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Characteristics Of Herding Dogs

Characteristics Of Herding Dogs

The herding dog group is the latest one to be created back in 1983. Before that year, all the breeds were organised in the Working Dog group, but because the group was getting too big, and all these pups had something in common, the AKC decided to create a new group for them.

All these pups have something in common: herding. They like to herd people and other animals, they like to keep everything organised and they are incredibly intelligent, sometimes outsmarting their inexperienced owners.


The first recordings of herding dogs are dating back to the Roman Empire when a farmer noted their incredible skills of herding livestock, especially if they were trained from a very young age.

Let’s talk a little about the characteristics of herding dogs, about the behaviours, and even showcase the most popular herding breeds.


What Is The Herding Behaviour?

If you think about it, the herding behaviour is almost a hunting behaviour. They gather up the livestock in one place, and if they didn’t know better, they could just as well feast on them. Through hundreds of years of selective breeding, humans managed to create those breeds whose only purpose is to herd animals through different means, while obediently listening to their owner.

There are three types of herding behaviours, each specific for different breeds.


The heelers are the herding dogs who used to nip at the animal’s heels. Breeds such as the Corgi and Australian Cattle Dog were bred in this direction. Especially Corgis due to their small size weren’t able to lead the livestock in any other ways.


The headers are those dogs who used to dominate the livestock by staring at them. They are incredibly agile because they had to run back and front in order to direct them in the required direction. The Border Collie is one of the most popular breeds who herd cattle like this.


The tenders are usually working together towards creating a fence and guiding the livestock in a certain direction. The Belgian and German Shepherds, as well as the Briards, are the most notable breeds in this category.

Sometimes, on very big farms, all these types of herding dogs are working together in order to create the best process.


Herding Dog Temperament

Herding dogs are generally very calm and intelligent, assessing every situation before acting upon it. Because they had to be methodical with livestock, they are incredibly smart creatures and most of them will try to please their owners at all times.

Nowadays, they don’t herd much, yet some owners are reporting nipping or herding behaviours in their Corgis and German Shepherds. In order to successfully train one, you need a lot of time and patience, and everyone around your dog needs to follow the same rules.

Even though all these pups had the same purpose at one point, their temperaments are quite different. If the Border Collie is incredibly loving and likes being around his owner at all times, other breeds, such as the English Shepherd and Welsh Sheepdog, are a lot more independent, and very hard to train.

Before choosing a herding dog for your family, you should check out their specific behaviours and know what to expect.


Exercise Needs Of Herding Dogs

Because herding dogs used to have a lot of physical activity, it can be difficult to raise on in an apartment, or without making sure he is completely exhausted. They are agile and in constant need of mental stimulation. Sometimes the owners are considering certain dog puzzle games in order to keep them busy.

They generally make incredible jogging partners, maybe except for the tiny-legged Corgi. Running and herding are still their favourite activities, and you need to make sure they have enough space to run back and forth.

In small apartments, they can become easily bored and develop separation anxiety, as well as destructive behaviours, so you need to get them a dog walker or sitter if you know that you won’t have the time for at least two long, daily walks.


Caring For A Herding Dog

In general, herding dogs don’t require any more care than a normal dog. You need to make sure his diet is appropriate, that a veterinarian is checking him out at least once every six months, that you provide him with a microchip and identification tag and of course, that you train him.

What you need to be especially careful about are his exercise and training needs. All the breeds in the herding group have tremendous amounts of energy, and you need to engage them in as many activities as possible.

From their daily walks, to taking them running with you, do everything you can so they consume all that energy and don’t develop destructive behaviours.

What else? Well, grooming. You should read a general grooming guide and see how many times you should brush and bathe your dog depending on his hair type. While some dogs need daily brushing in order to keep your house hair-free, others will do just fine with a weekly brushing. 

If you want to adopt a herding dog, make sure you have the time and energy to train and care for him. They can be very demanding dogs and will be happiest when they are with their families. Considering their intelligence and understanding of the world, herding dogs can make great companions if you adopt them from a shelter. Most of them will understand the situation and become incredibly loving companions to live with.

Let’s now go ahead and look at the most popular herding dogs.

Most Popular Herding Dogs

Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is also known as the Aussie. These dogs were initially bred to help the cowboys of Australia herd livestock. Because they are incredibly smart and have high energy levels, they can be difficult to train, especially if we’re talking about a new dog owner.

Their herding instincts are incredibly powerful, and will try to herd everything they find, from birds, toys and even humans if they are not properly trained. For a very active owner, who likes to hike and jog all the time, the Aussie is without a doubt, one of the best choices.


Border Collie

Talking about popular and very clever herding dogs, the Border Collie is in the top. These are medium-sized dogs with an incredibly powerful herding instinct, being part of the headers category. These pups, even though incredibly intelligent, are very docile, meaning that anyone can train them with enough perseverance.

Border Collies are agile and need to have a lot of physical activity in order to stay healthy, happy, and not develop any destructive behaviours or even anxiety. It’s very important to be careful when introducing your Border Collie to strangers, as this breed tends to be very cautious of new stimuli and environments.


German Shepherd

If you ask anyone what is the most popular herding dog, they will probably answer “The German Shepherd!” And this is for good reason. These pups can be considered the standard when it comes to herding dogs, not only because they are amazing at what they do, but also because they know how to team up and complete the job faster.  

The German Shepherds are of two varieties. There is the “Show Line,” with dogs that were bred to participate in competitions, and the “Working Line” of dogs meant to herd. The main and most visible difference is the fact that the Show Line German Shepherds have their hind legs lower and shorter than the Working Line German Shepherd. This happens because the dogs used for shows weren’t required to have as much physical activity.  

No matter what German Shepherd you pick, you should know that they are incredibly intelligent, loving, and very easy to train compared to other breeds. Make sure he exercises a lot, and that his diet is well balanced for his weight.


Old English Sheepdog

If you’re looking for a dog that absolutely loves children and is also very intelligent, then you may want to stop and take a look at the Old English Sheepdog. Being one of the oldest dog breeds, this dog can always impress with his capabilities.

They are the perfect combination of a very clever and strong pup and are amazing to keep around the house. The Old English Shepherd needs to have a big yard to run around, and also guard from possible intruders. In case something happens, their loud and powerful barking will let everyone know that they spotted something.


Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Corgis are the smallest of the herding dogs, but that doesn’t mean that they are not experts in herding. The tiny and very fluffy pups are part of the heelers category, and they used to herd by nipping at the sheep’s heels. Even though they have very tiny legs, they have excellent agility, so nothing can really escape them.

Being very sensitive, they love spending time with their owners, and won’t enjoy being left alone for long periods of time. Even more, because they are so small, they tend to develop the Small Dog Syndrom if their owner is not correcting them in any way. Make sure if you get a Corgi, that you have the time to exercise with him daily!


Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog is also known as a Sheltie, and it was bred in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Most people won’t recognise them by their name, but as soon as they see a picture, they know exactly what this pup is about. Shelties are relatively small and have a lot of hair compared to other herding dogs. They need brushing at least once every couple of days in order to keep a healthy coat, and a bath whenever needed.

The best part about them is the fact that even though they are very smart, they are also obedient, so it can be very easy to train them, even by an inexperienced or new owner. They will bark every time they feel a possible threat, but that’s just because they love their families more than anything, and will protect them at any cost.

Make sure to exercise with them as much as you can, and don’t leave them unattended for long periods of time.


Belgian Malinois

You probably heard of the Malinois, and you know that he is one of the most imposing herding dogs. They are quite big and can be easily confused with the German Shepherd if you don’t know the specifics.

Muscular, elegant and incredibly intelligent, the Belgian Malinois is not a good option for a first-time dog owner, as they are known to be quite mischievous and eventually get what they are after. 

You want to make sure that your Malinois gets a lot of exercise and attention. They are not independent at all, and can’t stand being alone. Adding to their size, you don’t want to leave them unattended. If you like running, then this can be the perfect dog for you. His agility can be hardly matched, and you will probably get tired way before him. 

Before getting a new pup, it’s important to know the characteristics of herding dogs and know exactly what to expect when you bring one home. One thing is for sure. They need a lot of exercise, and won’t take “no” for an answer.

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