Herding Breed Traits

I am including information on herding dogs to offer you the owner and trainer further insight into the characteristics these types of dog carry with them in their pedigree. The more information known about your BC’s heritage, the better you will be equipped to train and understand him.

Herding dogs were originally bred for working or herding stock. They are referred to as working, stock, or herding dogs. The characteristics of this breed features heightened herding instincts derived from ancient hunting capabilities. Early in human history, dogs and humans began living and working with one another, relying on each other for survival. Humans began developing the herding breeds to manage domesticated animals, while simultaneously developing other breeds as guardians to protect the flocks from all types of predators. Herding and guarding dogs work together to keep the livestock together and safe. For example, the Great Pyrenees Mountain Dogs steadfastly handles the guarding duties while the Pyrenean Shepherds diligently take care of the herding duties. Herders are known for their abilities to obey vocal and whistle commands, as well as think and act independently while performing their jobs.

Depending upon the different recognitions and classifications, I uncovered eighty-eight herding breeds in the world. The Herding Group is made up of sheep and cattle dogs that were, and are still bred to round up livestock and retrieve all stragglers. Herding dogs use a variety of techniques, such as nipping, barking, running, and engaging in intense eye contact with their animal charges. Australian Kelpies and Koolies are known to run atop sheep (backing sheep) to move them along, and Border Collies are known for their staring and crouching style that enables them to mesmerize and herd almost any animal. Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue/Red Heelers) will nip at heels, or if necessary jump up to nip under a cows neck. Fearless, intelligent, alert, independent, and blessed with stamina and intense energy levels, these herding breeds possess the natural traits necessary to accomplish their jobs proficiently. Beyond their herding abilities, some in this group are used as police, guide, and therapy dogs.

Versatility allows many of these breeds to herd cattle, ducks, geese, sheep, and goats. Additionally, they will herd children, household pets, other dogs, and if not tethered they will even attempt to round up motor vehicles. Because of their natural instincts, herding breeds that do not have a job and are to be household pets will need to be vigorously exercised and given opportunities to complete tasks. This can be accomplished through agility training, tracking games, herding trials, daily accompaniment with their humans on bike rides, jogs, hikes, runs, brisk walks, or anything that will help deplete their seemingly endless energy reserves. A herder that is not having their exercise needs met can become destructive, aggressive, or display other negative behaviors. Before bringing home a herding dog, you must be certain that you can provide the proper amount of exercise and stimulation for these breeds. Most herding breeds need a few exercise outings per day, which should include a minimum of two hours of rigorous exercise.

Herding dogs come in a variety of coat types, heights, and weights. For example, the little Corgi’s stand only 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) tall, while the French Beauceron stands 26–28 in (66–71 cm) tall. Most herders reside in the medium to large size classification. Amazingly, the little Corgi’s are wonderfully efficient herding dogs that have been around since the Vikings brought them to Wales almost two thousand years ago. Since at least the 10th century, the little Pembroke Welsh Corgi has been herding cattle, ducks, geese, horses, and sheep. In recent times, herding dogs have been employed to keep ducks and geese clear of golf courses and airports.

Many in this group tend to be wary of strangers, but form tight loyal bonds with their handlers and family. They make a great addition as a family companion and enjoy being in the company of their humans. Nipping is something that needs to be addressed early when they are puppies. Always supervise your dog around small children. When children are running around playing, your herding dog immediately recognizes this as a herd to be tended, and they will begin nipping at the children’s heels. You can sometimes observe them instinctually circling a group of children, in classic herding behavior. They do not intend to do harm, but a nip can be painful and should not be allowed. Early and ongoing socialization will help with aggression, possessiveness, territorialism, and other potential negative behaviors that can surface. Herders are happiest when they have a purpose. These are some of the most intelligent and active dog breeds, and they have a strong predisposition for work.

The AKC created The Herding Group in 1983, and it is the newest American Kennel Club classification. Before the creation of their own group, these breeds were classified in the Working Group. In fact, this group has some of the most intelligent of all dog breeds. The Border Collie has been ranked as one of the most intelligent. Other herding breeds ranked inside the top ten of some lists include the Australian Cattle Dog, German Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie), and the Rottweiler.


Now you are probably wondering, “How the heck do I go about training my herding breed?” First off, you need to be dedicated, consistent, focused, and firm. In your favor, most of these breeds are intelligent and eager to learn. Additionally, they respond well to positive training methods such as clicker training. Remember to keep your dog well exercised at all times. To help increase focus and attention, provide your dog with ample exercise prior to the training sessions. If you are using treats in your sessions, train prior to meal times so that your dog is hungry and the treat will keep their attention. Find quiet, low distraction areas to begin your training sessions. Later, you can take the training outdoors and then gradually increase the distraction level. Many herding dogs are easy to work with during training because of their willingness to learn and perform. Herders can also be trained to become very good watchdogs.

There are many negative behaviors that may manifest with the herding breeds, and should be addressed early, such as nipping, bumping, jumping-up, aggression towards other animals and humans, challenging authority, leash pulling, protectiveness, agitation during car rides, digging, excessive attention seeking, and chasing.

To satisfy their mental and physical needs, keep a regular schedule. Firm and consistent training can shape your dog’s behavior to comply with the rules of etiquette that you have clearly laid out. Herders are naturally athletic and they adore dog sports, excelling in agility, herding, tracking, and much more.

When using treats while training your herder, pay close attention and take note of which treats your dog covets most. When you need their full attention, utilize these favorites in your training sessions. As said before, be sure to train your dog before meals so that he or she is at their hungriest. Initially, keep the training sessions very short, at around five to ten minutes each. You can extend to longer sessions if you realize that you can hold your herder’s attention longer. Keep the sessions short while your herder is a puppy. Start with three-minute sessions.

 Examples of mentally stimulating activities


  • – Retrieval games are physically and mentally stimulating.
  • – Agility games that are physical, but primarily mental, you can turn your household items into a course.
  • -Tracking, this uses dog’s natural scenting abilities to find hidden objects.
  • – Herding trials or tests allow dogs to use their natural or trained herding abilities.
  • – Free play with other familiar dogs assists in socialization, energy release, and stimulation.
  • – Trick performance that is rewarded with access to your dog’s highly valued items.
  • – Obedience classes.
  • – Flyball for physical activity.
  • – Hide and Seek with family members is good physical exercise for all.
  • – Working livestock is challenging both mentally and physically for dogs.
  • – Treibball is a relatively new dog sport where dogs gather and move large balls that represent a flock of animals.

~ Paws On – Paws Off ~