Prior to getting into the details, we’d like to stress that these are generalizations. A variety of other factors beyond the breed of your dog will also play a role in how he interacts with other dogs. Among these are age and past experiences, among others. It’s also important to understand that multi-breed dogs (those lovable mutts!) may obviously inherit a greater variety of potential traits.
Dog Breed Play Styles
For the sake of discussion, we’ll use the most commonly-used categories for dogs. “Purebred” dogs are typically broken down into seven groups, with those groups corresponding most readily to the original “purpose” of the breed, i.e. – the reason the breed was developed, whether for specific working traits or other physical characteristics.
As the name suggests, the sporting breeds were originally developed to assist with hunting, typically either locating game (Pointers and Setters), flushing/chasing it (Spaniels), or retrieving it (Retrievers). Some breeds are “multi-purpose” sporting dogs and will perform multiple tasks while hunting.
At Unleashed Joy, we work most often with pet dogs, so the Pointers, Retrievers, etc. that come to our classes, dog daycare, or for overnight dog boarding are typically not involved in any of these activities on a regular basis. However, the characteristics that make them good hunters still come out in their play styles. These dogs need plenty of exercise and have a lot of energy. They also love games and will often play with a rowdy abandon. They are often body-slammers, but will frequently also be wrestlers or chasers. Except for in older dogs of the sporting breeds, the play style is rarely subtle.
Like the Sporting Breeds, Hounds were bred to hunt and pursue prey. These fall into two distinct categories – sight hounds and scent hounds. You can probably guess the methodology by which these types of hounds pursue prey! This group is fairly diverse, ranging from the Dachsund to the Irish Wolfhound. Others in the group include the Whippet, Greyhound, Beagle, Basset, Bloodhound, and others.
Hounds are generally enthusiastic players and comfortable around groups of dogs, though some scent hounds may tend toward going off on their own and – you guessed it – sniffing around. Sight hounds will generally enjoy chasing other dogs or being chased.
Working Group Dogs
Working Group dogs were also bred to assist humans with specific tasks – among these are sledding, guarding, rescue, and others. There is a tremendous amount of diversity among this group, ranging from the Husky to the Boxer. Other popular breeds in this group include the Akita, Doberman, Rottweiler, Newfoundland, and others. Some common characteristics of this group are an “independent” spirit, and great physical strength.
Because of the variety of breeds within this group, it’s nearly impossible to describe a typical play style. Fear not, however, for we’ll be digging into the play styles of very specific breeds in future posts!
Terriers are also hunters, but were bred specifically to eradicate rodents and vermin and chase small game. These vary widely, but are generally divided into short-legged, long-legged, and stocky. Typical characteristics include a high prey drive and cleverness.
Dog breeds in this group include the Schnauzer, Scottie, Airedale, Jack Russell Terrier, and others. For the stocky/muscular breeds in this group, body slamming is a common play style (as is wrestling). The smaller dogs in the group will also commonly engage in wrestling, though there is enough diversity within the group that, like the Working Group dogs, it is difficult to pin down (no pun intended) a specific play style for the entire group.
Smaller terriers often seem to either have no concept of their diminutive size, or a Napoleon complex so well-developed that it drives them to stand up to dogs that are multiple times larger than they are. This can be a challenge in a playgroup, and it is often the case that a terrier will either need to be carefully placed in a play group, or will simply ignore every dog in a large group.
Toy dogs have been bred very specifically for human companionship and are often miniaturized versions of other breeds. Because of the diversity within this group, it is difficult to determine a specific play style, though toy breeds are typically very friendly and do well with other dogs. One thing to watch out for is placing toy dogs with very large, rowdy dogs. They will most often do well with other small dogs.
Surprisingly, however, there are big “rough and tumble” individual dogs that will readily adapt their play style to accommodate the “little squirts,” something we’ve seen regularly with our own Chihuahua and some of his larger playmates at daycare.
This group is really a “catch all” for dog breeds that don’t fit neatly into the other groups. As such, it is nearly impossible to make any generalizations about play styles and traits.
Herding Group Dogs
Herding breeds are agility personified (dogified?). They have the ability (and fondest desire) to have the movement of other animals bent to their will. They will herd animals with movements, barking, nipping, and staring. They tend to be very high-energy dogs and will frequently irritate or intimidate other dogs.
However, dogs within this group, which includes the Border Collie, Corgi, and Australian Cattle Dog, may often be perfectly suitable for play groups – as always, the individual dog’s traits are more important than those of its breed or group.
Dogs in this group will often play by chasing, touching, or cheerleading. Our own Border Collie, Belle, will exhibit those three specific play styles with dogs she doesn’t know well (barking incessantly along the way), but will then wrestle and body slam with reckless abandon when playing with her “sister” Roxie, a Miniature Pinscher. We also have frequent daycare attendees – a brother/sister Corgi combo – that are so well-suited to daycare that it’s as though they were born to it.
So, to Sum Up…
That’s a bit of an overview of the various dog breed groups and their likely play styles. As we’ve gone to lengths to note, individual dogs may not exhibit the behaviors typical of their breed or group, so don’t think that because you have a certain breed your dog will not be suitable for group play.
We often get very creative with our play groups and divide dogs into very small groups so they can be around a suitable playmate whose company they enjoy. After all, every dog deserves to have some fun, right?