Australian shepherd with sheeps
© Pixabay

5 herding dog breeds

By Ashley Murphy Content Writer

Updated on the

Herding dog breeds have been around for centuries. Many still put in the working hours, although they've also become a popular family pet. So here's some info on herding dogs.

Different types of herding dogs

Through generations of selective breeding, humans harnessed the dogs natural hunting instinct and used it to herd large numbers of livestock. Herding dogs fall into two categories: headers and heelers. Headers, like the Border Collie, control the herds from the front. Heelers work from the back of the herd, driving it forward by nipping and snapping at their heels. The larger herding breeds, such as the German shepherd, were sometimes used as "tending" dogs. They prevented livestock from eating valuable crops. They also stopped cows and sheep from wandering off.

Many of today's herding dogs perform and compete in dog sports. Sheepdog trails are popular in the UK, Australia, and the US. Each dog and its handler perform a set of tasks against the clock and points are awarded for speed, accuracy, and style.

Sheep herding dogs

1# The Border Collie

The Border Collie was developed to herd livestock, especially sheep. Often cited as the world's most intelligent dog, the Border Collie is playful, agile, and a little bit demanding! Due to their natural work ethic, Border Collies need lots of exercise in open country spaces, meaning they’re not the best choice for the city dweller. Intelligence certainly makes a dog easier to train, but very intelligent dogs like the Collie can be a bit awkward for inexperienced owners. These dogs get bored very easily. The wrong techniques or inconsistent training methods will frustrate a collie, and then their “bad" behaviour will soon frustrate the first time owner.

Border Collies are very intelligent©Pixabay

2# Belgian Malinois

Another one for more experienced handlers, the Belgian Malinois is a serious animal. Big, strong, and very smart, this is a breed that can run circles around novice owners. The Malinois is a dog of choice for police and armed forces all over the world.  In fact, the U.S secret service uses this breed to guard the White House. The Malinois shares many characteristics with the German Shepherd and was first bred in a Flemish city called Mechelen. Like the German shepherd, the Malinois was first used to herd sheep and other cattle.

Herding dog breeds©Pixabay

3# Beauceron

This handsome black and tan breed is a classic working dog. Always eager to please, the Beauceron excels at obedience training and is very quick to understand and respond to its handler's commands. The Beauceron looks like a mix between a Doberman and a German shepherd and has been herding sheep and cattle since the 16th century. The Beauceron might look imposing, but these tough athletic dogs still make great family pets. Just make sure you've got lots of space. You'll also need to like long walks in the country!

The Beauceron is a classic herding dog©Pixabay

Herding dog breeds

4# Shetland sheepdog

Also known as the Sheltie, this herding dog originates from the Shetland Islands, Scotland. Small in size but sturdy in nature, the Shetland sheepdog is intelligent, enthusiastic, and extremely loyal. This hardworking breed can herd sheep, cows, ponies, and even chickens. They have long thick coats that require lots of grooming. Owners will need to give it a thorough brushing at least once a week. Their thick fur will also need regular trimming, especially around the ears.

Shetland sheepdogs need lots of grooming©Pixabay

5# Corgis

It's true! The little Corgi was once a popular herding dog. In fact, their small and nimble frames were actually an advantage. Corgis belong to the sub-set of herding dogs called “heelers.” These snappy little tough guys would nip at the cattle heels, keeping them on the move at all times. This breed originates from Wales, where local folklore says that the dog was a gift from the woodland fairies. The stories suggest that fairies would ride corgis through the forest and that the breeds distinct markings were made by the fairy saddles and harnesses.

Despite being small, corgis were used as herding dogs©Pixabay

Do herding dogs need lots of exercise?

As a general rule, herding dogs need lots of exercise. They're more suited to larger homes with an outdoor space. Ideally, they need to live near open country spaces. These active dogs are bursting with energy and you'll need to let them off their leash.

Although the majority of today's herding dogs have never seen any cattle, they still retain their natural instincts. It makes training them extra important. Without it, herding dogs can be a little tough to handle and they may begin to confuse play with work. They're also very intelligent and active. Herding dogs need lots of physical and mental stimulation. They will take up plenty of your time, but you’ll be rewarded with a new best friend and a very loyal guardian!

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