When looking for a pet, many people look for the most passive dog breeds. They want a dog that pretty much takes no initiative; just wants to be petted, fed, not exercised much, friendly, and sleeps a lot. Let’s take a look at the major breed categories to answer this question. What were each of these breeds designed for? What have they been used for besides being a pet?
Bulldogs - Bulldogs are “catch dogs”, created to lunge in and grab hold of a large animal. They were used by hunters to grab big game, for example, to pin it down for slaughter by humans. In India, they have a problem with wild boar. Wild boar are very dangerous to humans, and they destroy croplands and natural habitats. Wild boar have been illegally spread around the world, so are considered a nuisance. Land owners use large bulldog breeds, as a pack, to chase, corner and grab onto them with their teeth so that the boar can be speared to death. Thus, bulldogs were bred to chase, for short distances, and by sight, large dangerous mammals. Curs - Curs are typically mixtures of domesticated dogs and wild canines. Curs exist all over the world. Some are distinct as a “breed” and some are not. The Africanis Dog is such a dog, indigenous to the southern region of Africa. These street dogs are becoming a breed. Since these types of dogs were typically outside dogs, they had to fend for themselves, including getting their own food. So, they are natural hunters. And hunters hunt. Flock guards – Flock guards were created to bond with, and live alongside with, hooved livestock and protect them from wild, land based predators. When a predator would approach, the flock guards were to go out and either run them off or attack them. Herding Dogs – Herding dogs were created to herd livestock, and as a general ranch dog to provide territorial defense to both the rancher and his livestock. These dogs chase and corner livestock. Herding dogs are known to chase automobiles, bikes, and joggers. Mastiffs - Mastiffs are a larger version of the bulldog, but with some important differences. They were created for the role of grabbing very large game like a bulldog. They were also used, for example, for combat by the Roman armies. They are territorial like the flock guards, but were there to guard the property and humans instead of the livestock. I heard of 2 Great that attacked a brown bear that wandered into their yard. They beat that bear up pretty bad before it ran off. Nordic / Spitz Dogs – The Nordic / Spitz dogs were created to pull sleds, do some hunting, and like the curs they would need to get some of their food for themselves. They are more primitive than, say, the European companion breeds. These dogs would be expected to be more interested in other dogs, since they work in packs to pull sleds, and to live as a group. They would also be expected to want to chase small game animals and birds. ointers - ointers are a specialized kind of scent hound, but they also use their eyesight and not primarily their noses, to locate game birds on land. Crossbred centuries ago into their own breed type, these dogs are designed to search for, and locate live game birds, come to a halt to indicate (by “pointing” with their body posture) where the bird is, and then go and retrieve the bird after the hunter has killed it with a shotgun. So, they have a propensity to chase birds. Since they often weren’t the only dog in the field, and working alongside other hunters with their dogs, they are typically very friendly. On the other hand, they were often used to guard the game, and the hunter’s campgrounds, so they tend to be more possessive of game, more territorial, and more of a protection dog to guard against poachers. rimitive Breeds – rimitive breeds are typically ancient remnants of some local dog. The Thai Ridgeback is a perfect example of a primitive breed. Same with the Basenji. I tend to believe that Chihuahua’s are also a toy version of a primitive breed. rimitive breeds are almost always a type of hunting dog, working in packs alongside humans to search for, locate, and grab game so that the hunter could spear the game and kill it for food. So, these dogs are typically pack oriented, and tend to chase wild mammals. rotection Breeds – These breeds, such as the German Shepherd Dog, were designed to work alongside a human to search for, locate, and attack criminals. They were also designed to protect the home turf of the humans they lived with. They were bred to be obedient to commands. They tend to have many of the same traits as the Herding dogs, and many have some type of herding breed in their genetics, thus they will chase intruders. Retrievers - Retrievers are a specialized kind of scent hound, but they also use their eyesight and not primarily their noses, to retrieve game birds on land or on the water. Crossbred centuries ago into their own breed type, these dogs are designed to search for, and locate dead or wounded game birds, and then go and retrieve the bird after the hunter has killed it with a shotgun. So, they have a propensity to chase birds. Since they often weren’t the only dog in the field, and working alongside other hunters with their dogs, they are typically very friendly. Scenthounds - Scenthounds are a type of hunting hound that has a stprong desire to explore, especially being interested in the scent of mammals, and to follow that scent until the mammal is cornered, in a hole, or up in a tree. Most scent hound breeds are very sociable since they have to work with packs of other dogs and groups of human hunters. Scent hounds will give chase to wild mammals, and will be drawn to be with other dogs. Setters - Setters are very much the same as a pointers, except they were supposed to lay down near the hiding bird, instead of standing at a point. Setters weren’t typically required to guard the campsite, so they are much less protective than the pointers. Setters are going to want to chase birds. Sighthounds - Sighthounds were designed to wait patiently until released, work in packs, to chase and kill game or large mammal predators. Thus, they are typically very friendly with other dogs and people. Aren’t very active when there is nothing to chase, but once placed in a situation with fleeing game, such as a rabbit, they will run to catch and kill. They were not bred to obey commands. Spaniels - Spaniels are a smaller version of hound, combining the traits of the setters, pointers and retrievers. So, they are typically very friendly with other dogs and humans, will chase small game and birds, and retrieve them on land and in the water, and can obey commands. So, they will chase animals, and make efforts to be with other dogs and people. Terriers - Terriers are a hunting dog, combining many of the traits of the sighthounds and scent hounds. They are independent killers of vermin, using their excellent sense of sight, sound, and scent to locate and engage in combat to the death. Terriers were primarily used as farm dogs, to keep the place clear of varmints, and to do some limited general farm work. Some can even herd livestock. They work individually and not as a pack, so they had to have an independent personality, not needing human direction, a stprong desire to explore, and the ability to fight another animal that might be much larger and stpronger than they were. Always busy, they will chase small game, and because of their need to work independently they weren’t always happy being with other dogs, especially strange dogs. They are territorial, so as to work the farm and not stray too far away. Toys - Toys are miniaturized versions of all these other breeds. So, whatever the Toy dog, it is going to act like it’s ancestors.
So, what do you do if you are looking for a more passive dog? The thing to do is look for a specific dog, not a specific breed of dog. There will always be individuals of a breed that are more mild mannered than the average dog of that breed. When working with breeders, you have to be aware that even the good ones often don’t know much about behavior. So, they might say their dog is perfect for you, because the breed is perfect for them, but it might not be the passive dog you are looking for. A fearful, inhibited dog can appear to be passive to an untrained eye, for example. But, then you get all the downsides of a fearful dog: barking, growling, running away normal situations, hiding, and so forth. A sick dog can also appear to be passive. I think the best way to find that passive dog is to look at well socialized, adult dogs in rescue. Evaluate the dog in a variety of situations. Over time, you’ll find a dog that fits your needs for a low energy, not easily stimulated pet.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.