Although the American Kennel Club (AKC) and The Kennel Club of the UK actually do have a group known as the Working Group, most people use the term "working dog" in a much more general fashion. It is often meant to imply any dog that does best with some regular expectation of "work" for and by his or her owner. This may include the dogs that work with livestock as herders and flock guardians, as well as the hunting or sporting breeds, plus the dog that are associated with the true Working Group, including the protection dogs and the dogs trained for military, police and search and rescue work.
Each of these dogs has their own particular types of behaviors and unique challenges to training, socializing and owning. There are, however, differences within each breed, so all working dogs don't behave exactly the same way, nor do all dogs of a specific breed. This uniqueness among dogs as well as within breeds is one of the reasons that dogs have become such a popular companion pet a well as providing assistance to humans in a wide variety of ways. The working group is one of the oldest groups of dogs and many are very closely related in both genetics and conformation to the wild ancestors of the modern dog breeds.
In both the AKC and the Kennel Club, there are several breeds listed within the true Working Group. Not all dogs are listed in both registries in the same group, which can sometimes lead to confusion. For example, the Akita, Anatolian Shepherd and the Komondor are all listed in the Working Group through the AKC but are not in that same group in The Kennel Club listing. In the same fashion The Kennel Club lists the Greenland Dog, Hovawart and the Beauceron in the Working Group and they are not seen in the same group in the AKC.
Regardless of the group or listing, the true Working Group dog characteristics include a high level of problem solving ability, loyalty and courage, strength and stamina as well as natural intelligence and an ability to adapt. These dogs are the large and giant breeds, which may mean that they are not always suitable for all types of living situations and families. Surprisingly these dogs are often the best with small children and will get along very well with other non-canine pets if raised together and with ongoing, routine socialization.
One of the biggest challenges to training a dog that is considered a working breed is that they are so large that obedience training is a must. An untrained 60 to 150 pound dog is a potential hazard, regardless of how friendly and non-aggressive they may be. Training has to start early, especially issues around leash training, responding to verbal commands and socialization with other people, pets and dogs. Despite their large size most of these dogs are not highly aggressive by nature, but they can be trained to be exceptional guard and protection dogs without much effort. Most will be protective of their families and their territory, however they don't typically respond aggressively unless they feel threatened.
Working dogs are typically very quick to learn, both good and bad behaviors and traits. Some may have naturally dominant types of temperaments, which means that owners have to quickly establish that they are the leader in the family. A dominant working dog may try to control what is going on in their house, posing a real problem for the family. Some of these dogs may also not respond well to everyone in the family and will bond more strongly to the individual that spends the most time with the dog. Children need to be actively involved in working with the dog so the dog learns to follow the child's commands and directions.
Often the working breeds are rather independent and do best when ongoing, routine obedience work is part of the daily schedule. These dogs thrive on interacting with people and most will strive to make their owner's happy in different types of activities and training routines. Some of these dogs are idea for different types of events and competitions ranging from advanced obedience and agility through to actual working competitions such as schutzhund events.
Overall the working group of dogs tends to be a bit more serious and less playful after they get out of their puppy behavior. They do, however, tend to take longer to fully mature, often not considered fully mature until 18 months to 2 years of age. They tend to be excellent family dogs that have a great deal of tolerance with children of all ages, provided they have had regular interactions with kids as they mature. Generally the working dogs are wonderful companion pets and their calm, steady and unflappable personalities make them popular both as a true working dog but also as a companion pet.
The working dogs are not hyperactive dog and although they love exercise and room to run and play they can adapt to living indoors or in small spaces with little difficulty. The problem may be that these dogs don't self-exercise indoors, and may easily become couch potatoes if not given adequate exercise time and space. Simply putting these dogs out in the back yard isn't enough since they may just find a comfortable spot to nap. They, like any other dog, needs to have routine, structured exercise. This includes both playtime as well as longer, regular walks, jogs or outings.
As large dogs most of the working group of dogs have issues with different health concerns. Hip dysplasia is problematic in most of the breeds due to their large size, heavy skeletal structure and fast growth. Make sure both parents are checked and certified as free from hip dysplasia before breeding. Feeding these dogs either natural diets such as BARF diets or premium types of kibble are the best options to promote healthy muscle and bone development. Poor quality feed will lead to health and development problems that will often continue throughout the dog's life.