Herding Dogs – A basic summary of Purpose Bred dogs

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Herding Dogs

Do you know the history behind different types of dogs? Dogs and wolves split from each other between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, but their DNA only differs by 0.04 percent. Breeds are a relatively new concept and most often dogs are bred for looks or for behavior.

Most dogs today are companion dogs that live in loving homes with their people, but many of the different breeds were originally bred for specific and distinct working purposes. Each breed behaves differently and has different strengths and weaknesses, with their natural instincts having been bred genetically into them over hundreds of years.

However, dogs that are not bred by professionals who adhere to strict guidelines regarding breeding can exhibit different traits or lose their original instincts entirely within just three generations of breeding. These dogs may have completely different traits and behaviors from their ancestral lineage decades ago.

This is why it is imperative to select a working dog from parents that you have actually seen working in a manner that will suit your particular needs if you are looking for a dog with a purpose beyond being a companion. Ask for the dog’s pedigree chart to see if there are generations of real working dogs behind them – it can be difficult to find good instincts or a good “work ethic” in such dogs if their breeders selected for other traits when they bred their dogs.

Today, let’s look at Herding Dogs.


Herding Dogs

Herding dogs have been used by humans since the Neolithic age (over 10,000 years ago). Their first roles were most likely gathering wild animals during hunts, making it easier for humans to kill or dispatch their game. Today, herding dogs are made up of sheep and cattle dogs that are given the responsibility of rounding up flocks and herds – unlike other types of working farm dogs which are tasked with simply standing guard over such livestock. Herding dogs achieve their purpose by running, barking, nipping at heels and making dominant eye contact with the animals they are herding into a group.

Today, most companion dogs from the herding group have never seen sheep or cattle, but their natural instincts still may shine through at their homes – they may circle and herd the children and people in their families. Some dogs will nip at heels while engaging in such herding behavior. Some common herding dog breeds are as follows:

  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Kelpie
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Bearded Collie
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • Border Collie
  • Bouvier des Flandres
  • Briard
  • Catahoula
  • English Shepherd
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Giant Schnauzer
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Rottweiler
  • Samoyed
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Shiloh
  • Standard Schnauzer
  • Welsh Corgi

Herding breeds are extremely intelligent and respond well to positive training methods – the most intelligent of all dogs being the Border Collie. Herding dogs love staying active and most excel in agility competitions. They are fantastic companions for owners who like to walk, run and bike.

Size: typically medium to large
Personality Summary:
– Very intelligent
– High energy dogs
– Some are suspicious with strangers, but most are very friendly and outgoing with people and other dogs.
– They make excellent and loyal companions and fit well in homes and families of all sizes.
Common Behaviors:
– Movement stimulated nipping. They love to nip at heels of humans in the same way they would nip at the heels of livestock
– ‘Moving people and things’ in their everyday lives, herding children, other pets and cars.
– Chasing moving people and objects. Running children are a favorite target.
– Barking quite a bit. Several breeds (Shelties, Beardies, etc.) used their vocals to work livestock and these dogs tend to bark when excited, eager, happy or frustrated.
– Pacing, spinning and circling if not exercised properly. These dogs need physical activity every day. They have the desire and endurance to work all day, rain or shine.

History of the herding dog:

In the late 19th century, a Northumberland man in Scotland combined several breeds to create his ideal herding dog that was intelligent, athletic and relied upon a predator’s posture and strong eye contact, rather than force, to do its job. It was ideal for handling sheep in the hilly, rocky border country dividing Scotland and England and so became known as the Border Collie. In Australia, the Australian Cattle Dogs, also known as Queensland Heelers, Blue Heelers, or simply as “heelers,” were generally more aggressive than Aussies or Borders and possessed a low-heeling style well suited to belligerent cattle. These feisty, smooth-coated dogs are favorites for chute work or cattle loading and were originally used for long sheep and cattle drives. They originated in the Northumberland area of Scotland and were brought to New South Whales, Australia by a station owner, Thomas Hall, who is said to have crossed them with dingoes for stamina. In the 1980s, an Oklahoma cowboy, Gary Ericsson, combined several breed to come up with the Hangin’ Tree Cowdog, a tough dog that was also sensitive to commands and could guide cattle around a course. These dogs, which vary widely in appearance, combine characteristics of the Catahoula heeler, a slick-coated bayou cattle dog, with the Border Collie, the Blue Heeler and the Australian Shepherd. Bred strictly for their working characteristics, they are popular on many Western ranches.


Click here for another Purpose Bred Dog article: Military Dogs / Dogs of Warfare.




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