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How to Identify Herding Dog Breeds

The herding breeds are among the most intelligent and biddable of all dogs, developed to work in partnership with a human handler as the Sporting breeds were. The nature of their work, however, demands a dog a little more aggressive than the breeds that serve hunters. Herding dogs work through intimidation and harassment to control animals sometimes larger than they are.

Not many people keep sheep and cattle these days, but that doesn’t bother the herding breeds much. These versatile and intelligent dogs have made their mark in the modern-day world as police dogs, drug-detection dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and even movie stars. Most of them, however, serve as pets, and some wonderful breeds in this group can fill that role to perfection.

The herding breeds that still work today — as herding or protection dogs — may be a little much for novices to handle. What’s arguably the dog world’s whiz kid and best sheep dog ever made, the Border Collie, doesn’t take well to the confines of a suburban backyard and a life without challenges. The same goes for the German Shepherd and the three Belgian shepherds, the Tervuren, Malinois, and Sheepdog, breeds with so much potential that denying them a chance to fulfill it ought to be a crime.

Other dogs in this group, although plenty smart, have not nearly as much drive. Some of them have been cultivated primarily as pets for generations. Long before Lassie came home, Queen Victoria took a liking to the Collie, and the smaller herding dogs are well-loved companions in many homes. The sizes range from

  • Small- to medium-sized breeds (15 to 50 pounds): Australian Cattle Dog, Bearded Collie, Border Collie, Canaan Dog, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Puli, Shetland Sheepdog.

  • Large breeds (50 to 80 pounds): Australian Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Sheepdog, Belgian Tervuren, Bouvier des Flandres, Briard, German Shepherd Dog, Old English Sheepdog, rough Collie, smooth Collie.

Almost every one of the large breeds in this group is prone to hip dysplasia, and the German Shepherd is susceptible to a half-dozen additional congenital defects.

Coats vary in this group, including many profuse shedders, such as the rough Collie (which many don’t realize comes in a short-haired variety, called smooth by fanciers) and the Shetland Sheepdog (which is a notorious barker). You do find some easy-care coats here, as well as the second of the AKC’s two Hungarian corded breeds, the Puli. (The other, the Komondor, is in the working group.)

Many of these breeds still demonstrate a strong desire to keep things in a nice, tight herd. They do so with toys, other pets, children, and even party guests as an Australian Shepherd demonstrated at a backyard party. The dog spent the early part of the event nudging guests, slowly and oh-so subtly working around the group until they moved unwittingly toward the center of the yard, realized what the dog had done, and had a good laugh. Then they spread out again — much to the shepherd’s frustration, no doubt!

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