Quick to learn and ready for anything, working dogs are intelligent, alert, and athletic. With jobs ranging from herding and guarding to hunting and search and rescue, working dogs have long been faithful partners to humans in a host of different ways. Many of these breeds were created specifically to assist us in jobs that we simply cannot do without them — some for decades and even centuries. Some working breeds are utilized for their size, strength, and power, others for their high intellect and agility, and some others for their unwavering loyalty. For almost every major achievement in human history, these loyal, hardworking dogs have been by our side.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) currently recognizes 195 different breeds, and the list is growing every year. It assigns these breeds to seven different groups, one of them being the “working” group, which consists of around 30 breeds. However, there is a great deal of cross breeding between the designations, and we felt that some of the breeds not officially classed in the working group still deserve recognition for their long history of hard work and loyalty.
We put together this list of the best working dog breeds to help you get to know them a little better.
The 38 Working Dog Breeds
This ancient Spitz-type Japanese breed was developed as a powerful and nimble hunter, with roots dating as far back as the 17th century. These dogs are revered for their courage and unwavering loyalty and have a powerful protective instinct. They are powerful and fearless dogs that were utilized for hunting game as large as wild boar, deer, and even bears.
2. Alaskan Malamute
Developed to haul heavy loads on sleds in bitterly cold conditions, these powerful dogs are as hardy, tough, and strong-willed as they come. They are muscular and deep-chested and have a thick and dense double coat made for cold temperatures. Apart from being a great working breed, these dogs are also friendly and gentle and are perfect family companions.
3. Anatolian Shepherd Dog
These large and powerful dogs were developed in Turkey as guard dogs for livestock and, as such, have a highly territorial and protective nature. They descend from one of the oldest known canine bloodlines, stretching back as far as 6,000 years. Anatolians are as loyal and protective as they come and will protect their family with an intense sense of purpose.
4. Bernese Mountain Dog
These large and striking dogs were bred as powerful driving dogs for cattle, as well as loyal and effective guard dogs. They are gentle and sweet-natured despite their intimidating appearance and often become highly attached to one person, typically their working partner. The Bernese is one of four varieties of Swiss Mountain Dog, so cold is not a problem for these mountain dwellers.
5. Belgian Malinois
These dogs have commonly been used as working dogs, with their powerful noses making them ideal for police work and search and rescue, as well as sniffing out explosives and narcotics. They have energy levels that are higher than almost any other breed, and this needs to be funneled into intensive activity. They are so renowned for their guarding skills that they are used by the U.S. secret service to guard the White House.
6. Black Russian Terrier
These large and powerful dogs are known for their courage, confidence, and high intelligence. They were bred as tireless fence dogs to control Russia’s borders while being strong enough to catch and hold down any intruders. They were created by the Soviet Army from several different breeds, including Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, and Airedales, and, in fact, they are only around 10% terrier, despite their name.
These big and burly dogs were bred in Southern Africa to protect remote farms from wild animals, including wild dogs and baboons. They are large, powerful, and intimidating dogs that have an appearance to match their given duty. Despite this, they are gentle and affectionate dogs that are fairly docile most of the time and great with children.
Known for their unmatched sense of smell and large, droopy ears, these scenting hounds were bred for hunting deer and wild boar and, of course, tracking. They are famous for their ability to track human scent over long distances, even for days after, and are consequently often employed by police and law enforcement to track escaped prisoners and missing persons.
Originating in Germany, Boxers are highly versatile dogs and have been used for hunting wild game, herding cattle, and working as service dogs, guard dogs, and even as guide dogs for the blind. They are easily trainable and highly affectionate and intelligent, making them the ideal choice as a working companion.
10. Border Collie
They don’t come more energetic, intelligent, and athletic than the Border Collie, and it’s no surprise that these dogs are one of the most popular and widely used working dogs in the world. They frequently compete — and win — in sheepdog trials and dog sports with their unmatched obedience and trainability. All these traits, combined with their family-friendly and affectionate nature, make them a perfect all-round dog.
Large, powerful, and bred for protection, the Bullmastiff has an intimidating appearance and muscular body that make them the perfect guard dog. They were created by crossing the English Mastiff and the now-extinct Old English Bulldog by 19-century gamekeepers to guard estates. Despite their imposing appearance, they are loving and sensitive dogs that make great family companions, provided that they are well-trained.
12. Cane Corso
An Italian breed of Mastiff, these immensely large and powerful dogs are widely used for protection, law enforcement, and tracking. Although they are great family dogs, they are also powerful animals that are made to work and are not recommended for inexperienced dog owners. If you are willing to give them the huge amount of mental and physical stimulation that they need, they make perfect guard dogs.
Developed in New Hampshire in the U.S. in the early 20th century, these dogs were bred to pull sleds but are still in use today for several other jobs, including search and rescue and agility trials. These hard-working dogs were almost lost in the mid-1900s, but Chinook breeders and enthusiasts managed to resurrect the breed, and they are quickly gaining in popularity.
14. Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman is synonymous with guarding and protection, and for good reason. They have a muscular, toned physique that is built for speed and protection, with high intelligence and alertness to match. They originated in Germany and were used in police and law enforcement and are still popular today as service and search-and-rescue dogs.
15. Dogo Argentino
A new breed on the block, these dogs are pack-hunting animals bred for the express purpose of hunting down big game. They are stocky, fast, and powerful animals with explosive speed and agility, and it is no wonder that they are such prominent animals in hunting circles. Developed in Argentina, Dogo Argentinos were often employed to hunt game as powerful as wild boar and mountain lions.
16. Dogue de Bordeaux
This ancient breed was developed in France and is one of the country’s oldest breeds. They are known for being courageous, unshakably loyal, and protective. Their most distinguishing feature, apart from their folded and wrinkled skin, is their large head, one of the largest among canines. These massive animals began as fighting dogs but were soon employed as capable hunters and guard dogs.
17. German Pinscher
One of the oldest breeds originating in Germany, these intelligent and athletic dogs were first employed as rat catchers. They are highly adaptable dogs, though, and have since been used for a wide variety of canine jobs, including vigilant watch dogs and alert and courageous guard dogs.
18. German Shepherd
The quintessential guard dog, German Shepherds are famous as service dogs and search-and-rescue animals, as well as for their long history with law enforcement. They are highly alert, intelligent, and courageous, and these traits have made them an ideal companion in high-pressure situations like police work, despite their origins as herding dogs.
19. Giant Schnauzer
Developed in the mid-1800s in the Bavarian Alps, these dogs were bred as a larger version of the Standard Schnauzer and were used to herd and drive cattle to markets. They are courageous, powerful, and obedient dogs and have consequently been employed in several other jobs, including guard dogs and police work.
20. Great Dane
One of the biggest of all breeds, the Great Dane originated in Germany more than 400 years ago. They were originally bred to hunt wild boar with their high speed and agility. Their large and intimidating appearance does not accurately reflect their nature, as they are kind, sweet, affectionate, and gentle giants that make wonderful family companions.
21. Great Pyrenees
Bred to guard sheep against predators and thieves in the snowy Pyrenees mountains, these dogs are known for their patience, intelligence, and calm temperament. They have just the patience needed to watch flocks of sheep for hours on end and the courage and power to act on predators when needed, making them a legendary working breed.
22. Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
These faithful and courageous dogs were bred for herding sheep in pastures in the Swiss Alps. They are tough and immensely strong animals, yet they are agile and athletic enough to navigate the sloping and rugged mountainous terrain that they were developed in. They are loyal, dependable, and gentle dogs that are great as both working animals and family companions.
23. Golden Retriever
Known as America’s sweetheart and the quintessential family dog, Golden Retrievers have a long history as working dogs. They were bred to retrieve waterfowl like ducks and other game birds during hunting and were renowned for the ability to bring back game undamaged due to their soft mouth. They are obedient, gentle, and loving dogs that are far more likely to be found in a family home today than out hunting.
24. Labrador Retriever
One of the most popular dog breeds in the world, these gentle dogs deserve their place at the top of the charts. They are known for their tireless work as service dogs for disability assistance and law-enforcement, as well as their well-loved place inside family homes. They were originally bred as capable gun dogs, though, known for their ability to retrieve game undamaged, similar to Golden Retrievers.
These unique woolly pooches are hard to miss due to the long white cords that cover their entire bodies. These unmistakable dogs were bred in Hungary for herding sheep, and their thick and dense locs gave them vital protection from both cold weather and would-be predators. This coat also helped them blend in with the flock, giving them the benefit of superior camouflage and the element of surprise.
Originating in Hungary, these fearless, loyal, and courageous dogs were bred to guard livestock and are still used today for various guarding duties. Their striking white coat and large bulky frame give them an imposing outward appearance, but they are gentle dogs that are great with kids and highly protective of their families.
An anomaly among working dogs, the Leonberger was originally bred as a companion animal and later transitioned into capable watchdogs and all-round working dogs. They are consequently highly friendly, gentle, and playful animals that make ideal family companions, but they can promptly get to work if the need arises, with their stocky, powerful build and immense strength.
There is one word that perfectly describes a Mastiff: colossal. It was this massive frame that was used by hunters to hunt big game, and their imposing size made them ideal guard dogs too. Despite their stature, they are docile and friendly dogs that are rarely aggressive unless in the protection of their family. They are dogs for owners not faint of heart.
29. Neapolitan Mastiff
Instantly recognizable by their dripping mass of folds and wrinkles, these dogs have a great deal of love (and drool) to give and are calm and placid with their owners. They were bred as guard dogs and watch dogs, and their appearance alone is enough to ward off would-be intruders. Although highly protective, they are dignified, loyal, and placid dogs unless provoked.
Affectionately known by enthusiasts as “Newfies,” these giant dogs have their origins on the seas, where they were used by Canadian fishers as helping hands on boats hauling nets and performing water rescues. Indeed, these massive dogs have webbed feet and are at home in the water, but they also serve as patient and watchful guard dogs.
31. Portuguese Water Dog
These wooly dogs were bred as all-round helpers for fishermen with their water-resistant, tightly curled coats. Machinery and technology have long since replaced the Water Dog’s job, but they are still commonly used today for water rescue. Athletic, energetic, and adventurous, they make ideal family companions for owners who love the outdoors.
A famous breed known for both their power and intelligence, Rottweilers were originally descended from herding dogs and quickly developed their reputation as fierce and loyal protectors. They now excel at police work, search-and-rescue jobs, and even as guide dogs for the blind. They can be gentle and affectionate dogs but require regular and intensive training.
33. Saint Bernard
One of the world’s most beloved breeds due to their appearance in the movie Beethoven, these gentle giants have personalities to match their large stature. Originally developed in the Swiss Alps, Saint Bernards were used as powerful working dogs to locate and rescue lost travelers stuck in the snow.
Famous for their perpetual smile, their smiling face serves a purpose: their upturned mouth keeps them from drooling and causing icicles to form in icy conditions. They were originally bred as capable sled dogs that could manage freezing temperatures with their thick, white coat. These dogs need a ton of exercise and are prone to misbehavior without regular stimulation.
35. Siberian Husky
A powerful sled dog, the Siberian Husky is a tireless dog capable of endless endurance through freezing conditions. They are famous for the legendary journey made by Balto and Togo, Huskies who delivered essential medicines to the Alaskan town of Nome. They remain a highly popular breed to this day and are as sweet and loving as they are athletic.
36. Standard Schnauzer
A highly adaptable dog capable of numerous tasks, the Standard Schnauzer is a high-spirited dog that originated in Germany. They have been successfully used for a variety of tasks on farms, including ratting, hunting, herding, and even guarding. They are fearless little dogs known for holding their own against even the biggest of competitors.
37. Standard Poodle
One of the most intelligent dogs in the world, the Poodle was originally used as a capable hunting companion, especially with waterfowl hunting, as their thick, tightly curled coat and webbed feet gave them a distinct advantage in the water. While they are used more as a pampered show breed today, they are still widely used for hunting.
38. Tibetan Mastiff
The ancient Tibetan Mastiff has origins that are difficult to pinpoint, but one look at this massive dog quickly reveals their purpose: they have long been used as intimidating guard dogs. While they are sweet and gentle with their family, they can be highly territorial and protective with a chilling aloofness toward strangers. Although they are large and bulky, they can quickly spring into action when the need arises with surprising and terrifying agility.
If you’re looking for a working breed, it can be hard to pick from such a vast range of options. However, you should understand that each breed has a specific set of skills that they’re good at, so if you’re going to get one, make sure they’re going to thrive at their job. If you’re happy with their work, it’s only going to make them more eager to please you as their owner.
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