In a recent office conversation about everyone’s dogs, it came to me as I looked around at my fellow mixed breed of compatriots that we too could be AKC classified. If you don’t know what AKC is, then you may have never had a dog, or just hate Thanksgiving Day television.
AKC stands for American Kennel Club. Just think Thanksgiving and the deluge of dog shows that parade AFTER the parade. You will witness handlers bringing out their prize pooches in a variety of what are known as “groups”. Working Dogs, Herding Dogs, Toys, Terriers, Non-Sporting, Hounds, and Sporting are the seven breakdowns. Mutts, which most of us have in our lives, is NOT a class in the eyes of the AKC. That would be antithetical to their purpose, which exalts purity of breeds.
As I sat there listening to my coworkers regale stories of how amazing their family fur children are, I started to see each of them as dogs too.
When you play this game of What If, it seems all humans fall into the Working Group of Dogs. We need a purpose, a job, something to do. If we don’t get an agenda to follow, we may become neurotic or anxious, chewing up the environment around us. If we aren’t building something, or subsequently destroying something, we may turn to licking our paws raw, scratching at ourselves incessantly, or worse, become aggressive and inflict harm. We get bored easily. “Give us meaning!,” cries the working group. Give us something to guard, rescue, or pull around or there will be anarchy!
My favorite breed of dog in this group is the Siberian Husky. During one of my mother’s fun phases, she resided in the remote and mysterious state of Alaska. Her dog, Tanika, a gorgeous but crazy lightning ice blue-eyed Siberian Husky taught her the basics of Working Class breed mentality. After days of being locked up inside due to fierce blizzard weather (which humans hate, but Huskies love), my mother was losing valuable items to Tanika’s boredom by the hour. She chewed everything in sight. Clothing, shoes, furniture, even kitchen utensils didn’t survive that storm. Braving the elements to save her possessions, she took Tanika to the local docks to get a good run in. That dog was out of the car and down the dock, leaping into mid-air out across the water, even before my mother fully opened the car door. The next thing she saw was Tanika’s jaws opening and teeth baring to engulf a seagull who had been hovering for discarded bait from a nearby fishing boat. Standing there in complete shock and a little bit of awe, she saw her beloved Husky fall into the water, seagull clamped in teeth tight, and then swim back to shore. Shaking herself off, Tanika, never dropped the bird. Instead, she spotted my mother and launched into a full speed gallop towards her. Upon arrival, she proudly dropped the carcass of the now twitching and bleeding bird at my mother’s feet. “Gross”, mom thought. “Here you go human caretaker! Look what I brought you!” Tanika thought. Her eyes expressed wild excitement and pride. Mom, being the animal lover she was, could only scratch her head and rustle her sides, telling her what a great job she had done. She also recognized that a cooped up Husky was no good. Tanika was signed up for daily sled pulling after that.
Mom did the right thing praising that dog for her kill. Humans/Working Group – we too not only need a job, but we need praise for doing it. If you ever wonder why most people hate their jobs, it’s not because the actual job sucks so much but likely because they aren’t getting enough praise for what they do.
Of course, humans are pretty diverse. Overall we may be in the Working Group, but every other classification shows up around the water cooler too, doesn’t it? With the Sporting Class, you find your buffed out friend who is always hiking, running, or climbing Mr. Kilimanjaro just for kicks. Protein drinks and power bars fuel the Sporting Class. Swimming or track and field are their playgrounds. They will annoy you endlessly to join them in their mission of exercise. Think Retrievers and Setters and you have the Sporting Group. These are your friends who need high entertainment, high adrenaline surges, and likely enjoy playing fetch with you as much and as long as you can take it. You will lose interest long before they do.
Have any hunters in your life? This is our Hound Group. Kinda lazy, floppy, couch dwellers, until you put them on the scent of something. Then laser focus. Tail in the air, nose to the ground and off they go. They will find whatever you have lost. They will stick with you until the bitter end. They will provide food and drink on your table so you survive. Then, leave them to rest for long stretches. Likely your friends who appreciate front porches, cold beer, and karaoke where they can howl for hours, in or out of tune.
You may notice some dogs/people will gravitate towards others easily, or completely repel them. The Terriers are like this. I don’t know if Terriers really like any other class but themselves. It usually ends up in an argument. In fact, they will argue for the sake of argument. I liken this group to the person who is so driven towards a goal they see nothing and no one else around them. They will occasionally come up for air, but only if it serves them to do so. They can be feisty and fierce, and sometimes driven to madness if they don’t succeed at getting what they want. Terrier peeps can be prone towards crankiness and hypochondria but if you need to dig into a project, find a Terrier friend.
My old boss was a Terrier. I vanished into closets anytime I saw her coming down the hall.
When your Terrier peeps call, you might feel a bit of fear to pick up the phone. The opposite may be true of the next group. Caveat: you need make sure you are in the mood for listening to incessant chatter, gossip, and up for going somewhere, at the drop of a dime. We’ve arrived at our Toys. Think of your incredibly cute coworkers, friends, family members. Always bright and bubbly. Can be super spoiled at times. People and other dogs may be jealous of them. You can carry them around in your backpack, and they love when you do. Take them anywhere, show them off, give them an ice cream treat, and their happy with life. Easy going, easy to please but a bit demanding. The beloved Pug, with their smooshed up face, falls in this group. As does the Pomeranian. My daughter Annalise is Toy Group. Not only in size at a petite 4’11” but in personality. Her teachers call her giggles. She talks. ALOT. But, all classes have their darker side. Even Toys. Don’t tell them no, or raise your voice at them. They will take those tiny little teeth and sink them into your ankle so deep, you won’t walk for weeks. You’ll get cold haunches until you come to see things their way. They may look small, but they are mighty! Of course, the moment you make up with them, all is forgiven like nothing ever happened and right back in your purse they go.
There is a group called the Non-Sporting Group. This is an oddball group. Even writing these words, I pause to contemplate their high strangeness. These are your humans that you can’t quite figure out. They aren’t unbusy, but their not busy either. They can be social at times, then totally introverted. You aren’t quite sure who they are, or what they do, or what they think. It’s as though it’s reserved for only them to know, and you to never find out. Most breeds this group are considered smart but it might be like ET smart. Not really natural to this planet. Think Poodle and Bulldog. I think of folks who have one mask on by day, and then morph into something else after hours. Maybe the Gemini sign of the dog classes. My ex-husband was a non-sporting guy. He is an accountant by day, grumbles like an accountant by day, then goes home and dons his cowboy boots and heads out to the local country bar to line dance all night, free and wild. Just when I would think I knew what made him tick, he presented a whole other personality to navigate. So goes the Non-Sporting.
I saved one of my fave groups for last. The Herding Group. Easy to spot. High intelligence and always talking to you, trying to get you to see things their way. You are compelled to listen because, well if you don’t, you will get nipped in the ass. More than that, they seem to know what is best for you and though you don’t like it much at the time, they are usually right in hindsight. They can be protective and loyal. Our friends who call us to make sure we have everything we need if a storm is coming, or plow us out after. They can also be really fun and vivacious. They too, need a job, as we all do beneath the umbrella of working group soul, but they choose the fun jobs. The adventurous jobs, the ones you wonder, “how the hell do I get to do that??” I look to the archaeologists, meteorologists, professors, writers, divers, spiritual gurus, artists, and adventurers as the herders. Feeding us wisdom and knowledge and inspiration, herding us to evolving. This group has a message for us, and we probably need to listen to it. They might be a bit full of themselves, but you don’t really mind. They aren’t the arrogance of the Non-Sporting group that seems unfounded. This is the kind of ego and confidence and self love you appreciate. Ever watch an Australian Cattle Dog or German Shepherd in action? No? Oh, you need to.
It’s unfortunate we don’t recognize Mutts as an AKC group. I will for our purposes. Works in progress, this beloved mix has Wolf at it’s heart. They sometimes seem content with what they are, as they are. but they are also willing to work hard to gain approval and do better by their keepers. The mutt who has no idea where they came from or why, but keeps trucking along teaching us compassion and selflessness. The mutt that offers protection and loyal companionship to those kind enough to take them in and care for them. Mutts don’t always have it so great, but when they fall into the right circle, they are cherished as they should be and bring something to the table no other breed can,; deep gratitude for rescue. It;s the difference between the people who think you are lucky to know them, and the ones who know they are lucky to know you.
Of course, stereotypes and classifications don’t completely work. There is too much randomness and variety in nature. I have seen huge Working breeds bow down to Toys and Herders acquiesce to Hounds. That big Doberman over there looks like he might rip your throat out, but really, he just loves romance novels, Cadbury eggs, and turned down sheets at night.
Sitting here thinking on the variety of purebred, mixed breed and mutt classes in my own life, I am having fun deciding what kind of chew toy to bring for Christmas.
As for me, if I were a dog, what class would I fall into?
You tell me.