in the Bavarian Alps to drive and guard cattle.
Although they have high exercise and grooming needs, Giant Schnauzers are also very playful and gentle, making them a good choice for family homes and first-time dog owners.
23. Great Dane
The Great Dane is known for his gigantic size. They are considered to be the largest dog breed. Despite being the giants of the dog kingdom, Great Danes are loveable goofballs with very friendly demeanors.
They were initially used for hunting boar alongside nobles and still are very protective dogs where their family is concerned.
However, they are also sweet and playful with children and make a happy companion in many family homes.
A striking dog with a mop-like appearance, the Komondor, is completely covered in white or cream cords. These large dogs were bred in Hungary to protect flocks.
They are confident and assertive, being able to chase away wolves and other predators.
Their iconic dreadlocks protect these predators and the cold weather, also enabling them to camouflage amongst the sheep.
These agile, active dogs need plenty of space to roam and have specific grooming needs that first-time owners may struggle with.
Bred as a hunting and guarding dog, the Kuvasz was developed in Turkey and Tibet. Known for being patient and courageous, these dogs have also served as the guardians of palaces.
Weighing between 70 and 110 pounds (32 and 50 kg), the Kuvasz can have an aloof like demeanor, making training and socialization a challenge.
A gigantic breed, the Leonberger is characterized by his fluffy, waterproof coat and black markings on the face.
Although a member of the working dog group, Leonbergs were initially bred as companion animals for royalty. Strong dogs, they were then used to pull carts and perform a myriad of tasks on farms.
Although friendly around their family, Leonbergers also make fantastic watchdogs. They do, however, require plenty of exercise and grooming.
Giant dogs, Mastiffs are a well known and popular member of the working group. They are a loyal and protective breed, used throughout history as guardians, hunters, and war dogs.
Julius Caesar notoriously brought these dogs from Britain to Rome to battle gladiators in the arena.
Although incredibly wary of strangers, experienced owners who can provide this breed with the proper training and socialization can have a Mastiff that is not only extremely loyal but also quite docile and friendly.
Developed in South Africa, Boerboels are often used to protect remote homes and farms. These large dogs have a dominating and intimidating appearance and are furiously protective of their family.
They are suspicious of strangers, and first-time owners may struggle to handle this powerful breed.
However, with those they trust, Boerboels are incredibly loving and gentle, with a charming nature around children. Because of this, they are even used as therapy dogs.
29. Neapolitan Mastiff
With a history that dates back as far as 700BC, these dogs served as guardians and war dogs. Very large and covered in wrinkles, the unique-looking Neapolitan Mastiff has an imposing stature.
However, don’t be put off by their giant size; these friendly dogs love a good cuddle and will shower you in plenty of slobbery kisses given a chance.
They do have a stubborn nature, though, that can make training difficult for novice owners.
30. Tibetan Mastiff
The ancient Tibetan Mastiff is known as a competent guard dog and the father of all modern Mastiffs. Huge and imposing, the Tibetan Mastiff is an intelligent, fast learner but is also extremely independent.
They are relatively solitary animals, so they aren’t quite as loyal or easily trainable as other working dog breeds.
Another giant working dog, the Newfoundland, was bred to assist anglers on ships pulling in nets. These dogs are born with partially webbed feet, and so are excellent swimmers.
They are very easy to train and have a gentle, loving personality, which makes them great companions, even with novice owners.
32. Portuguese Water Dogs
Another breed used by fishermen is the Portuguese Water Dog. These dogs have a strong work ethic and a strength more significant than their size, enabling them to haul in heavy fishing nets.
Although no longer commonly used by commercial fishermen, Portuguese Water Dogs are often used in water rescues today.
Portuguese Water Dogs also make cute companions with a loving, friendly, easy to train nature that makes them suitable for novice pet owners.
They are particularly great around children. Just be aware that these dogs have high grooming needs and love to play, particularly in the water!
The Samoyed is known for its thick, white coat and happy, smiley face. Bred to work in cold climates, Samoyeds are skilled herders, haulers, and sledding dogs.
These dogs also are very people-focussed, making them excellent companions.
They crave attention but can also be prone to separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. Smart dogs, they can get up to mischief if not given the attention they desire.
34. Standard Schnauzer
A smaller version of the Giant Schnauzer we met previously, Standard Schnauzers have been used historically as working hands-on farms.
The ultimate multitasker, these dogs were used to catch vermin, herd livestock, and protect the farm.
They make alert watchdogs but also charming companions with a friendly, playful side. They also get along well with children, making them a fantastic choice for a family pet.
35. Saint Bernard
Saint Bernards were bred by Swiss monks who used these dogs to search for missing people after avalanches.
One of the world’s most beloved working breeds, Saint Bernards are known for their large size and fluffy brown and white coat.
They are watchful and patient and have a great affinity for children, meaning that they can also make excellent family companions despite their large size.
Just be aware that that gorgeous coat does shed consistently and is best suited to colder climates.
36. Border Collie
Boasting oodles of energy and enthusiasm, Border Collies are excellent drivers of flocks.
Also sometimes called sheepdogs, these hard-working pups are up for any task you give them, excelling at agility and dog sports as well.
Sweet and friendly, they also make fantastic family pets, provided you can provide them with the exercise they crave.
37. Belgian Malinois
The hard-working Belgian Malinois breed has intense drive and confidence, making them tireless search and rescue and tracking dogs.
This breed is often used to search for missing people or trace down criminals and poachers in the wilderness. They have a strong working drive but also a loyal nature that makes them excellent companions.
Typical jobs for Working Dog breeds
Working Dogs have many jobs, from guarding property to performing water rescues, sniffing out contraband, herding livestock, or working with law enforcement and emergency services.
When many people think of working dogs, they think of service dogs. These include seeing-eye dogs, which have been used for years to guide the blind.
However, service dogs aren’t just used by the blind but can be trained to assist humans in any area they lack. This includes working with people with hearing disorders, autism, epilepsy, diabetes, or depression.
Service dogs can even pull wheelchairs or carry medicine for their owners.
Similar to service dogs, some breeds are used as therapy animals.
Therapy dogs are known for their loving, comforting temperaments and are used to visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and rehabilitation facilities to provide emotional support to patients.
Another typical role of the working dog is in search and rescue teams. These heroic dogs are used to recover victims from avalanches, the wilderness, and drowning.
Search and rescue dogs are often used by government agencies, as are k9-force dogs. K9 force dogs are known for their abilities to protect and act as security.
Working dogs are also commonly used by the police as sniffer dogs. Using their acute sense of smell, these dogs are used to sniff out drugs, land mines, bombs, chemicals, firearms, and illegal wildlife and food products.
Some detection dogs are even used to sniff out disease. These dogs have great noises but also an ability to convey their findings.
In cold areas, dogs are also trained to pull sleds across the ice. These dogs typically work in teams and have intense levels of strength and endurance.
Working dogs are also used for the herding and guarding of livestock or to track and retrieve game.
Be sure to choose the best Working Dog for your family
While some working dogs also make great companions, these dogs generally don’t take a day off. These breeds want to work, and if not working, they still require lots of physical and mental stimulation.
Without this, working breeds can become restless, depressed, or resort to destructive behaviors.
All working dogs require training and socialization from a young age, even if you never plan to use your dog in a working environment.
Due to their large size and active nature, these dogs may not be the best choice for individual households or novice dog owners.
Good working breeds for beginners: a quick roundup
Although all breeds in the working group love to be given a job, some make better companions than others, mainly where novice pet owners are concerned.
The much-loved Labrador and Golden retrievers are excellent beginners’ choices, as are the smaller, more playful Standard Schnauzer or Portuguese Water Dog.
Also loveable and easy-going, the Newfoundland or Bernese Mountain Dog will also make an excellent addition to your home. Just be sure you have enough space for these gentle giants!
Which is the best working dog for me?
Do you live on a farm and need a dog that can protect you while helping out with some chores? Are you looking for a capable companion in a remote area?
Or do you just want an active, intelligent pup to keep you on your toes? A working dog may be the solution!
Now that you know more about the most popular working breed, do you have a favorite?