Are you ready to welcome one of the herding dog breeds into your home? The ‘herding group’ is one of the groups of breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Herding group dogs are known for their intelligence, athleticism, alertness and loyalty. But, you should think carefully before having one as a pet. The herding dog breeds are some of the most popular dogs on the planet but they are not suitable for all families. Their herding instinct can be very strong and they need loads of physical and mental stimulation. In the right home, however, these highly intelligent dogs will be a loyal and energetic companion.
You are also spoilt for choice because there are many types of herding dogs out there to choose from. We’ve picked our top 10 favorite breeds to share with you.
1.Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian cattle dog is sometimes called a Blue Heeler because of the blue tint in their coat. Australian cattle dogs were bred by settlers in Australia for herding livestock and are believed to have wild dingoes as their ancestors. They are hardy dogs who have amazing stamina and strong herding instincts.
The Australian cattle dog is a medium sized dog that is stocky and powerful but also athletic. Their loyalty and their affectionate nature make them attractive as pets. However, they need loads of mental stimulation and physical exercise to keep them happy so they are not suitable for all households. They must be socialized early on to prevent them from being wary of strangers.
You may be surprised to learn that the Australian Shepherd did not originate in Australia. They were originally bred by farmers in the West of the US, specifically the Californian ranchers.
Australian Shepherds are well known for their strong herding instinct and their outstanding abilities in herding cattle in particular. These brave working dogs are excellent to train so you often see them working as search and rescue dogs and in rodeos. They also make fantastic canine companions and are very loyal to their human owners. Aussie Shepherds are an intelligent breed who need lots of activities and a ‘job’ to keep them happy and healthy.
Check out our guide for more information on selecting the best dog foods for your Australian Shepherds.
Bearded collies are a long haired dog with a distinctive gorgeous shaggy coat. These shepherd dogs originate from Scotland and are one of the ancient herding breeds but these days are also popular family pets.
They are the goofball of the herding dog breed world and are very playful. You may see them called ‘beardies’ by some breeders. They are very energetic and need a strict training regime to stop them from getting mischievous. The intelligence and playful nature of the Bearded Collie make them one of the best herding dogs to have as a loving family pet. You will have to impose a strict grooming routine to keep their magnificent coat in check. It is there to protect them from the freezing temperatures of the Scottish hills.
Border collies are the classic types of sheep dogs that everyone recognizes from dog sports and herding trials. As well as being highly adept herding dogs they are very people-friendly and love to please their human companions.
The Border collie was born to herd sheep! Some people even describe them as hyperactive because they have a work ethic that is so strong. Border collies are one of the most intelligent dog breeds on the planet and they can understand many complex commands and obey them in the most distracting and challenging environments. They also make great family dogs but only for families that like a lot of outdoor exercise. If you have plenty of time to take them out hiking with you and can provide plenty of exercise in between, they are the breed for you.
5.Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Cardigan Welsh Corgi corgis are sometimes called the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and may seem a little small for sheep herding but what they lack in size they make up for in stamina. Their compact size (they weigh between 20 and 35 pounds) makes them popular as family pets.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi can be a very vocal dog and do have a stubborn streak so they need a firm hand with training right from the start. Welsh Corgis have a heritage of being vigilant livestock guardian dogs which make them a very loyal watchdog for your family home.
These days we don’t associate the German shepherd dog with herding so much but that was their original purpose. German Shepherds now work as police dogs and military dogs where their alertness, loyalty and bravery are highly valued.
The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the US and they make wonderful companion dogs and family pets. They need structured training and loads of physical and mental stimulation. If your German Shepherd is not correctly socialized, they can become a little aloof with strangers. As with most herding breeds, German Shepherds are happiest when they have a job to do so that they can put their stamina and intelligence to good use.
Here are some great food options for your German Shepherd.
The Belgian Malinois is a truly unique animal. This herding breed is often compared to the German Shepherd but they are smaller, more agile and more sensitive which can make them harder to train. They are distantly related to the Belgian Sheepdog and have a very strong drive to protect their territory which needs to be controlled.
They were originally used as herding dogs but now they are seen most often as bomb detection dogs and as search and rescue dogs. They are not the best breed for you if you have young children because they will try to herd them to one spot of your home.
8.Polish Lowland Sheepdog
One of the lesser known herding dogs, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog is an intelligent pooch with a shaggy coat and a big heart. They are an ancient breed, descended from Hungarian hunting dogs many hundreds of years ago. This herding dog is fearless and obedient but you can expect them to be very protective as well.
These dogs will need a lot of exercise and their coats will need loads of grooming to keep it healthy and looking its best. They will adore their family but will be very suspicious of strangers if they are not socialized properly from a young age.
The charming Icelandic Sheepdog was bred to herd livestock in cold climates. It is one of the types of herding dogs that are called ‘spitzes’. They have a dense coat to keep them warm in freezing conditions and a fox-like face. It’s their facial expression that most people fall in love with – it’s a look of complete happiness. Their main job was to protect lambs from birds of prey and you will still see them looking up at the sky.
The Icelandics are happiest when they are with their human family. They are very affectionate and make great family pets but they suit colder climates best and will struggle in the heat. They also need some strict canine education to control their protective instincts. Any other animals or birds that approach will trigger a lot of barking!
10.Miniature American Shepherd
Most Miniature American Shepherds are actually mini Australian Shepherds that have been described wrongly. They first appeared in the 1960s when breeders tried to overcome the large size and boisterous nature of the Australian Shepherd which was great on a ranch but not such good fun in an apartment. In order to avoid confusion, they were named Miniature American Shepherds.
They have a lot of hair – so that means seasonal shedding. You can expect this breed to grow to around 13-18 inches in height and between 20 and 40 pounds. The reduction in size does not result in a reduction of work ethic. They love to herd anything that they can and if they get bored they will start destroying things in your home.
On the plus side, they are very loyal and friendly and will need less exercise than a regular Aussie Shepherd. They also need less food and are cheaper to keep.
General Characteristics of Herding Dog Breeds
Herding dogs are a diverse group but they share certain characteristics. Here are the main ones:
- Agility – even the stocky herding dogs are very agile and can leap over walls
- Stamina – these guys can keep running all day!
- Alertness – constantly scanning the environment for dangers; this can spill over into anxiety in some dogs
- Hardiness – most do better in cooler climates because they have thick coats
- Energetic – they need a lot of exercise
- Intelligent – they can process complex commands but can be independent
- Protective – their job is to look after things
- Loyal – they adore their human handler but may be aloof with strangers.
- Dog Breeds – American Kennel Club
Frequently Asked Questions
The AKC herding dog group is a large group of dogs with a herding heritage. Although many of them, like the German Shepherds, are now very popular pets some are still mainly working dogs. Herding was one of the first 'jobs' that we gave our dogs and so this group contains some of the oldest breeds.
As well as the 10 dogs detailed above you will also find other popular breeds including the English Sheepdog, the Spanish Water Dog, the Australian Kelpie and the Shetland Sheepdog.
This very much depends on your lifestyle. If you are going to welcome one of the herding group dogs into your home, you must be able to have the right environment and lifestyle. If you are not lucky enough to live on a ranch or a farm, you will need a fenced-in play area so that your dog can roam around and use up some of their energy. You may need a dog-proof fence.
These dogs need daily exercise and a 'job' to do. It helps if you are in the house all day and can interact with them. They also need regular, long hikes. We are talking several miles - preferably in open country and not a sedate wander around the block. If you can get them into dog sports and agility classes, that's even better.
First-time dog owners should be wary of getting a herding dog. They need firm and consistent handling and a lot of interaction with their owner. Even though they are intelligent, many of them are also independent and used to thinking-on-their-feet so they will not always take instruction from you!
Households with small children should also be cautious. Herding breeds have been known to 'round up' toddlers and this can include some nipping. If you have small kids this is something to look out for. If necessary, get a professional trainer to help you.
Yes, there is a connection between the herding livestock mentality and biting. This is something that you need to be aware of if you have young children. Cattle dogs, in particular, have to use 'nipping' at the cattle's heels as a way of moving them where they want them to go. If they didn't do this, the cattle would simply ignore them!
Cattle herding dogs have been bred for centuries to do this. The problem arises when a cattle dog herding breed is expected to become a family pet in a home with children running around and screaming. These dogs have an in-built dislike of chaos and will instinctively try to calm things down. Unfortunately, this can involve nipping a little to bring the 'stock' under control. With the correct training, the dog will learn what needs to be herded and when and will learn to leave the kids alone.
Herding dogs were bred from wild dogs by early farmers and settlers. They chose the most amenable wild dogs and selectively bred them over hundreds of years. They were aiming for breeds that were energetic, had huge stamina and could withstand harsh weather conditions. They also expected intelligence and loyalty and this is why the herding dog makes such a wonderful pet and companion.
The only downside is that these are the athletes of the dog world. If you want a dog that will spend hours laying with you on the sofa - they are not for you. In fact, some of the breeds listed here would be too much for novice owners to cope with. Without a lot of physical and mental stimulation they can exhibit destructive behaviors.