Top 10 Herding Dog Breeds
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Herding or shepherd dogs have been bred and trained as working dogs since dogs were first domesticated. They are known for their ability to control or ‘herd’ groups of farm animals and protect them from predators. Although they are most associated with sheep herding - hence the names ‘shepherd dog’ and ‘sheepdog’ - herding dogs have been bred to work with a variety of different animals from cattle to pigs and even ducks. However, they are often classified into just two main groups - sheepdogs and cattle dogs.
There are dozens of herding dog breeds across the five continents. Whether you are interested in adopted a herding dog breed or simply curious to learn more about shepherd dogs, you have come to the right place. AnimalWised has complied a list of the top 10 herding dog breeds, complete with pictures and interesting facts about each type. Keep reading to discover them!
1. Border Collie
The Border Collie is considered an excellent sheepdog, as it is best suited to herding sheep. They are known to be one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and learn commands and orders very easily. They have a natural instinct for herding, and can control a flock of sheep even if the shepherd is absent. The Border Collie originated in the border area between England and Scotland. This explains the first part of its name, ‘border’. The second, ‘collie’, means ‘useful’ in Gaelic.
It is a medium sized dog, weighing between 16 and 23 kg. Border Collies are known for their speed and agility. They are bred to be working dogs, and should not be confined to an apartment. They need constant activity and open spaces to be happy and healthy. Border Collies are extremely faithful and affectionate dogs, and form a special bond with the person they consider their guardian. They are always at the ready and with his eyes fixed on their ‘shepherd’ to quickly carry out any orders.
2. Australian shepherd
Second on our list is the Australian shepherd, another excellent herding dog. Despite its name, the Australian shepherd was bred from a European sheepdog - the Pyrenean shepherd - then developed in Australia and perfected on Californian ranches to reach the characteristics for which it is known today. A unique feature of this breed is its versatility. The Australian shepherd can herd not only cattle and sheep like most shepherd dog breeds, but they are also able to control unusual livestock such as buffaloes, geese, ducks and rabbits.
Like most working and herding dogs, the Australian shepherd requires plenty of daily exercise. It is a very faithful dog, affectionate with its family but distrustful of strangers. This trait makes them great watchdogs. They often frighten away strangers by baring their teeth and barking, but without biting. The Australian shepherd is an intelligent dog and known for being patient with children, which is why they are often used as therapy dogs for special-needs children.
3. Belgian sheepdog
The Belgian sheepdog or Groenendael is one of the best herding dogs among the four types of Belgian shepherd dog breeds: Groenendael, Malinois, Laekenois and Tervuren. Each variety is distinguished by a different coat. The Belgian sheepdog is a long-haired breed, known for its black coat and impressive looks. They are also skilled shepherd dogs. Belgian sheepdogs are intelligent, highly trainable and hard working dogs. This makes them effective herders and they were traditionally bred to herd and protect cattle.
Belgian shepherds are also excellent watchdogs and trackers, very obedient and fiercely loyal to their guardians. These characteristics make them skilled working dogs in other fields. In fact, Belgian sheepdogs are work as search and rescue dogs, police dogs and service dogs. They are an extremely affectionate breed, and require not only proper training and regular exercise, but also companionship and lots of affection.
4. German Shepherd
The German shepherd, as the name suggests, is another well known herding dog breed. They were originally bred as sheepdogs, and they are effective herders of several animals, except feathered ones such as geese, ducks or chickens, which rouse the German shepherd's predatory instinct. German shepherds are known for their muscular structure, agility and the ease with which they learn commands.
While these traits help make them great sheepdogs, the German shepherd, like Belgian shepherd breeds, also excel at working dogs in other arenas. Over time, their use as livestock herders has declined and these dogs have gained fame for their work in military and other fields. For instance, their intelligence, loyalty and courage make them one of the best breeds of police dogs.
4. Pyrenean shepherd
The Pyrenean shepherd is descended from ancient sheepdogs of the Pyrenees mountain range. There are two types of Pyrenean shepherd dog, distinguished by their so-called ‘rough-faced’ or ‘smooth-faced’ coats. The rough-face variety have flatter faces, which longer hairs around the face and rougher coat texture. Smooth-faced Pyrenean shepherds have a finer coat, shorter hair around the face and longer muzzle. They are small but tough, energetic and athletic dogs.
Pyrenean shepherds herd both sheep and cattle, a job for which they are still used today. They also make great guardian dogs. Despite their small size, Pyrenees shepherds are skilled at fending off bears and wolves, and show no fear when facing large predators. They often work alongside the Great Pyrenees dog, described in the next section. In its dealings with humans, the Pyrenean shepherd is a shy breed, known for being distrustful of anyone who isn't its owner. They have a nervous temperament, and are constantly on the alert.
6. Great Pyrenees
Another exceptional Pyrenean shepherd dog breed is the Great Pyrenees, also known as the Pyrenees mountain dog. This sheepdog was bred to guard flocks in open spaces. It is one of the largest sheepdog breeds in the world, capable of confronting and repelling attacks by brown bears and wolves. The Great Pyrenees has a thick coat that protects them from the elements when working high up in the mountains. This breed is known for its powerful build, and can weigh up to 60 kg.
Great Pyrenees dogs work by patrolling the perimeter of the flock, constantly retracing their steps and keeping an eye out for danger. They have a calm and patient bearing, but are quick to spring to the flock's defense, showing great courage in the face of danger. They are protective and loyal dogs, sometimes given to displays of affection that show they don't know their own strength. However, they are very affectionate and gentle with children, making them ideal companions for children with special needs.
7. Carpathian shepherd
If it were genetically possible to cross a bear with a wolf, the result would probably look something like the Carpathian shepherd dog. Also known as the Romanian Carpathian shepherd, this sheepdog breed is known to be brave, loyal and hard working. They instinctively develop a strong bond with both their herd and their guardian. They have an an imposing appearance, with a muscular structure, abundant coat and wolf-like face.
The Carpathian shepherd dog was originally developed in the Carpathian mountain area, where it is used as a herding dog as well as a livestock guardian. Their powerful jaws make them ideally suited to fighting off predators such as bears. In fact, the Carpathian shepherd is one of the strongest dogs in the world. As with the other breeds on this list, the Carpathian shepherd is primarily a working dog and requires open spaces and plenty of physical exercise.
8. Romanian Mioritic Shepherd
Next on our list of the top sheepdog breeds, is the imposing Romanian Mioritic Shepherd dog. This extremely large breed of herding dog is also native to the Carpathian mountain region. Known for their impressive size, this shepherd dog breed is characterized by its abundant white to gray coat with gray-black spots or markings. They can wight up to 60 kg.
Romanian Mioritic Shepherds have spent centuries guarding both cattle and sheep their Romanian homeland. Dspite its size, this herding dog is known for its calm temperament and stable character. They are independent-minded and can have a stubborn streak, but respond well to training and are disciplined workers. Minoritics are mistrustful of strangers but loyal and affectionate with their family.
9. Australian cattle dog
The Australian cattle dog - also called the “Queensland Heeler” or “Blue Heeler” - is a fairly modern herding dog breed,not to be confused with the Australian shepherd described above. This breed was developed to improve the traditional sheepdogs imported from England, which could not withstand the heat, long distances and feral temperament of Australian cattle. These were crossed with several breeds including the wild dingo and the Highland Collie and Dalmatian, among others. The result is the Australia cattle dog, a sturdy, energetic and agile dog capable of herding cattle over long distances and in difficult conditions.
Thanks to the various breeds that contributed to developing the Australian cattle dog, it has a unique appearance, with a mottled coat in blueish and reddish tones. It is loyal to its guardians and tolerates strangers on the condition that they do not threaten anyone in the family. Being a cattle herding dog, this breed is at also ease with horses. If they are kept as companion dogs they require plenty of exercise and enrichment to satisfy their energy and work drive.
10. Greater Swiss mountain dog
There are four well known Alpine Swiss herding dog breeds: the Entlebucher mountain dog, the Appenzeller Sennenhund, the Bernese mountain dog and the Greater Swiss mountain dog. We end our list of the top shepherd dog breeds with the oldest and biggest of the four, the Greater Swiss mountain dog. This an extremely large dog breed, weighing up to 63 kg, and originally raised to herd cattle. It has a short coat in with impressive tricolor markings in black, white and reddish-brown.
These dogs have tremendous strength, yet are very agile for a dog of their size. Historically they have worked as versatile farm dogs adept at herding and guarding livestock as well as working as draft dogs hauling heavy produce. The Greater Swiss mountain dog has an affable nature and are known to be faithful companions. They can be kept as non-working pets, provided they are given enough space and exercise.
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