About Herding Dogs
Herding dogs were bred with specific characteristics in mind. They all have the inborn ability to keep herd animals together and direct them in a certain direction or to the desired destination. This herding ability requires an intelligent dog who can quickly learn commands and lives to please and obey its owner.
Herding dogs are excellent family pets. Their herding instinct is so ingrained that a herding dog sometimes tries to keep children or other pets in a small group. Herding dogs are intelligent and can be trained to herd animals as diverse as ducks, sheep, goats, and cattle.
The herding dog’s distinctive behavior is similar to that of the predatory wolf. The herding dog goes into a kind of hunting routine with the animals. It is herding. It circles the group, identifies and retrieves stragglers, nips at their heels, and “stares them down.” Wolves approach the hunt in about the same way, except they try to single out and attack the stragglers.
All of these herding dog breeds also make excellent family pets. They are intelligent, affectionate dogs that may have a stubborn side. They are easy to train and will become loved members of their families.
Training Herding Dogs
Training herding dogs requires special training skills. While the dogs’ instincts are there, trainers must discipline their dogs to become good herders. They usually begin with basic commands: sit, stay, heel, etc. But the herding dog trainer needs to make sure these commands are always obeyed, not simply an option.
When the dog is trained enough to obey basic commands without hesitation, the dog is introduced to the herd. At first, the trainer uses a leash and a whistle to show the dog where the trainer wants it. The trainer stays with the dog to show it the proper way to move the herd in the desired direction.
After a time, the trainer will remove the leash but stays with the dog as it moves the herd. Then the trainer works toward giving commands from a distance and standing by while the herding dog performs its duties.
Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Chile, Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand, have annual sheepdog trials. The first such trials were in New Zealand in 1867.
Herding Group Dog Breeds
Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog was bred in Australia to herd cattle for long distances over rough terrain. They commonly have the nickname “Red Heeler” or “Blue Heeler,” depending on their coats’ color.
This dog breed is an affectionate and loyal family pet but is likely to be wary of strangers. They are very intelligent and need a lot of mental and physical exercise. They make excellent jogging companions.
The Australian Cattle dog has its own claim to fame as a movie dog and starred in Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior.
Height: 17-20 inches; Weight: 35-50 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-16 years; AKC rank: 55 of 197
You would think that if a dog is named the Australian Shepherd that it comes from Australia. However, the breed was developed in California from dogs that probably came from Europe. Some of the Aussy’s ancestor may have reached California with Basques immigrated from Australia and brought dogs. No one knows for sure.
Aussies became favorites of Californa ranchers due to their intelligence, easy to train, and herding abilities. They still find work herding and also as rodeo performers.
The Australian Shepherd is a medium-size dog in the 50-pound range. They are about 22 inches tall and have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years.
Height: 18-23 inches; Weight: 40-65 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 17 of 197
Country: United States
A unique feature of the Australian Shepherd is the variation in their eye color. They frequently have eyes of different colors, and sometimes one eye can be heterochromatin, which is a big word meaning bi-colored.
The Bearded Collie was bred to herd sheep in Scotland but most will now be found as family companions. It may be related to the Polish Lowland Sheepdog and the Komondor.
Bearded Collies are fun-loving, sometimes stubborn that get along with children and other family pets. They have a long, shaggy coat and, of course, long facial hair from which it gets its name.
The first native born United States Beardies were in 1967 and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1976.
Height: 20-22 inches; Weight: 45-55 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank: 127 of 197
The Beauceron is a herding dog that also served as a guard dog, especially against wolves, in its native region Beauce, France.
The Beauceron is a large dog that is an intelligent and fearless guardian. They may be suspicious of strangers but are not generally aggressive.
The Beauceron is one of the breeds used to develop the Doberman Pinscher. The Beauceron is frequently used in military and police missions.
Height: 24-27.5 inches; Weight: 70-110 pounds;
Lifespan: 10-12 years; AKC rank: 124 of 197
The Belgian Laekenois (pronounced “lak-in-wah”) graduated from the Miscellaneous Group to full recognitions as a member of the AKC Herding Group on July 1, 2020.
The Laekenois is distinctive from other Belgian Shepherds by the color and texture of its coat. It has a fawn color coat that is harsh and usually has a tangled appearance.
In World War II, the breed served as a messenger dog. During the war, the number of Laekenois was drastically reduced and breeders took concerted efforts to save the breed. It is still the most rare of the Belgian Shepherd dogs.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 55-65 pounds;
Lifespan: 10-12 years; AKC rank: n/a of 197
The Belgian Malinois, like the German Shepherd, is a herding dog that is better known as a guard, police, or military dog than as a herding dog. They originated in farms around the city of Malines in Belgium and were bred to be farm working dogs.
They are somewhat similar in looks to the German Shepherd, but the Malinois are smaller and have a different shaped head. They are extremely loyal dogs, and if well-trained, are friendly, active, and very protective of their family and territory. In 2014, two Belgian Malinois stopped a man who scaled the fence surrounding the White House.
Malinois dogs are amazing athletes, and their jumping ability has to be seen to be believed. They excel in the dog sport of dock jumping. You will need a very high fence in your backyard if you own a Belgian Malinois. While the Malinois is an excellent jumper, the current record holder for dock jumping is a Whippet named Sounders.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 40-80 pounds;
Lifespan: 14-16 years; AKC rank: 43 of 197
In most countries, the Belgian Shepherd is recognized as one breed with four different varieties of coat. The AKC recognized each variety as a separate breed in 1959 and the Groenendael (as it was originally named for the chateau of the original breeder) is the Belgian Sheepdog.
The Belgian Sheepdog has a solid black long-haired coat. It is the most popular of the Belgian Shepherd dogs. They are good family pets and companion dogs.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 45-75 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank: 125 of 197
The Belgian Tervuren is not a dog for everyone. They are very possessive of their family and demand a lot of attention. If you don’t pay attention to them, they may create their own entertainment.
Their idea of fun may not be to your liking. They are active dogs and need a big fenced-in area with plenty of room to romp.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 45-75 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 106 of 197
The unique coat of the Bergamasco is a big bunch of tangles that does not need to be brushed. They do not shed so people with dog allergies may not be affected by this breed.
There are good watchdogs, protective of their family. However, they are not aggressive and will not attack unless they have to.
Height: 22-23.5 inches; Weight: 57-84 pounds;
Lifespan: 13-15 years; AKC rank: 187 of 197
The Berger Picard’s name comes the region of Picardy in the north-west of France. The Berger Picard is also known as the Picardy Shepherd. Picardy is an agricultural region and has miles of rich pastureland. The farmers and cattlemen of the region take pride in their home-grown sheepdog.
The Berger Picard is a medium-sized dog weighing between 50 to 70 pounds, 18 to 32 kilograms, or 3.5 to 5 stones. Depends on which scales you have in your bathroom. (Does anyone have a scale that weighs in stones ?)
Height: 21.5-25.5 inches; Weight: 50-70 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-13 years; AKC rank: 144 of 197
Border Collies are the smartest dog breed in the world. It should be no surprise that they were also herding dogs.
Border Collies are active dogs that need plenty of workouts and mental stimulation. They will settle down for some petting time when the work is done. Owners of Border Collies need to be active and alert to keep up with this dog.
They are a medium-size dog weighing between 30 to 50 pounds. Their lifespan is 12 to 15 years.
This breed is a frequent winner of dog sports competition in herding and agility. They have dominated sheepdog trials in England for over a hundred years. However, in Australia, they were once bested by a pig named “Babe.”
Bouvier des Flandres
The Bouvier des Flandres (notice the r before e) was bred in Flanders (notice the e before r) as a general purpose farm dog for herding livestock (sheep and cattle), guarding the farm, and pulling carts. They are big, strong dogs.
Their size makes them look intimidating, but they are not aggressive. Instead, they are usually calm, good-natured, and easy to train. They are good watchdogs and family pets.
The Briard is a medium to large dog bred to be both a herding and guard dog. The breed has been around for a long time, well before France was, well, France. Napoleon, who must be the most famous Frenchman in history, may have like Briard even though he generally was not know as a dog lover.
Thomas Jefferson kept Briards at his Monticello estate. The dogs Jefferson brought back from France, are probably the founding stock of the American line of Briards. It doesn’t hurt the breed’s reputation to have Napolean and Jefferson as former owners.
Height: 22-27 inches; Weight: 55-100 pounds;
Lifespan: 12 years; AKC rank: 132 of 197
Canaan dogs are an ancient dog breed. They are also known as the Bedouin Sheepdog. They are native to the Middle East where Canaans today are more common in Israel and Palestinian. This dog breed may have witnessed the oldest biblical stories.
Canaan dogs come in white, sandy, brown and black, with a number of patterns and varieties. Their eyes are dark and slightly slanted. They usually weigh from 35 to 55 pounds. Their bodies are strong and they have moderately deep chests.
Their tails are bushy and curls over their backs when they are alert. Canaan dogs are 10 to 24 inches tall.
Height: 19-24 inches; Weight: 35-55 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 179 of 197
Country: Middle East
Petroglyphs of dogs dating thousands of ago appear on rocks in Saudi Arabia. These dogs closely resemble the Canaan dog.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is very similar to the Pembroke, and the casual observer will probably not distinguish between the breeds. That’s understandable since the two breeds were considered the same in the United Kingdom up to the 1930s and were interbred.
The Cardigan Corgi has a tail, while Pembroke Corgi generally does not. The Pembroke is either born without a tail, or it is cropped when it is a puppy. The Cardigan is the older of the two breeds.
They were bred to herd cattle, and their short height was developed on purpose so they could avoid being kicked by cows.
Height: 10.5-12.5 inches; Weight: 25-38 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 68 of 197
Thanks to the novel “Lassie Come Home” by Eric Knight, and Albert Payson Terhune’s stories about his dog Lad, the Collie (especially the “rough-coated Collie) is one of the most recognized dog breeds in the world. Several movies and a long-running television series (from 1954 to 1973) are based on Lassie.
The rough (long hair) and smooth (short hair) collies are variations of the same breed in the United States and Canada. In the United Kingdom and Australia, they are considered different dog breeds.
The Collie descended breeding sheepdogs from Scotland and Wales. It is a large-size dog weighing up to 75 pounds and has 12 to 14 years. Both Collie variations are great with children and make excellent family pets.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 50-75 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank: 38 of 197
Country: United Kingdom
The 1943 movie, “Lassie Come Home,” featured a young 11-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in her second film appearance. It was the first of several movies that made the Collie such a famous and well-known dog breed. Elizabeth also starred in a 1946 Lassie movie, “Courage of Lassie.”
Entlebucher Mountain Dog
The Entlebucher Mountain Dog is the smallest of the Sennenhund, or Swiss Mountain dogs. It also has the brown, black, and white coat as the other Sennenhunds.
They were bred as general purpose farm dogs but their main job was to herd cattle up to the high Swiss pastures in the summer. They are good dogs for families with older children but not a breed for everyone.
The Finnish Lapphund was bred to herd reindeer and has developed quick reflexes necessary to avoid their antlers. Reindeer, it seems, do not like to be herded. Lapphunds are friendly dogs and are popular family pets in their native Finland even though the dog tends to bark a lot.
The Lapphund has a thick double coat that helps keep it warm when working in the cold Finland winters. It is a spitz type dog.
Height: 16-21 inches; Weight: 33-53 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 161 of 197
The job the German Shepherd was bred for was to herd sheep. That is why they have “shepherd” in their name. Because they are such intelligent and versatile dogs, they also excel in guard duty, search and rescue missions, and police and military operations. It is easy to forget that herding was their first occupation.
The German Shepherd is a medium to a large size dog weighing between 50 to 90 pounds. They have a lifespan of 7 to 10 years.
The German Shepherd was bred for its intelligence and is easily trained. It is a very popular dog breed and consistently ranks in the top 3 most popular breed along with the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever.
Height: 22-26 inches; Weight: 50-90 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank: 2 of 197
This popular family pet is currently listed as the 2nd most popular dog breed in the United States. A German Shepherd also starred in the movie “Rin Tin Tin” which helped make this dog breed so popular.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a charmingly friendly and faithful all-around herder of small-to-medium size. A densely coated Nordic spitz-type breed, Icelandic Sheepdogs are enthusiastically devoted to their humans.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is the only dog breed native to Iceland. The breed has struggled for survival throughout history and almost became extinct. Fortunately, several dedicated breeders took action to save the breed, and it is no longer in danger of disappearing. It currently ranks as number 156 on the AKC’s list of most popular dog breeds.
Height: 16.5-18 inches; Weight: 25-30 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank:.155 of 197
Miniature American Shepherd
The Miniature American Shepherd is a relatively new breed. Its history began in the 1960s in California. Australian Shepherds were bred with smaller dogs to produce what was originally called Miniature Australian Shepherds. The AKC recognized it as the American Miniature Shepherd in 2015.
Considering the short time the breed has been around, it has become popular and ranks 34 in the most popular breeds’ AKC list. Its small size and resemblance to the Australian Shepherd probably have contributed to its fairly rapid rise in popularity.
Height: 13-18 inches; Weight: 20-40 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-13 years; AKC rank: 34 of 197
Country: United States
With Miniature as part of its name, you would expect it to be a small dog. And, of course, it is. It is about 15 inches tall and weighs around 30 pounds. It has a life expectancy of 12 to 13 years.
The Norwegian Buhund is a spitz type dog very similar in appearance to the Icelandic Sheepdog. The breed has been around from at least the Viking era. They are an all-purpose farm and herding dog that makes a fine devoted family companion.
The Buhund is easy to train and eager to please. They need attention, however, or may make up stuff to do on its own which may not be something you would approve of.
Height: 16-18.5 inches; Weight: 26-40 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-15 years; AKC rank: 165 of 197
Old English Sheepdog
The Old English Sheepdog is a shaggy coated large herding dog that may have the Bearded Collie as one of its ancestors. It is one of the older English herding breeds.
They have large heads and sometimes their eyes are sometimes different colors, either brown, blue or one of each.
They are great with children so make excellent family pets and guard dogs.
Height: 21-22+ inches; Weight: 60-100 pounds;
Lifespan: 10-12 years; AKC rank: 72 of 197
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Pembroke Welsh Corgis are the favorite dog breed of Queen Elizabeth of England. She has had a Corgi in her life for almost 90 years. Corgis are very affectionate dogs and tend to follow their favorite person from room to room.
It is one of the smallest herding dogs, only about a foot tall. They are intelligent dogs and easy to train. They may look like they are slow runners but can reach speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They love to chase anything that moves and may nip at your heels if you run from them.
The Pembroke is a small, long dog standing only about 12 inches tall. It weighs around 30 pounds and has a lifespan of 12 to 13 years.
Height: 10-12 inches; Weight: 24-31 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-13 years; AKC rank: 13 of 197
Historically, some Pembroke’s were born with no tails or very short tail. Otherwise, the tail was docked (cut off) when the puppy was a few days old. Docking dog tail is now illegal in many countries, and more Corgis with long tails are now acceptable in dog show competition.
The Corgi is a popular dog breed in the US and is making a comeback in the UK after being on the Kennel Club’s “Vulnerable Native Breeds” list for a few years.
Polish Lowland Sheepdog
The Polish Lowland Sheepdog breed has existed in Poland for hundreds of years, maybe as early as the thirteenth century. It has a shaggy coat and the hair on its head sometimes covers its eyes.
The breed faced extinction during World War II and was saved in the 1950s by Dr. Danuta Hryniewicz and her dog Smok. The Polish Lowland Sheepdogs today are descendants of Smok.
The Puli has a one of a kind dread-lock or corded coat that resembles a mop. They shed very little so their dread-locks can become very long. They can be trimmed, but the appearance of their coat is what gives this dog breed desirable.
The Puli is suitable as a family pet but will need training at an early age. They may not be the best dog for city apartment dwellers because they need room to exercise. If they do not get enough activity, they may act out.
The Pumi is a medium size sheepdog from Hungary. It has a curly coat that doesn’t need as much grooming as you might expect. It shed very little but its hair will come out during grooming.
The Puli is not aggressive but may be suspicious of strangers and bark a lot. They are protective of their family and make good watchdogs.
The Pyrenean Shepherd is an energetic herding dog that hails from the thy Pyrenes, a range in southern France and northern Spain. In Greek mythology, Pyrene was a princess who gave her name to the Pyrenees mountains. How the Pyrenees mountains got their name is (maybe) rooted in Greek mythology. Another AKC recognized herding dog breed that originated from this area is the Great Pyrenees.
As are other herding dogs, the Pyrenean Shepherd is intelligent and energetic. When not herding sheep, it is great for other work or competitive sports such as obedience and agility.
They come in two coat varieties, rough or smooth faced. Both varieties are recognized by the AKC, but the smooth-faced is not yet recognized by the Kennel Club.
The Shetland Sheepdog, or “Sheltie,” is small herding dogs that hail from Scotland and the Shetland Islands. They also raise small livestock in the Shetland Islands, such as the Shetland pony, the Shetland cattle, and the Shetland sheep. Small animals eat less.
Shelties are loyal little dogs who usually stick so close to their owners that they also have the nickname “shadow.” They are still used for herding but are more often a farm dog or family pet.
The Sheltie is small, about 15 inches tall, and weighs around 20 pounds. They are usually healthy and with a lifespan of 12 to 14 years.
Height: 13-16 inches; Weight: 15-25 pounds;
Lifespan: 12-14 years; AKC rank: 25 of 197
Shelties are very smart and agile. They tend to dominate their size group in dog competitions such as agility, flyball, tracking, and herding contests.
Spanish Water Dog
The Spanish Water Dog was bred to be a herding or sheepdog but also is sometimes used as a gundog as it retrieves from the water. It has a curly wooly coat that does not require a lot of grooming unless you want to keep it looking a certain way.
They are intelligent, loyal, and dedicated to their family and will appoint themselves as the family protector. They may be wary of strangers but are generally not aggressive.
The Swedish Vallhund is an ancient herding dog breed from Sweden that has been around for over a thousand years. They are distant cousins of the Corgis but are not built quite as low to the ground.
If you see a Swedish Valhund without a tail, do not assume it has been docked. Some of these dogs are born with long tails, short tails, or no tail at all.