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Herding Dogs

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

I. Introduction

Herding dogs are a group of breeds that have been specifically developed to herd livestock. These intelligent dogs are highly trainable and have been used by farmers and ranchers for centuries to help them manage their flocks and herds.

3 herding dogs herding the Collieball
Herding Dogs

II. History

  • Origin of herding dog breeds

The history of herding dog breeds dates back to ancient times when humans first started domesticating animals. It is believed that the earliest breeds were developed in the Middle East and then spread throughout Europe and Asia as humans migrated. These dogs played a crucial role in the development of agriculture and animal husbandry, especially in herding sheep.

  • Evolution of herding dog breeds

As humans continued to develop and refine their farming techniques, the need for specialized herding dog breeds increased. Over time, different regions and cultures developed their unique breeds of herding dogs, each with their distinct characteristics and abilities. Today, there are over 30 different breeds recognized as herding dogs by the American Kennel Club.



III. Characteristics of Herding Dogs


  • Physical traits and abilities


a dog checking around for herding on a collieball
A Herding Dog sitting on a Collieball

One of the most notable characteristics of herding breeds is their high energy and stamina. They are typically medium-sized with athletic builds, allowing be best dogs to work long hours in various terrains. These dogs also have a strong instinctual drive to control and guide livestock, making them excellent at their job.

  • Mental traits

In addition to physical traits, herding dogs are a highly intelligent breed and possess great problem-solving skills. They have been bred to work independently, making quick decisions on their own without human instruction. This trait makes them essential for managing large flocks or herds.





IV. Purpose of Herding Dogs

A dog waiting to play herding
A herding dog smiling with his herding ball
  • Working dogs

The primary purpose of herding dog breeds is to assist farmers and ranchers in managing their livestock. These dogs have been bred specifically for this task and are incredibly skilled at it. They work tirelessly to move, gather, and protect herds of sheep, cattle, and other animals. They are born to herd sheep because of their herding instincts.

  • Competitive sports

In addition to their working roles, herding dogs also excel in competitive sports such as agility trials, obedience trials, and sheepdog trials. These events test the dog's physical and mental abilities, showcasing their natural instincts and honed skills. Herding dog breeds are prone to be successful at agility training.



Herding Dogs with CollieBall
Herding dogs resting after a herding session with Collieball

  • Behavioral traits

A herding dog and a herding ball
A herding dog waiting for owner's command to herd the herding ball.

Herding dogs have a unique set of behavioral traits that make them well-suited for their purpose. They are known to be highly trainable, loyal, and responsive to commands. They also possess a strong prey drive, allowing them to focus solely on their task at hand.











IV. Herding Dog Breeds


Border Collie


The Border Collies are highly intelligent and energetic herding dog breeds originating from Scotland. They are known for their intense stare, which they use to control and guide livestock. These graceful dogs are very popular by the stories of Lassie on TV. Border collies will "herd" small children if not told otherwise.






a herding dog herding his collieball in the mud
Herding dog able to herd in the mud

Australian Shepherd

Originating in the United States, the Australian Shepherd is an agile and responsive herding dog with a strong work ethic. They excel at managing large flocks and are also popular as family pets.


Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the "Sheltie," is a small but highly intelligent and trainable herding dog. They were originally bred in Scotland to work on farms and are now popular companions and show dogs.











German Shepherd


Despite being known for their role in law enforcement and as family pets, German Shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs. They are intelligent, courageous, and have a strong work ethic. A German Shepherd Dog has a so strong herding instinct that they herd gently their owners and the children of the family.






Old English Sheepdog

The Old English Sheepdog is a large and shaggy herding dog originating from England. They are known for their gentle nature, intelligence, and adaptability to different types of livestock.



Corgi with CollieBall - Original Herding Ball in a park
Corgi's love herding balls.


Pembroke Welsh Corgis

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi, also known as the "Corgi," is a small and lively herding dog from Wales. They are known for their short stature, long body, and eager-to-please personality. Despite their size, they have been used to herd large animals such as cattle.


Cardigan Welsh Corgis

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is another herding breed from Wales, closely related to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. They are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and versatility in herding different types of animals.




Australian Cattle Dogs

As the name suggests, the Australian Cattle Dog, as known as Blue Heeler, was developed in Australia for herding cattle on large ranches. They are known for their endurance, agility, and ability to think independently while working. They also make loyal and protective family pets.




Belgian Shepherd

The Belgian Shepherds, aka Belgian sheepdogs were bred to herd cattle which have four distinct varieties: the Groenendael, Tervuren, Malinois, and Laekenois. They are known for their intelligence, high energy levels, and versatility in tasks such as herding, police work, and search and rescue.


Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois is a highly intelligent, athletic, and versatile herding dog originating from Belgium. They excel at herding tasks, as well as in law enforcement, military, and search and rescue work.


Bearded Collie

The Bearded Collie, also known as the "Beardie," is a medium-sized herding dog from

playing and herding is a serious business
Herding dogs can fly after their herding ball

Scotland. They have an energetic and playful personality, making them great family pets. Their long and shaggy coat requires regular grooming to keep it in good condition.


Icelandic Sheepdogs

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a small to medium-sized herding breed from Iceland. They are known for their friendly and outgoing personalities, making them great companions in addition to being skilled at herding livestock. They have a thick double coat that helps protect them from the harsh Icelandic climate.


Miniature American Shepherd

The Miniature American Shepherd, also known as the "Mini Aussie," or "small-size Australian Shepherd" is a small herding breed that was developed in the United States. They are intelligent, energetic, and make great working dogs or family pets for active households. Miniature American Shepherds has a growing popularity across the states.




Bouvier des Flandres

The Bouvier des Flandres is a large and powerful herding breed originating from France and Belgium. They were originally bred for farm work as cattle herding dogs, but are now commonly used in police and military work as guard dogs due to their strength and trainability. Despite their size, they can also make loyal and affectionate family pets with proper training and socialization.


Polish Lowland Sheepdog


even a bull terrier herds collieball
A Bull Terrier enjoying a Collieball, herding ball

The Polish Lowland Sheepdog, also known as the "Polski Owczarek Nizinny" or "Nizinni," is a medium-sized herding dog from Poland. They have a thick and curly coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting. They are intelligent and energetic, making them good working dogs and loyal family pets.


Puli

The Puli is a small to medium-sized herding breed from Hungary. They are known for their distinctive corded coats, which require extensive grooming and maintenance. Pulis were originally bred to herd cattle and have now become popular as family pets due to their playful and affectionate nature.


V. Training Herding Dog Breeds


Basic training requirements


a dog training with collieball
A Spanish water dog holding his Collieball, the original herding ball.

Herding dogs are highly intelligent and energetic, which makes them great candidates for training. However, they also have a strong instinct to herd and may display behaviors such as nipping at heels or chasing after moving objects. This is why it is important to start their training early on and provide consistent guidance.


Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement, using rewards such as treats or praise, is a highly effective method of training for herding dogs. This encourages them to repeat desired behaviors and strengthens the bond between the dog and their handler.




Focus on obedience

Obedience training is essential for herding dogs as it helps them learn basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. These commands are not only important for everyday life but also for keeping the dog and others safe in potentially dangerous situations.


Socialization


2 dogs socializing  around a a red Collieball
2 dog chatting after a herding session with a herding ball

Socializing your herding dog from a young age is crucial to their development. This involves exposing them to different people, animals, and environments, which helps them become well-rounded and confident dogs. It also helps prevent any fear or aggression towards unfamiliar situations.


Advanced training

Herding dogs can be trained for advanced activities such as agility, obedience trials, and even search and rescue work. These types of training not only provide mental and physical stimulation for the dog but also allow them to use their natural instincts in a controlled environment.


Special training for herding tasks


a dog training with a red collieball on the grass
A herding dog waiting for command for herding his herding ball.

If you plan to use your herding dog for actual herding tasks, specialized training may be necessary. This type of training focuses on teaching the dog specific commands and techniques for working with livestock, as well as building their physical stamina and endurance.


Consistency is the key

Consistency is essential when training a herding dog. They thrive on routine and structure, so it's important to use the same commands, techniques, and expectations consistently. Inconsistency can confuse the dog and hinder their progress in training.


VI. Living with a Herding Dog


Exercise and mental stimulation needs

Due to their high energy levels, herding dogs require plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. This can include daily walks, runs, or playtime in a fenced yard. Mental stimulation can also be provided through training exercises, puzzle toys, and interactive games.



Grooming needs

Herding dogs have a double coat that requires regular brushing to prevent mats and tangles. They also shed heavily, so frequent brushing can help manage the amount of loose hair in your home. Some herding breeds may also require occasional trimming or stripping of their coat.


Health concerns


a hairy dog friend enjoying outdoor and his collieball
Herding Dogs

While most herding dogs are generally healthy and hardy, they may be prone to certain health issues such as hip dysplasia, eye problems, and allergies. It's important to research the breed's potential health concerns and stay vigilant for any signs of illness or discomfort.


Socialization

Socialization is crucial for herding dogs, as they can be reserved or wary of strangers. Early socialization can help them become more comfortable around new people and situations, reducing their tendency towards territorial behavior.


Training

Proper training is essential for a herding dog, not just for their own well-being but also for the safety of others. Due to their high intelligence and working drive, they can become destructive or develop problem behaviors if left untrained. Enlist the help of a professional trainer if needed.


Potential challenges

While herding dogs make excellent companions, there are some potential challenges that come with owning one. Their high energy levels and need for mental stimulation can be difficult to meet for some owners. They may also have a tendency towards herding behaviors, nipping and chasing after people or animals.


Finding the right breed



Herding Dog put his paw on his navy CollieBall - herding ball -  on the backyard.
A herding dog ready to herd the herding ball.


When considering a herding dog as a pet, it's important to research and understand the specific needs and traits of each breed within this category. Some breeds may be more suitable for certain lifestyles or living situations than others. Consulting with a breed specialist or reputable breeder can help you find the perfect match for your home and lifestyle.


The bond between handler and dog

Herding dogs are known for their strong loyalty and close bond with their handlers. This connection is crucial in their work as they rely on clear communication and trust between them and their handler. As a pet, this bond also translates into a deep connection and devotion to their owner.





VII. Conclusion

Herding dogs make incredible pets for those who are able to meet their physical and mental needs. Their intelligence, loyalty, and work ethic make them excellent companions for active individuals or families. With proper training and socialization, these dogs can thrive in a variety of environments and provide endless love and devotion to their owners. Whether as working partners or beloved family members, herding dogs are truly special and unique breeds that bring joy, love, and purpose into their owners' lives. So if you're considering adding a herding dog to your family, be prepared for a fulfilling and rewarding journey with your new furry companion. Happy herding! Remember train or restrain!


A Border Collie rushes after the red herding ball on the green grasses.
Herding like wind

References

[1] American Kennel Club (AKC). (n.d.). Herding group. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/herding/

[2] United Kennel Club (UKC). (n.d.). The herding dog group. Retrieved from https://www.ukcdogs.com/herding-dogs

[3] Beauchamp, R.G. (2020). Solving selective hearing problems. The American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/selective-hearing/

[4] National Research Council. (2006). Committee on Assessment of the Scientific Information for the Dietary Reference Intakes. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

[5] Buzhardt, L. (n.d.). Exercise and play for dogs. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/exercise-and-play-for-dogs

[6] American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (n.d.). Socialization for dogs: Tips and techniques. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/socializing-your-puppy



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