The Herding Dog Breed

No other dog group has such a distinct reason for their grouping as the herding dog breed group. Herding dogs all have been traditionally raised to help farmers herd and guard valuable livestock. Herding dogs come from a wide range of environments- from the Australian Kelpie who can survive the hot Australian summers, to the Finnish Lapphund who is suited for negative degree temperatures in the Nordic winters. Yet they all have been bred to take their jobs seriously, and naturally want to 'herd' or protect. They are ideal for farm life, but can be perfectly suited as pets in normal homes or apartments, although they will need high levels of exercise and training to make them feel fulfilled. The reward for the discipline and exercise will be a herding dog who is loyal and well trained. This is why some herding breeds such as the German Shepherd have historically been used by the police force. They can be extremely well trained and are very well motivated to do their job on a daily basis. Many of the smartest dogs in the world, such as Belgian Malinois or Border Collies are herding dogs. They are incredibly alert, and can focus on a task as long as they are motivated. Their natural motivation and energy for herding can be directed towards their training program or guarding a property.

Breed Hierarchy
Herding Breed Sub-Groups
  • Cattle dog|
  • Shepherd / Sheepdog|
  • Spitz
Most common questions

What are the different types of herding dogs?

So what is the difference between sheep dogs, shepherds, and herding dogs? The herding dog group is the larger parent group. The two largest sub-groups of herding dogs are "shepherd/sheepdogs" and "cattle dogs". We have categorized shepherds and sheepdogs together as the groupings have evolved to be synonymous. Cattle dogs have traditionally been more geared towards herding large cattle and typically can do better in warmer climates than shepherds. Shepherds are oftentimes laser focused, and that energy can be directed towards other activities, not just herding, such as police work, agility competitions, or service work for the blind.

What are the different breeds of cow dogs?

"Cow Dogs", also known as "cattle dogs", is typically used as a term to describe the dog breeds that are good on the farm, and in particular with herding cattle. On Dog World, we have cattle dogs organized into their own sub-group, under the larger herding group. Corgis and Australian Cattle Dogs are the most popular cow dogs, but there are also some more rare breeds such as the Blue Lacy and the Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog. Cow dogs typically operate with a different strategy than the rest of herding dogs- they nip at the heels of cattle or other animals that they are herding. They are low to the ground and are able to control the movement of their animals in this way, which is why they are oftentimes referred to as "heelers".

What dogs are considered herding dogs?

Additional common questions

What are the different types of sheepdogs?

We have "sheepdogs" organized into the sub-grouping as "shepherd/sheepdog" as we see that this grouping is nowadays synonymous. Sheep dogs are part of the larger herding group and are traditionally used for herding farm animals such as sheep. This herding instinct is a modified predatory behavior- meaning that it's only through generations of selective breeding that the shepherds of today naturally direct their livestock in a certain direction, but do not actually attack or kill. The Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd are two of the most well-known sheepdogs.

What is the best herding dog for the farm?

Most herding dog breeds themselves have "working lines" in addition to "show lines". What this means is that even when we look at a particular breed such as the German Shepherd or the Australian Kelpie- there are two denominations of the breed. Those that are for "show" (which are typically the ones we see in family homes for companionship) and those that are for "work" on the farm. That distinction may be a bigger factor to look into than on a breed-by-breed basis. It also depends what type of working farm dog you are looking for. If it is primarily for herding, then Briards, Pembroke Corgis, Shetland sheepdogs, Border Collies, and Australian Cattle Dogs are all excellent options. They are consistently the breeds that compete in global herding competitions. On the other hand, if you are looking for a dog that can also serve as a livestock guardian, the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois are both excellent options.

Is the Corgi a good herding dog?

Yes! We tend to think of the Corgi as a cute bundle of fur, and they are, but they are full of energy and are deceptively athletic. They originate from the farm, and the unique body structure helps them to maneuver amongst livestock, and even nip at the heels of cattle to help control them and move them in the intended direction. With that said, if you are looking for a true working Corgi for the farm, you may want to talk to your breeder to see if they focus more on the "working" line or the "show" line. Either line can work as a good herding dog, but the working line Corgi will naturally have more of a tendency to work throughout the day.

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