Labrador retriever. German shepherd. Golden retriever.

These are some of the most popular dog breeds in the United States.

But what is a dog breed, anyway?

And how many dog breeds are there?

You don’t have to be a veterinarian or animal expert to know this:

There are hundreds of different types of dogs. Each breed of dog is unique in terms of size, appearance, and personality but they all come from the same species.

Whether you are thinking about getting your very first dog or you already have a house full of them, it is important to do your research. The more you know about your dog, the better the owner you will be. Your dog depends on you to fulfill his needs, so shouldn’t you take the time to learn what his needs are?

On this page, you’ll find a wealth of dog facts – a comprehensive description of what a dog breed is and what makes one different from another.

You’ll also learn some important information about how caring for small dogs is different from caring for large dogs. Things that many current dog owners don’t even know!

So, buckle up and dig in!

Let’s start with the definition of a dog breed:

What is a Dog Breed?

According to Merriam-Webster, a breed is “a homogenous grouping of animals within a species, developed by humans”.

Another dog breed definition comes from the Oxford English Dictionary – “a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities”.

Okay, but what does any of that really mean?

What it means is this:

All of the dog breeds that currently exist today come from a single species – Canis lupus. More specifically, they come from the same subspecies, Canis lupus familiaris. This is the scientific name given to the domestic dog.

The dog was the first species to be domesticated by man and scientists estimate that this happened sometime around 9,000 years ago.

The first dogs domesticated by man were used for two primary purposes – hunting and sledding. These early dogs were selectively bred by man to make them better at their intended jobs. Sled dogs were medium in size, built for speed and stamina. Hunting dogs were large and muscular, bred to chase and take down large prey.

Over thousands of years, humans changed and so did their needs. When they spread to different parts of the world, they took their dogs with them. In each location they settled, they continued to breed their dogs to optimize them for their current climate, environment, and purpose. Different dogs were bred to hunt different types of prey ranging from small prey like hare to large prey like deer – even dangerous prey like bear.

With the birth of agriculture, dogs came to be used for herding and guarding livestock. These dogs needed an entirely different set of skills. Herding dogs needed to be small, smart, and fast. Livestock guardians needed to be large, intelligent, and independent. Some dogs were developed as general farm dogs, others for ratting, and even some solely for companionship.

Over the centuries, as the needs of man changed, so did their canine companions.

Each culture developed its own unique breeds. Some of the oldest dog breeds, referred to as “ancient breeds,” became the foundation for many of the dog types we know today.

Though resources vary, scientists agree on nine ancient breeds still in existence today. These nine breeds are those which have the greatest genetic similarity to wild wolves and they give us a sneak peek into the history of dog breed development.

Here they are:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Basenji
  • Chinese Shar Pei
  • Chow Chow
  • Saluki
  • Samoyed
  • Siberian Husky

Although the exact details regarding the domestication of the dog is still unknown, historians are able to trace the origins of most of today’s breeds to these ancient breeds or to the extinct breeds they came from. There is also an entire subset of “primitive breeds” which are primarily aboriginal dog breeds linked to specific parts of the world.

Do you have a better understanding now of what a dog breed is?

To put it simply, a dog breed is a certain type of dog bred for specific characteristics (both physical and temperamental) and/or skills. They are distinct from other types of dog in discernible ways.

Let’s move on to talking about how many dog breeds there are.

How Many Dog Breeds Are There?

You probably don’t have to look at a list of dog breeds to name a dozen, maybe even two dozen different breeds. You can probably even identify a decent number of breeds by picture alone.

There is no argument that there are many dog breeds out there, but different organizations vary in terms of which ones they recognize.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the primary registry for pure breeds in the United States. The AKC was formed in 1883 and, as of November 2016, they currently recognize 202 different breeds.

The AKC groups purebred dogs into seven groups:

  1. Sporting Group – Includes pointers, setters, spaniels, and retrievers.
  2. Hound Group – Includes scent hounds and sight hounds.
  3. Working Group – Includes breeds developed for a variety of jobs.
  4. Terrier Group – Includes dogs developed to hunt vermin.
  5. Toy Group – Includes very small dogs bred as companion pets.
  6. Herding Group – Includes dogs bred to herd livestock.
  7. Non-Sporting Group – Includes assorted dogs that don’t fit into other categories.
  8. Miscellaneous Class – A group of dogs that have not yet been fully recognized.

In addition to these seven groups and one class, the AKC also offers the Foundation Stock Service (FSS). This program is a stepping stone to full recognition for breeders of rare or new breeds. Once a breed has 150 individual dogs registered it moves into the Miscellaneous Class until it becomes fully recognized and added to one of the seven groups.

Though the AKC is the primary breed registry in the United States, there is another that is fairly well known – the United Kennel Club. This is not to be confused with The Kennel Club in the U.K.

The United Kennel Club (UKC) was formed in 1898 and it is the largest performance dog registry in the world. The UKC accepts numerous breeds that are not accepted by the AKC and their events are primarily geared toward a dog’s looks whereas the AKC is more focused on their skills.

The UKC divides their accepted breeds into eight groups:

  • Group 1 – Guardian Dog (flock guards and mastiffs)
  • Group 2 – Scenthound (tree hounds and trailing hounds)
  • Group 3 – Sighthound and Pariah Dog
  • Group 4 – Gun Dogs
  • Group 5 – Northern Breeds
  • Group 6 – Herding Dog
  • Group 7 – Terrier Breeds
  • Group 8 – Companion Dog

In the United Kingdom, the primary breed registry The Kennel Club (KC). This registry was formed in 1873 and they are known for their annual conformation show, Crufts. As of 2013, the KC registers 218 different breeds of dog.

The Kennel Club divides their accepted breeds into the following groups:

  • Gundog
  • Hound
  • Pastoral
  • Terrier
  • Toy
  • Utility
  • Working

Internationally, the largest breed registry is the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), or the World Canine Organization. Formed in 1911, the FCI has 84 different member countries, each of which regulates its own breed clubs. The FCI simply acts as an international coordinating body. Currently, the FCI officially recognizes 332 breeds and there are 11 provisional breeds.

The FCI divides their breeds into ten groups based on appearance and usage:

  1. Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs
  2. Pinscher and Schnauzer – Molossoid Breeds – Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs and Other Breeds
  3. Terriers
  4. Dachshunds
  5. Spitz and Primitive Types
  6. Scenthounds and Related Breeds
  7. Pointers and Setters
  8. Retrievers, Flushing Dogs, Water Dogs
  9. Companion and Toy Dogs
  10. Sighthounds

Each of these ten groups has its own subgroups as well and each breed is assigned a specific number. This is important because some breeds have different names in different countries.

Now that you know what a dog breed is and how many there are, you may find yourself wondering:

What are the most popular dog breeds in America?

Keep reading to find out:

Which Breeds Are Most Popular in the United States?

Every year, the AKC puts out a list of their most popular dog breeds according to registration statistics. Year after year, the same three breeds top the list:

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. German Shepherd Dog
  3. Golden Retriever

Though these three breeds remain unchanged in their order, the rest of the list changes from one year to the next. Some of the breeds that consistently rank among the top fifteen include Bulldogs, Beagles, French Bulldogs, Poodles, Rottweilers, Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Siberian Huskies, and Dachshunds.

Where does your dog rank on the list?

If you take a closer look at the dogs on this list, you’ll see that they don’t appear in any particular order according to size, appearance, or purpose. Each breed is popular for a different reason.

This brings us to our next subject:

What classification or grouping of dog breeds matters to the average dog owner?

How Are Dogs Classified in the U.S.?

Though the AKC assigns each recognized breed to a specific group, that won’t really mean anything to you unless you plan to breed show dogs. For the purposes of the average dog owner, it makes more sense to group dog breeds by size.

Here are some of the size groups you may see for dog breeds:

  • Toy breeds
  • Small breed dogs
  • Medium breed dogs
  • Large breed dogs
  • Giant breeds

There are no official definitions for these size groups, except for toy dogs because that is one of the AKC breed groups. Generally speaking, the various breeds fall into the six different categories as follows:

  • Toy Dogs – up to 9 pounds
  • Small Dogs – 7 to 35 pounds
  • Medium Dogs – 35 to 65 pounds
  • Large Dogs – 55 to 85 pounds
  • Giant Dogs – 75 to 120+ pounds

If you think back to what you learned earlier about how the different dog breeds came to be, you’ll remember this:

Every dog breed belongs to the same species, Canis lupus familiaris.

As you’ve come to learn, however, every dog breed is unique. Not only do the different types of dog look different, but they have unique temperaments and an individual set of skills.

Different breeds also have different needs when it comes to their care.

Let’s explore this in greater detail:

Understanding Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs by Size

Don’t let low-quality dog food manufacturers like Eukanuba fool you – different dog breeds don’t have different nutritional requirements. At least, not in the sense that a Golden Retriever would need a completely different diet from a Labrador Retriever.

All dogs have the same basic nutritional requirements.

There are, however, some subtle differences when it comes to nutrient ratios for dog breeds of different sizes. Here’s what I mean:

Dogs are carnivores.

More specifically, they are scavenging carnivores.

This means that while your dog has evolved to follow a primarily meat-based diet, his body is capable of digesting and deriving nutrition from a limited amount of plant products.

Wild wolves hunt live prey. Because the domestic dog is distantly descended from this species, his evolutionary dietary requirements are the same.

But what happens when prey is scarce?

Wolves are constantly on the move, following their prey as it travels in search of new food resources. When those resources dry up, fewer prey animals are available for the wolves to feed on. When prey is scarce, they may turn to plant foods as a last resort.

You should also keep in mind that wolves eat everything but the bones of their prey. In consuming their prey, they also consume the contents of its stomach which is primarily comprised of plant materials.

Now, your dog doesn’t have to hunt for his dinner.

But your dog’s natural evolutionary diet is still very similar to that of the wild wolf. His body is designed to run on animal products (meat) but he can still derive energy and nutrients from plant foods if he has to. This is why it isn’t a problem that most commercial dog foods include some plant products.

More on that later.

Let’s get back to your dog’s nutritional requirements according to size:

All dogs need a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in their diet. This doesn’t change from one breed to another.

What might change, however, is the ratio of those nutrients.

An adult dog needs a minimum of 18% protein in his diet as well as 5% fat. To fuel their growth and development, puppies need more – 22% protein and 8% fat.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that these percentages are a bare minimum. In most cases, more is better. You have to think about your dog’s size, however, because that will have an impact on his metabolism – the way his body burns through nutrients.

The main things you need to know are these:

  1. All dogs need a diet that is rich in protein – specifically, animal protein from meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.
  2. Small dogs have very fast metabolisms. They need a higher number of calories per pound of bodyweight than big dog breeds because they burn through fuel more quickly.
  3. Large dogs need more total calories per day than small breed dogs, but fewer calories per pound of bodyweight.

Because all dogs need as much protein in their diet as they can get, the best way to control the calorie content is by controlling the fat. One gram of fat contains 9 calories whereas one gram of either protein or carbohydrate contains just 4 calories.

So, if you want to feed your small breed dog a diet rich in energy (calories), what would you look for?

That’s right – higher fat content.

It’s important to moderate your dog’s fat intake according to his activity level, of course, because you don’t want him to become obese. This is where the total calorie content of the recipe comes into play. Just remember that all dogs need as much protein as they can get but you can adjust the fat intake to adjust the calorie content.

For large-breed dogs, your primary concern is protein. While big dog breeds may not burn through calories as quickly as their smaller counterparts, they still need a lot of protein to maintain their lean muscle mass. Controlling the fat content controls the calories.

Another thing to consider for large-breed dogs is that, as puppies, they need to have their growth controlled – if they grow too fast, it puts excess strain on their bones and joints which could predispose them to musculoskeletal issues as an adult. Again, control the fat content and you control the calories.

When it comes to carbohydrates, dogs do not have any minimum requirements. You just want to make sure to limit the fiber content to 5% and make sure that any carbohydrate ingredients are nutrient-rich and highly digestible.

That’s all you really need to know about your dog’s nutritional needs for now, but you can always learn more about the nutritional requirements of dogs.

Now you know:

All dogs have the same basic nutritional needs, though there may be slight variations according to size.

What you may be wondering:

Are there other things that change according to your dog’s size?

Yes!

Your dog’s size will also have an impact on his lifespan and on the health problems he is prone to developing throughout his life.

Let’s take a closer look at this issue:

How Does Your Dog’s Size Affect His Health and Lifespan?

In the same way that dog breeds of different sizes have subtly different nutritional requirements, they are also affected by different health problems.

For very small dogs, some of the most common issues are related to the dog’s compact size and body structure – things like dental issues and spinal problems are common.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, very large breeds are also at-risk for musculoskeletal problems, especially if they grow too quickly as puppies or if they are exposed to rigorous exercise too early.

We won’t get into the details here, but here’s an overview of some of the most common health problems in dogs divided by size:

  • Toy and Small Breeds – Brachycephalic airway syndrome, intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), hypoglycemia, pancreatitis, tracheal collapse, Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, patellar luxation, ectropion, cold intolerance, obesity.
  • Medium Breeds – Collapsing trachea, heart disease, intervertebral disk disease, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, obesity, dental disease, allergies.
  • Large and Giant Breeds – Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, arthritis, wobbler syndrome, dilated cardiomyopathy, hypothyroidism, bloat, entropion, ectropion, aortic stenosis, cherry eye.

Keep reading to learn more about the most common health problems in dogs.

Not only does your dog’s size have an impact on his health, but it also affects his lifespan.

As a general rule, small dogs live longer than large dogs.

But you have to factor in things like the health problems to which the breed is prone as well as the quality of the dog’s diet.

There is no hard and fast age grouping that every dog breed falls into but, for the most part, the following guidelines apply:

  • Toy and Small Breeds = 15 years or longer
  • Medium Breeds = 9 to 14 years
  • Large Breeds = 10 to 12 years
  • Giant Breeds = 7 to 10 years

Again, there are always exceptions to the rule.

And you can have an impact on your dog’s lifespan as well!

The best way to ensure that your dog lives along, happy, and healthy life is to feed him a high-quality diet, make sure he gets enough exercise, and take him to the vet at least once a year.

It’s really that simple.

Okay, so there are a lot of things that go into caring for a dog, but those are your main responsibilities.

All your dog really cares about, though, is that you love him and spend as much time with him as you are able. So be more than just a caregiver to your dog – be his friend!

After all, dog is a man’s best friend. At least he will be, if you let him.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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