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The Best Types of Dogs for Each Type of Function: From Guarding the Home to Companionship to Hunting

The majority of Americans (six in 10) own a pet, and dogs are the majority favorite in most households. In fact, according to a 2006 Gallup poll of 1,000 U.S. adults, 70 percent of Americans say they are "dog people" (including 26 percent of cat owners!).


Despite their tough outward appearance, bulldogs are among the most docile and mellowest of dogs, and make excellent companions for kids.

The similarities end there, however, as everyone has their own favorite breed or preference for small dogs, large dogs, curly-haired dogs, spotted dogs and the like. If you are looking for a dog for a certain purpose, such as companionship or security, here are the expert picks for a number of desirable categories.

Guarding the Home

  • German Shepherd: These herding dogs were originally used as watchdogs and guard dogs, but they make great dogs for companionship and families as well.

    Special Notes: German Shepherds have strong personalities and require a strong, assertive owner, along with adequate space to run around (they make great running companions, too).

  • Doberman Pinscher: Doberman Pinschers are intelligent, loyal and always ready to protect their family and home. They are known for being very responsive to their owner's requests, and tend to be more reserved with strangers.

    Special Notes: Doberman Pinschers need daily mental and physical exercise or they may become frustrated and destructive (a long walk or jog, or an enclosed area where they can run is necessary). They can also be aggressive toward strange dogs.

Companionship/Compatibility With Kids

  • Bulldog: A jovial and comical dog, among the most docile and mellow of all breeds, bulldogs make excellent pets for children. Most are willing to please and are very friendly.

    Special Notes: Bulldogs like to be taken outdoors daily, but cannot tolerate hot, humid weather. They also cannot jog or walk great distances, and don't jump or swim. Most bulldogs wheeze and snore, while some drool. They are prone to dermatitis in their skin folds, so the wrinkles on their face must be cleaned daily.

  • Mastiff: Although they are one of the larger dog breeds (weighing between 175 and 190 pounds), mastiffs are good-natured, calm, easygoing and very gentle. Their loyalty and docility make them excellent companions for families with children (though they should be watched if toddlers are around, simply because of their large size).

    Special Notes: Mastiffs need moderate daily exercise outdoors, but they do not do well in warm weather. They tend to drool and also have a tendency to be somewhat lazy, so obesity can sometimes be a problem. This can be avoided by taking the dog for walks or engaging it in games to keep it more active.

Companionship for Adults

  • Boxer: Boxers are playful, inquisitive, devoted and demonstrative, making them ideal companions. They are generally very responsive to commands, and have outgoing, yet attentive, personalities.

Great Pyrenees have gentle and loyal personalities that make them the perfect companion for adults and families.

Special Notes: Boxers need daily mental and physical exercise, such as going for long walks and runs (as long as it's not hot outside). Also, some of them snore.

  • Great Pyrenees: These dogs are gentle and devoted, calm and loyal. They were originally bred as sheep guardians, but today make loving companions.

    Special Notes: Great Pyrenees can sometimes be stubborn and may try to dominate a less secure owner. They enjoy hiking in cold weather and snow, but don't do well in hot weather. Their coats need to be brushed once or twice a week (daily when shedding), and they sometimes drool.

Hunting and Retrieving

  • Portuguese Water Dog: Originally used as fishing aids, today Portuguese water dogs are often used in water rescues. They are sensitive, fun-loving dogs that adore their families, and love the water and being active.

    Special Notes: Portuguese water dogs need daily physical and mental exercise, especially involving swimming and retrieving. They have wavy or curly hair that needs to be combed every other day and clipped once a month.

  • Labrador Retriever: Labs are friendly, devoted and obedient. They make excellent family dogs -- they're good with kids and other pets -- are eager to please, and they love to swim and retrieve.

    Special Notes: Labs need daily physical and mental challenges or they can get bored. They're active dogs that also have a strong need to be around their family.

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus are playful and affectionate -- the perfect lap dogs for adults and children.

Travel Companions/Lap Dogs

  • Pug: Pugs are playful, confident and friendly, and their small size makes them the perfect lap dog. Pugs love attention and showing off, and are generally willing to please their owners.

    Special Notes: Pugs need daily exercise, but should not be kept solely outdoors as they don't do well in heat and humidity. Their facial wrinkles must be cleaned daily to prevent skin infections, and pugs usually wheeze and snore.

  • Shih Tzu: Shih Tzus are sweet, affectionate dogs that love to play. They are upbeat, good with children and make excellent lap dogs.

    Special Notes: Shih Tzus need daily exercise, even though they're small (vigorous indoor playing or short outdoor walks would suffice). They don't do well in hot, humid weather and their long coat needs to be brushed or combed every other day.

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: After the publication of this article received this letter from a reader who works at Athena's Wisdom Animal Rescue in Michigan, and we think it is important to add it here so you can make a decision on your own or research further if interested in a Shih Tzu:

I loved your article with one exception.

Shih Tzus are TERRIBLE with children. They are stubborn, willful dogs that will not tolerate being squeezed, their hair being pulled, or being stepped on. They require a strong leader, more so than the German Shepherd dog.

I know that the breeders say that the Tibetan breeds are good with kids. The fact is that they are not. That is why the pounds are chock full of these dogs, and why many are euthanized for biting children. They just don't mix well with kids."

Athena's Wisdom Animal Rescue

Guide Dogs (Seeing Eye Dogs, etc.)

Most guide dogs are Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds (both discussed in previous sections), but other breeds also used include:

  • Golden Retriever: These dogs are eager to please, enjoy learning and need daily human interaction. They are obedient, strong and enthusiastic, and love retrieving and carrying things in their mouth.

    Special Notes: Golden Retrievers are very social and need to be exercised physically and mentally daily. They especially enjoy active games, retrieving sessions and challenging obedience lessons.

  • Australian Shepherd: Australian Shepherds are smart, responsive and loving. They are loyal, obedient and protective, and they need daily human contact.

    Special Notes: These dogs need to be exercised and mentally challenged daily or they can become frustrated. They must have constant human interaction. Because they were originally bred as sheep herders, Australian Shepherds may try to "herd" children or smaller animals by nipping at their ankles.

For People in Apartments

  • Bichon Frises: These small dogs are social and affectionate, and can get by with a few indoor play sessions, making them ideal for people with limited space.

    Special Notes: Bichons have thick, curly hair that demands considerable grooming. Although they don't shed as much as some other breeds, they should be professionally groomed at least once a month.

  • Chihuahuas: These dogs are alert, loyal and expressive, and tend to bond strongly with one person in the household. Because they are so small, they don't need a lot of outdoor exercising; indoor play, even in an apartment, is usually sufficient.

    Special Notes: Chihuahuas can be aggressive and can bite if they feel threatened. So, they are not the best dogs for people with small children or large, very busy households.

Recommended Reading

How Can Having Pets Improve Your Health? Let Us Count the Ways...

Is Pet Insurance a Good Investment? Find Out Why the Answer Depends on YOU

Animal Planet Dog Breed Profiles

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