The herding group contains some of today’s most popular dog breeds. Energetic, intelligent, and highly trainable, these dogs were bred over hundreds of years for their ability to control and move herds of livestock — which is why many people also know them as shepherd dogs.
Though this breed group is still a favorite farm dog, the majority of herding dogs today never see a farm animal. Still, many owners may notice their pet’s inclination to “herd” their families, particularly small children. And they may become worried about their dog’s tendency to urgently nudge or even nip at people.
These behaviors are not aggressive, however. They are traces of the genetic lineage of herding dogs. Collies, sheepdogs, cattle dogs, and even tiny corgis have been selected over generations for their herding instincts.
It’s important, however, to note that the innate herding instinct of breeds in this group will develop into problem behavior if not satisfied. Owners must provide regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep their dog happy and healthy. Many herding dogs will be restless without a “job” to do. Owners who keep herding dogs as family pets may need to train the dog from puppyhood to not nip at heels. Agility training often provides an excellent outlet for many herding dogs’ high intelligence and boundless energy.
People looking for a low maintenance dog should look elsewhere—herding dogs need dedicated and involved owners with high levels of activity. But with the right training and pack leadership, herding dogs make great family pets.
The top 10 herding dogs
Old English sheepdog
This purebred line, as the name suggests, extends far back into English history. The Old English sheepdog is a large, long-haired dog with a famously playful nature.
Shetlands are a medium-sized, affectionate breed with high intelligence and a fun-loving streak. These dogs prove quite talented in agility, obedience, and tracking competitions.
These dogs are confident and smart, making them suitable for high-energy activities and jobs. However, this also means they require plenty of exercise to satisfy their herding instincts.
Cardigan Welsh corgi
Corgis may share little physical qualities with most herding breeds, and indeed, the Cardigan line is a distant cousin to the dachshund. Still, this breed also retains the high trainability and intelligence of its herding ancestors. Corgis are adaptable to life on a farm or in a city apartment, although they do require daily exercise. Fun fact: the proper Welsh plural of “corgi” is “corgwn.”
Also referred to simply as “collies,” the most famous member of the breed was the iconically loyal Lassie. Devotion to a single person or family is a common trait among the breed. A long-haired, alert dog with a regal posture, they should be socialized from a young age to prevent shyness around strangers.
Australian cattle dog
This cattle dog was bred by Australian settlers to drive livestock across the wide and treacherous spaces of the continent, and they are believed to be descendants of wild dingoes. These athletic, intelligent canines require a good deal of work, agility training, or other activities to stimulate their mind and body.
Despite their name, Australian shepherds were actually bred in the Western United States. These dogs are highly intelligent and trainable—even participating in horse shows and rodeos. They also prove capable working dogs, employed in search-and-rescue, service, and military/police work.
Pembroke Welsh corgi
Affectionate and smart, this breed of corgi is distinguishable from the other Welsh corgi (the Cardigan) by its lack of tail. Like other corgis, the Pembroke is an intelligent and affectionate animal. Though it may not look like it, this breed is athletic — with lots of stamina — and is happiest when it has a job to do.
This classic working dog was originally bred to herd sheep. Confident, trainable, courageous, and athletic, the popular German shepherd is eager to learn and be put to work.
Border collies possess a remarkable intelligence, obedience, and stamina. They are a favorite for dog sports and are still a popular choice for sheep herding. For active and dedicated owners, Border collies make some of the best canine companions available.
Do you own a herding dog? Share your stories about him or her in the comments.